Fuss Over Babies Misses the Mark

| 3/19/2009 11:36:13 AM

Tags: Environment, Green Living, Global Warming, single mothers, population, babies, Julia Whitty, Bryan Welch, Mother Jones, Global Environmental Change,

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?

4/13/2009 4:36:02 PM

You are aware, aren't you, that everyone on the planet-yes all 7+ billion of us-can fit inside the state of Texas, each with a little over 1,000 sq feet of space. This, of course, is if they were all on the ground and not living in buildings stacked on top of one another. If we did that, we would take up much less space. In industrialized nations, such as the United States, Japan, Australia, The United Kingdoms, and so forth, there is a population decrease happening. So much so that in many of those countries there aren't enough people being made to take care of what is being left behind by those who are dying. In those countries with a population decrease the government has taken to paying people to have more babies! Earth, if used properly, is able to sustain, at bare minimum, a whopping 200 billion. Our tiny amount of 7 billion is a drop in the bucket, and we're not even doing enough to keep that population up to standards. By about 2050 the global population will be in a decline. I'm totally in favor of taking care of our planet, doing things smarter than the generation before, but lets not muddy the water with misinformation about overpopulation.

4/13/2009 2:50:21 PM

Check out http://www.demographicwinter.com/index.html.

4/13/2009 2:09:47 PM

I am truly disturbed by not only this article but by some opinions on this! Jeffery, I'm sorry, but you need to know there is always 2 sides to the story. And as far as global warming is concerned, it is not an overpopulation problem as much as you'd like to think. Who do you think made our Earth? I believe in God and the bible and you obviously don't or you would know that there will be a "new Earth and a new Heaven," unfortunately you won't be part of it, by the sounds of it. That being said, telling people that they shouldn't have more babies is ludicrous! Be fruitful and fill the Earth! Amen to that!

4/13/2009 1:52:48 PM

Most of these births are 'anchor babies' birthed by illegal alien criminals and everyone of them damages the racial makeup of America thus making the destruction of our once great nation inevitable. Global warming-man made is a fraud btw.

4/13/2009 12:02:52 PM

There is an underpopulation issue, not an overpopulation problem. Investigate this for yourselves and question the popular beliefs. Someone told me once, before I realized that "overpopulation" was flawed opinion, to take a gun and shoot myself if I was so concerned about overpopulation. This made me think twice before complaining about having more humans on our planet. Truly, the fraudster bankers and politicians need to be removed from their posts and charged for their crimes and for the economic calamity the world is experiencing. Share the wealth by raising decent, honest human beings! Happy Baby Making to You All.

jeffery biss
3/24/2009 11:06:29 AM

Jessica, With finite, dwindling resources and collapsing systems, no. One of those billion births will not be part of any solution because the solution is far fewer people and a more fair system of resource distribution.

jessica kidder
3/23/2009 5:27:11 PM

Perhaps some of these 4,317,119 additions to Earth will be part of the SOLUTION?

jeffery biss
3/23/2009 3:33:55 PM

The human population is already far past the earth's carrying capacity and we keep pumping babies out and celebrating the events. It's not just the carbon footprint, that's just the latest gauging fad. First, in order for humans to live, few other living things can exist simply because we will continue to encroach upon their habitat as we develop it for raw materials and as cropland and we will use them as resources. With respect to the carbon footprint, we will alter the climate to the point that conditions may change enough to cause mass extinctions. When no other living things can exist, neither can we. Second, ignoring us collapsing the earth's systems, there is the problem of finite resources. For all people to live at the standard of life as U.S. citizens we would need more than one earth. How many more is irrelevant because there are no others. If all people are to share resources equally, then people in First World countries would have to do with roughly 4/5s less than they do now. That might be a bit oversimplified but will suffice because regardless of how accurate, the earth does not have the resources. So, Julie is absolutely correct. The question is whether people can come to grips with the fact that the carrying capacity of the earth is actually 2-3 billion people, maximum. I doubt it because delusion is so comforting.