Thursday, May 29, 2008

Big elephant

Being mostly liberal, of course I feel bad about judging any one for their choices or lifestyle. That's just the way we are. So, I want to start by saying that I'm not judging any individuals here for their choices - just want people to think before they start a family.

I know it's not particularly popular (actually it's exceptionally unpopular) to discuss the population problem. It's the big elephant in the room. And for now, I'm going to avoid the whole having big families in developing countries argument. Because face it, they have three big disadvantages compared with us: problems getting reliable birth control, women often having no power to say "no", and not being sure their children will survive to an age to take care of them.

Now, the developed world is a different story. Every one of our children's carbon footprints is what? 10 - 20 times that of a Ugandan, an Uzbekistanian, a Peruvian. To put it another way, those people would have to have 20 kids to equal the impact of one of ours.

With peak oil, climate change, scarcity of fertilizer, water and basically everything else, is it really responsible anymore to bring more than one or two kids into the world?

Full disclosure: I have one child, and we are debating another, and my mom came from a family of 8. Sometimes it seems perfectly reasonable and logical for us to have one more, other times it seems like sheer selfishness and lunacy. But one thing is for sure: we see 2 kids as being our "Replacement" value. Meaning that if everyone had 2 then global population would stabilize. Of course, (IMHO) it would be much better if global population decreased, hopefully in a kinder gentler way, say by attrition and low birth rates, than by Mother Nature's/God's more harsh way (disease, birth defects, war, starvation).

Because we only got to this gigantic population with the aid of a zillion year's worth of fossil fuels being poured into our agriculture, at the rate of 10 calories of fossil fuel to every calorie eaten. What will happen to our population when that supply either slowly or suddenly erodes?

In the US, we've always had public support to fall back on - public support that may disappear along with the middle class. Sharon Astyk had a pretty good post awhile back about how the poor in our society can still "make" it because of the many types of assistance - formal and not - than we have in the more developed countries. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment assistance, Goodwill stores, church food programs, the kindness of strangers. But all this depends on a large class of people willing to give tax money to support those programs, donations to food pantries, and passing on their used items. How will poor people with five kids make it without food pantries, public transport and roads, Medicaid and the Goodwill?

After I became a mother, I became much more sensitive to any kind of story involving a child suffering. I really just can't even bear to think about it. The worst is thinking about a family having to choose which kids to feed. You even hear about families (not in the US) having to sell one of their kids to feed the rest. That's one choice you never want to make- and hopefully we'll never have to.

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