In a Thursday story at NPR.org, Travis Rieder of Johns Hopkins’ Berman Institute of Bioethics says “[m]aybe we should protect our kids by not having them” in this precarious era of climate change.
The “tweedy jacket and tennis shoe-wearing” Rieder uses the year 2036 as a potential “tipping point” for “cataclysmic” climate change where the average global temperature will have increased by two degrees Celsius.
By that time, or perhaps a bit after, “the world is expected to add several billion people […] each one producing more [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
But if the global fertility rate could be slimmed to a half-child per woman, that “could be the thing that saves us,” the professor says.
He cites a study from 2010 that looked at the impact of demographic change on global carbon emissions. It found that slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid that potentially catastrophic tipping point. …
Rieder and his Georgetown collaborators have a proposal, and the first thing they stress is that it’s not like China’s abusive one-child policy. It aims to persuade people to choose fewer children with a strategy that boils down to carrots for the poor, sticks for the rich.
Ethically, Rieder says poor nations get some slack because they’re still developing, and because their per capita emissions are a sliver of the developed world’s. Plus, it just doesn’t look good for rich, Western nations to tell people in poor ones not to have kids. He suggests things like paying poor women to refill their birth control and — something that’s had proven success — widespread media campaigns.
In the 1970s and ’80s, a wave of educational soap operas in Latin America, Asia and Africa wove family planning into their plot lines. Some countries did this when they faced economic crisis. The shows are credited with actually changing people’s opinions about family size.
For the sticks part of the plan, Rieder proposes that richer nations do away with tax breaks for having children and actually penalize new parents. He says the penalty should be progressive, based on income, and could increase with each additional child.
The professor knows his ideas are controversial, but are they crazier, the article asks, than “geoengineer[ing] the clouds and oceans, suck[ing] carbon out of the air on a mass scale,” or “overhauling the global system of free-market capitalism”?
“We know exactly how to make fewer babies,” Rieder says.
“Contrary to political and philosophical consensus, we argue that the threats posed by climate change justify population engineering, the intentional manipulation of the size and structure of human populations,” and that “forms of each [proposed] policy type are pragmatically and morally justified (perhaps even required) tools for preventing the harms of global climate change.”