The Greening of Population Control

By. Neil Williamson, President

Yesterday’s (9/15) Washington Post ran a David Fahrenthold article titled When It Comes to Pollution Less (Kids) May Be More.   I read the article which outlined studies from the Loondon School of Economics (LSE) and a separate report from Oregon State University(OSU) with great curiosity as I also recently read the Advocates for A Sustainable Albemarle Population  (ASAP) local government funded report on the ecological carrying capacity of the  Charlottesville -Albemarle region.  This carrying capacity report is the first in a series of ASAP reports that are a part of its Optimal Population Size Project.

According to the Post article, the LSE Study suggested that each and every new life is a guarantee of new greenhouse gases, the result of decades of driving and electricity use.   

The article continued by quoting the sponsor of the study:

“There is no possibility of drastically reducing total carbon emissions, while at the same time paying no attention whatever to the drastic increase in the number of carbon emitters,” said Roger Martin, chairman of the Optimum Population Trust, a British nonprofit that sponsored the report and whose goal is to rein in population growth in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. “For reasons of an irrational taboo on the subject, [family planning] has never made it onto the agenda, and this is extremely damaging to the planet.”

Quantifying the emissions output of each human life was the goal of the OSU study.  Not surprisingly, the results are dependent on where in the world you live.   As Fahrenthold reports: 

In the United States, each baby results in 1,644 tons of carbon dioxide, five times more than a baby in China and 91 times more than an infant in Bangladesh, according to the Oregon State study. That is because Americans live relatively long, and live in a country whose long car commutes, coal-burning power plants and cathedral ceilings give it some of the highest per-capita emissions in the world.

Seen from that angle, the Oregon State researchers concluded that child-bearing was one of the most fateful environmental decisions in anyone’s life.

Recycle, shorten your commute, drive a hybrid vehicle, and buy energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and windows — all of that would cut out about one-fortieth of the emissions caused by bringing two children, and their children’s children, into the world.

I find it most interesting all of  these studies focus on the specific environmental costs without any effort to quantify the benefit side of the equation.


3 responses

  1. Go forth and multiply…but not too much! What are these yoyo’s going to offer up next? I can’t wait for the sterilization amendment to cap and trade.

  2. Hi Neil,

    I read the same article that you comment on in re population and its effects on the planet. I appreciate your desire for a cost-benefit analysis of population expansion globally, nationallyl, and locally.

    Without a lot of numbers it seems obvious that we in the U.S. have the most dense population in the world if you multiply numbers of people and demand for consumption rather than acreage or hectares divided by per capita numbers.

    I think that \a crude cost-benefit study would observe the billions of people unemployed, the production capacity that is idled or unneeded for consumption, and quickly conclude that we don’t need additional “hands” to work. The main , often unstated, benefit of population is that it provides more “consumers’ to increase consumption. But as the article suggests the “goods” that will be produced and consumed are dwarfed by the “noods” (no goods) of continuous expansion of people and their understandable desire to consume like we in the US do.


  3. I encourage folks interested in this cost benefit equation to see Mulligan’s op-ed in the September 23rd New York Times

    An economist’s calculation of the benefits of a single life.

    A most interesting read.

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