With a global conference on climate change looming in Copenhagen in December, it should come as no surprise that a flurry of studies have been released.
What caught my eye are three reports that conclude that people are the problem. Basically, they say we’re gasbags. We exhale carbon dioxide (CO2), which has been deemed a worrisome greenhouse gas. We also breed too often.
These reports deserve mention, as they offer fresh calculations about how humanity threatens Earth.
But the American public should be crystal clear about one point: The “people are the problem” line of reasoning is not new. It’s been around since Thomas Malthus (1798), and is a key factor in the decades-long push for government-funded birth control.
Here’s a quick review of the new reports.
From the London School of Economics and Optimum Population Trust (OPT), a British think tank, comes a paper that explains that birth control is a very inexpensive way to combat climate change. For every $7 spent on birth control, one metric ton of CO2 emissions could be cut, the OPT study says. If all unintended births worldwide could be prevented for 40 years, 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be prevented. Hence the headline, “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost.”
Another report, from the Center for Environment and Population in New Canaan, Conn., argues that population issues (i.e., family planning) must be included in any plan to save the environment. Population and climate change are “inextricably linked,” says the report titled “U.S. Population, Energy & Climate Change.”
Finally, a study from two Oregon State University professors, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, showed how the descendants of each person swamp Earth with their emissions, and it’s better to have one child than two.
Specifically, it said, if an American woman spent her life driving a fuel-efficient car only when necessary; used energy-efficient windows, lights and appliances; and recycled paper, glass and cans, she would be able to save about 486 tons of CO2 emissions.
That’s all well and good. But if she goes ahead and gives birth to two children, she will eventually add 18,882 tons of CO2 to Earth’s atmosphere. Bad mommy.
Numbers like that would have inflamed Hugh Moore, the wealthy inventor of the Dixie cup, who died in 1972.
I had never heard of Mr. Moore until I read Donald T. Critchlow’s book, “Intended Consequences: Birth Control, Abortion and the Federal Government in Modern America.” But apparently Mr. Moore passionately believed that overpopulation was destroying Earth and he eagerly funded birth control groups.
Mr. Moore was also a tad radical, in that he believed that if people wouldn’t willingly stop having children, “individual rights might have to be disregarded,” as Mr. Critchlow graciously put it.
None of the three reports I mention explains in detail how future populations should be reduced, although words like “noncoercive” and “voluntarily” are often used when talking about birth control.
Still, there’s always a chill in the air when some people start insisting that other people stop having children. China’s one-child policy is reviled publicly, but who knows how many people secretly agree with the bumper sticker, “God stopped at two, how about you?”
I’ve heard it argued in the health care debate that members of Congress and the Obama administration should be the first to sign up with any new plan.
Perhaps the same should be said about proponents of “green” family planning. Those who see babies as unnecessary “emitters” might want to lead by example and not reproduce.
• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at