Monday, December 9, 2013

Should we reduce birth rates to save the planet?

I participated in an interesting discussion on the Simple Living Forums, which brought up the much-debated question of Should Birth Rates Be Reduced In Order To Save The Planet? The moderators eventually closed the topic on account of it being too emotionally/morally charged, but I felt so much dissatisfaction with the general spirit of the discussion that I thought I'd bring it here, to my humble blog. 

One point which I contributed to the debate, and which people often forget, is that generally - generally! - speaking, large families live more frugally. Of course someone might say, "this isn't true, I know a family that has ten kids and they are all extremely wasteful", but statistically, at least in Israel, large families own less vehicles per person - Charedi families often forego car ownership altogether - travel less by car and much less often by plane, have smaller houses (if you count space per person), buy less new clothes per child, and generally live a more frugal, sustainable life. Some will, because of this, define large families as "poor". I disagree. Sure, you usually need to be more economically savvy to raise a large family, but so what? If a large family has enough to feed, clothe and educate their children, to live debt-free and put something into savings, but not enough for luxuries such as trips abroad and lots of new gadgets, well, I think it's all to the good of both that family and the planet.  

Another point is that though the population of our planet is growing, this isn't happening at an equal rate at all regions. While some countries experience a growth burst, others are in a population decline - and ironically, those who propose to reduce birth rates, and indeed boast of doing so themselves, are often precisely those who live in countries where the population either hovers around the same number or is even in decline. There won't be more food in Africa if there are less children born in Sweden. 

In fact, I would argue that there might be less food in under-developed countries if more cradles in the West remain empty. A country with a dwindling slice of young working population is a country heading for a serious economical crisis. It is a country struggling to fulfill its obligations towards the elderly population, which requires proper care - which is supposed to be funded by taxes paid by those who work. Countries which are experiencing an economical crisis won't have much to spare for the Third World. Not much can be accomplished without manpower. Just an example: not too long ago, Israel and other countries voluntarily sent forces to the Philippines after the natural disaster that struck there. It wouldn't have been possible if we simply didn't have enough people to go around!

Very importantly, even in one country there may be over-populated regions and other areas which are severely population-deprived. This is true for Israel as well. The center is very densely populated, while the north and south are far less so, which leads to certain Bedouin tribes illegally taking over lands with no government control. The solution wouldn't be to have less children, but rather, to encourage people to move into areas which are less densely populated. If the government sees this as a goal, it can be accomplished by reducing housing prices and creating places of employment, such as, a fund for high-tech centers which are willing to move away from the densely populated areas. Just an idea. 

Someone argued along the lines of, "well, if developed countries reduce their birth rates, they can fill the empty slots of their work force by immigrants from over-populated under-developed countries". De facto, this really is what is happening all over Europe. You tell me how well it is working out. I see a flow of poorly controlled massive immigration from Third World countries as a potential disaster. Such immigration can cause an already weak economy to topple over altogether. Currently, Israel is suffering the consequences of a feeble-handed government which let in a flow of so-called refugees (but for the most part really immigrants seeking a better fate) from Sudan and Erithrea. Why is this a bad thing? Because we are over-populated? No; because these people are an anti-social element which drains, rather than replenishes, our country's resources, at the same time increasing levels of crime. If we had less people of our own, our situation would have been even far worse, because we'd have less hands to cope with this unsavory lot of illegal immigrants.

Statistically, the more educated women are, the less children they have. In the Western world, this statement is defied only by a small population slice of religious Jewish and Christian women who, by choice, have large families though they are in possession of a good education and access to birth control. Such women, instead of being condemned as a burden on the planet's dwindling resouces, should be applauded for raising a morally sound, resourceful, sustainable, well-rounded and hard-working generation. 


MamaF said...

Anna, I couldn't agree more ! And by the way, i have a university degree and five children, 9 years ago ( the oldest is 13 ) i stopped working outside the home and we are in our fifth homeschooling year , a choice who si highly condamned here in Europe. I neve regretted our choices and God daily help us to have what we need, sometime we might wish to have more, but even in those rare moments we know in our hearts that it's only 'vanity',we are always provided what we need.
Forgive me, may be i'm a bit off topic! Flavia

Keary said...

One point on this topic that I have made in the past is that our consumption of resources has not kept pace with the decline in our family size. The premise behind population control theory is that per capita consumption of resources would remain the same as the size of families shrank, thus reducing the overall consumption of resources. Thus, according to this model, one would expect that as our family size shrank, our resource consumption would have declined.

This has not happened. In fact, at least here in the US, our per capita resource consumption has grown tremendously, far outpacing any reduction that might have been gained by reducing family size. We don't use less in total, we just use more, far more, per person. I will cite just one stat as an example (although there are many, many I could choose from).

In 1950 the average size of the American family was close to 4 people (3.6 or so). The average size of a new construction home in the US was 980 sq feet (roughly 91 m2). In 2005, the average size of the American was 2.1, while the average size of a new construction home in the US was 2200 sq ft (204.4 m2). As the size of our families shrunk by almost half, our home size has more than doubled.

Harper said...

Considering the social and economic disasters facing those countries with the lowest birth rates, one has to ask for whom these people wish to save the planet.

Personally, I think the notion of overpopulation has a strong eugenics motivation behind it. In practice, it can only make us all poorer to have fewer people to produce food and learn the skills needed to make our societies more efficient. Moreover, it places a huge burden on working-age individuals when there are more retires than workers.

SubWife said...

I was doing a research paper in college on overpopulation. I had seen thousands of articles about the evils of overpopulation and the need to reduce the birth rate and literally only 3 articles that didn't claim that overpopulation would doom Earth. One of those articles brought up an excellent point - that there is no standard definition of what overpopulation is. Any definition that one would think would apply resulted in ridiculous results, such as Canada of 100 years ago being overpopulated or Mid-Western states of USA being more overpopulated than NYC. And when there's no definition, then how would one decide when the country is overpopulated? The scientist's point was that this undefined overpopulation is an excuse for poor management of resources and it often claimed to occur in totalitarian countries. Democratic countries seem to not have this problem. I found it to be eye opening. And so did my professor since in economics overpopulation and its evils are undisputed, or disputed very rarely.

Anonymous said...

I find it really interesting to hear people's views about this issue but I always cringe a little bit no matter what point is being argued, because I feel like we are all missing the point. And the point is that we are not in control. This is God's world, not ours. I feel like even 100 years ago people wouldn't be so bold as to discuss it in terms of what *we* should do or what *is* happening as a trend in the world, because they respected more deeply that things can change really fast and that is part of life. Population is big today? Maybe tomorrow there might be a massive crisis. Small today? Maybe the next generation will be sad about how few siblings they had and it will grow. We humans are not the authors of life on this planet and THAT is why I feel we should not be emotionally charged about this issue, but respect families no matter how many children are in them.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Keary, this is an excellent illustration of precisely what I said. Most of the large houses in Israel aren't occupied by large families. The largest concentrations of the largest families can be found in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, where families live in modest-sized apartments and often have no car at all. The population control agenda, therefore, appears to me purposefully simplistic and with a far more sinister goal than to "save the planet".

Leo and Melissa said...

I love your boldness in this area. In the US alone, we have aborted over 56 million babies. The result is those babies should be grown and in the workforce. So our economy suffers, the mothers left with empty arms are suffering from the decision to end the life of their child. Abortion did not accomplish the end to poverty nor did it end child abuse (I believe it is the ultimate child abuse).

I think you are right. All of the large families I see are frugal by nature. Those that trust in our God also trust Him for all of their needs.

May He richly bless you for your wisdom and boldness in speaking up on this matter.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, worldwide, we could agree that women should have the right to self-determination with regard to family size? That is to say, for their own well-being, they ought to have access to birth control if they desire it. Perhaps just as fundamentally, girls and women ought to have access to education. If we women were able to advance these priorities internationally, I think we would be making a much-needed contribution to the health of families everywhere, in addition to the health of the planet.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, of course all women should have access to education and birth control. All Orthodox Jewish women have good education and an access to birth control. They still choose to have large families.