baby bootiesHave you heard? In 2007 a record-breaking number of U.S. babies—nearly 40 percent—were born to single mothers. But the stat that’s not making headlines, writes Julia Whitty for Mother Jones, is the one we ought to heed: 2007 also holds the title for most babies born annually in the United States ever, period. That’s 4,317,119 bundles of joy.

According to a study published in Global Environmental Change, which Whitty cites, every American baby “costs” six times a parent’s own carbon emissions. “The bottom line is that absolutely nothing else you can do—driving a more fuel efficient car, driving less, installing energy-efficient windows, replacing lightbulbs, replacing refrigerators, recycling—comes even close to simply not having that child,” she writes.

Assuming perpetuation of the standard U.S. lifestyle, true indeed. But Whitty mitigates her argument with a final stat: “In comparison, under current Bangladeshi conditions, each child adds 56 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of the average female.”

And in a snap, we’re back where we began. Our spiraling global population is part of the climate equation, no doubt. But sitting heavy on the scales is a disparity in consumption so vast that a single U.S. newborn can be charged with 169 times the environmental havoc as a Bangladeshi infant. So much for the innocence of youth.

Plainly speaking, there’s got to be a way to combine consideration for how many people with how much each individual consumes—before nudging the door open to preposterous scenarios where the childfree American can consume with impunity, or carbon-light countries encourage their populations to boom without concern.

As Utne Reader’s publisher Bryan Welch writes in our Jan.-Feb. 2009 issue: “Conservation alone cannot save us from ourselves. With the right combination of imagination and common sense, though, we can begin to address a hard reality: that although the world can always get better, it’s not going to get any bigger.”

4/14/2009 7:00:00 PM

Julie, you are much more optimistic than I. Very few people even understand exponential numbers...let alone see the results in their style of living or their religious beliefs. As long as Religion, and thus ignorance, prevails in the societies on earth... over science, I fear there is little hope for mankind. It is not rocket science to see what is in the news, and in our own back yards. As long as religious leaders continue to enrich themselves while selling false hopes of a better place to the masses, we are doomed as a species...and possibly as a planet. The skirmishes over water and oil are just the beginning. Catastrophic crop failure, drought, and coastal flooding are little talked about. It has begun.

Julie Hanus
4/14/2009 10:02:34 AM

A good question, Bryan: Would we want to live there? I wouldn’t. I’m feeling hopeful of late, though: One of the threads of conversation (that we’re seeing in the Utne Reader library) that has come out of this economic pile-up is a renewed interest in thrift. Living with less, and making better use of what we have. Sounds easy enough, and to be fair, these ideas have been present in the publications that make up our library since I started working here (and before, no doubt). But something feels different right now, like it might stick. Like we might be on the verge of changing how we think—and not just changing our actions until the pressure eases off.

Bryan Welch_5
4/14/2009 9:40:23 AM

I'm sorry, Onna, but you are spreading the most dangerous form of misinformation of all. Yes, you could pack 7 billion people into Texas - and the entire state would be populated at the density of Shanghai, roughly. How would we deal with the sewage? Where would clean water come from? Would you want to live there? Do you want your grandchildren to live there? Yes, the new people and the old people all need to work on the environmental issue and every person shares part of that responsibility. But these desperate efforts to deny that the human population is the root cause of environmental change are distracting, destructive and irrational. If there must be a limit to human population - as surely there must - then why not get to work on a vision for a sustainable, healthy planet with a stable human population?

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