Yes, yes, I know that’s not what this writer’s argument really says.
Her point is that having children increases one’s carbon footprint, and that not having children is a better energy-saving strategy than riding a bicycle to the Sierra Club meeting or growing your own organic ginseng in a window-box.
But a logical extension of her reasoning is that the reduction of the homo sapiens population, by whatever means, is good for the planet. If we could get the numbers down to, say, a few hundred thousand, we’d all be better off.
Those of us who remain, that is. All the survivors, like the author, would presumably be well-educated eco-conscious Harvard graduates, a group of fitting caretakers for a nearly human-free Planet Earth.
Like those who visualize industrial collapse, people who self-righteously abstain from reproduction probably don’t imagine that the heirs of the Earth will not be their sort of people. The denim-and-granola crowd, having bred themselves out of existence, will no longer be running the place. While their numbers dwindle, certain other less fastidious groups will have been having eight or ten kids per wife and firing Kalashnikovs into the air after the birth of each child.
Needless to say, when they’re running things, sustainable development will not be high on their list of priorities…
Anyway, here’s the anti-parturition argument from Kate Galbraith, the NYT’s green blogger (and also, if I’m not mistaken, the granddaughter of John Kenneth Galbraith):
Having Children Brings High Carbon Impact
By Kate Galbraith
Having children is the surest way to send your carbon footprint soaring, according to a new study from statisticians at Oregon State University.
The study found that having a child has an impact that far outweighs that of other energy-saving behaviors.
Take, for example, a hypothetical American woman who switches to a more fuel-efficient car, drives less, recycles, installs more efficient light bulbs, and replaces her refrigerator and windows with energy-saving models. If she had two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy would eventually rise to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.
– – – – – – – – –
“Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle,” the report states.
The impact of children varies dramatically depending on geography: An American woman who has a baby will generate nearly seven times the carbon footprint of that of a Chinese woman who has a child, the study found.
The calculations take account of the fact that each child is, in turn, likely to have more children. And because the calculations derive from the fertility rate — the expected number of children per woman in various countries — the findings focus on women, although clearly men participate in the decision to have children.
“In discussions about climate change, we tend to focus on the carbon emissions of an individual over his or her lifetime,” said Paul Murtaugh, a professor of statistics at O.S.U., in a statement accompanying the study’s release. “Those are important issues and it’s essential that they should be considered. But an added challenge facing us is continuing population growth and increasing global consumption of resources.”
The full report is published in the February 2009 edition of the journal Global Environmental Change: Human and Policy Dimensions.