Environmentalism & the One Child Policy

Could you accept a One Child Policy in America, or your home country?

That’s the suggestion of Roger Short :

As Global Warming makes its presence increasingly felt all around the world, more and more people are beginning to accept it as a reality. But there remains a major credibility gap; people have yet to draw the obvious conclusion that since Global Warming is the result of human activities, too many people will only exacerbate the problem. Thus, the developed world must curb its profligate use of non-renewable energy and the developing world its exponential population growth, if we are to arrest Global Warming in the years to come.

Although [the One Child Policy] has been condemned by most of the Western world for denying couples their reproductive freedom, it has had spectacular benefits for China as a whole. Not only did it halve the birth rate, but there were amazing reductions in maternal and infant mortality. With excellent availability of Chinese-made oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, no-scalpel vasectomies and condoms, and safe back-up aspiration abortion, China has led by example. If only India, or Pakistan, or Nigeria, or even the United States could follow suit, the world would breathe more easily in future.

The trouble is — once we get beyond the brooding apocalypticism — there is a raft of evidence that anthropogenic global warming — historically, from agriculture, and more recently from industry — has had a flurry of benefits.

From the BBC:

Human emissions of carbon dioxide will defer the next Ice Age, say scientists.

The last Ice Age ended about 11,500 years ago, and when the next one should begin has not been entirely clear.

Researchers used data on the Earth’s orbit and other things to find the historical warm interglacial period that looks most like the current one.

In the journal Nature Geoscience, they write that the next Ice Age would begin within 1,500 years – but emissions have been so high that it will not.

Now, staving off the threat of huge glaciation broadly looks like a good thing. And if we absolutely need to reduce CO2 emissions  — just high enough to prevent another ice age, just low enough to prevent a runaway spiral of global warming — then surely there are much, much better ways to stabilise the CO2 levels in the atmosphere than forcibly reducing population. Carbon-scrubbing trees are one viable solution. Another is biochar. So too is reforestation, and urban forestation.


And if we do ultimately require legislation, surely a law to enforce tree-planting is preferable to a law that obliterates reproductive freedom — surely the most basic of human rights?

Not to mention the various benefits of a higher human population. More people means more potential output — both in economic terms, as well as in terms of ideas. Simply, the more people on the planet, the more hours and brainpower we can put into inventing and producing cleaner technologies. After all, the expansion of human capacity was precisely how humanity overcame the short-sighted and foolish apocalypticism of Thomas Malthus who wrongly predicted an imminent population crash in the 19th century.

Those calling for One Child Policies are simply suffering from a lack of imagination, and an astonishing naiveté. America’s drug laws have disproportionately affected ethnic minorities — four times as many blacks are jailed than whites for drug offences, even though whites use illegal drugs just as much as blacks. Can we honestly expect that a One Child Policy would not be applied in just as racist a way as the drug laws, and just as racist a way as America’s eugenics laws once were? After all, China’s rich and her political insiders routinely flout the One Child Policy. Wouldn’t an American one child policy just be an assault on the reproductive rights of the poor and ethnic minorities?

Yes — we should think about the manner in which we interact with and impact upon our environment. But more restrictions on freedom are not the answer — technology and development is the answer.

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