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Father and 4 children

Who’s Afraid of the Small Family Ethic?

A growing number of philosophers, ethicists, environmentalists and potential mothers are suggesting that moderating reproduction is a logical, responsible, and surprisingly effective means of curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Last week we heaped high praise on NPR (National Public Radio in the U.S.) for running a story about this.

Not surprisingly, that report – and its contents – struck fear in the hearts of some. Let’s look at some of the responses.

Blogger Rick Moran chimed in with this at American Thinker, the conservative online magazine:

Climate Change Activists Demand Altering Tax Policy to Cut Birthrate

“We’ve been hearing this crap for more than 40 years: reduce the population, or we’re doomed. Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb reads as comedy today…. Needless to say, Erlich’s descendants are equally ignorant.”

It’s tempting to hand Moran his head. He’s begging for it, isn’t he? Plus, he has nine siblings and once ran a blog called Right Wing Nuthouse. Here’s more from that Moran piece:

“The problem with these Malthusians is that that they utterly fail to take into account technological change and innovation. If global warming is the problem they say it is, humans won’t stand around waiting to fry or drown. We’ve already seen a big drop in emissions as a result of the fracking revolution bringing far more cleaner burning natural gas to the market. If sea levels are going to rise, do these Luddites think we’re going to remain frozen while water rises from our ankles to our necks? You would think we’d find innovative and effective ways to keep the water at bay.”

Only problem is we ARE standing around waiting to fry or drown. And fracking is a perfect example of how so many of our technological solutions create new sets of problems. I would ask Moran this question: What if the truly innovative solution is for human beings to stop reproducing like bunnies? Is that somehow an innovation that’s inferior to spending billions of dollars erecting mega sea walls? Why not save the money and spend it on golf, yoga, Mars expeditions, or a science degree?

In a Washington Times piece, Climate-Change Activists Call for Tax Policies to Discourage Childbirth, professional climate denier Marc Morano was quoted as saying:

“U.S. environmentalists are taking a page from China’s mandatory one-child policy even as China abandons the policy….”


“The warmists have now graduated from regulating our light bulbs, coal plants and SUVs to regulating our family size….Let’s keep ‘global warming’ out of the bedroom!”

Isn’t the current mélange of income tax deductions, tax credits and welfare formulas – providing bigger bucks for more children – just as intrusive into our bedroom activity? Why is it that pronatal incentives don’t irritate Moran and those of his ilk like disincentives do? There’s not a reasonable, logical answer.

David Harsanyi, senior editor at The Federalist, had this to say in Have More Kids. It’s Good For the Planet:

“The problem with environmentalists isn’t merely that they have destructive ideas about the economy, but that so many of them embrace repulsive ideas about human beings.”


“What Malthusians never take into consideration are the efficiencies and technology we don’t have yet, which continually amaze us and undermine their dark vision of humankind’s future.”


“Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe it’s the best time in history to have children.”

Don’t bet on it.

Harsanyi bases his gamble on history. We haven’t experienced the predicted overpopulation apocalypse, yet. Therefore it won’t happen in the future. That’s not particularly sound science, especially when the shit really is now hitting the fan – as reported by the scientists. The last doomy predictions about overshoot were delayed by the green revolution; billions more have been fed. But to do that we’ve been burning through millions of years of stored sunlight, creating massive ocean dead zones, pumping rivers and aquifers dry, depleting fertile soil, and disrupting the climate. These are not inconsequential, as even the blindest technological optimist is going to learn over the next few decades. Innovation isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

All that glaring evidence of overshoot doesn’t hold sway with the deniers. Why? What are they afraid of? Are they afraid they need to give up their comfortable, no-worries lives in order to avoid the worst climate disruption? That’s probably a very real fear. But giving up profligate consumption and huge broods of kids is going to look very appealing to them compared to the alternative – stay the course and suffer some incredibly ugly consequences over the coming years. By the time they start to really feel the pain, the opportunity will have been lost.

We should seek ways to communicate sustainable population messaging that might cut through such fears. Honestly, it is so difficult for me to wrap my head around denialist thinking, I am so far at a loss for recommendations. Perhaps some brilliant psychologist, propagandist, or PR practitioner will come up with the answer. I know this is pretty ineffective, but for now I’m just begging these people to examine the evidence and think this through. If you’re filling your bathtub and check on it a few minutes in, just because it hasn’t overflowed yet doesn’t mean it won’t overflow in the future.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Brian Sanderson


    According to Moran:
    “We’ve already seen a big drop in emissions as a result of the fracking”
    Last I saw, atmospheric CO2 was going, wait for it, up!

    Perhaps Moran got his head fracked by the fracking machine?

    “American Thinker” is oh so delightfully close to “American Stinker”


  • Avatar

    Brian Sanderson


    I’m always amazed that those who are the least technologically savvy and most scientifically challenged are also the most willing to bet on some innovative solution to the problems caused by population growth… Strangely, it never occurs to the likes of Rick Moran that if we stopped making population messes, we might be able to put innovation to work to make life better rather than just (barely) keeping “heads above water”.

    For the record, Malthus was not predicting some future doomsday. He was looking at the many people who lived in poverty during his time. He predicted (accurately) that the physical sciences were primed to greatly increase production for the benefit of people. He also predicted (accurately) that the advantages won would be obviated by population growth and as a consequence there would still be a large number of people living in poverty.

    Most of the people who write about Malthus have either never read what he wrote or have been incapable of comprehending what he wrote. The pity is that we teach the like of Moran to write when they have no inclination to read and no ability to comprehend.

    Moran is oh so delightfully close to MORON…


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