17 Mar 2009

Are Kids Good for the Planet?

Many people blame the "shortage" of water in the southwest US on overpopulation. Although this critique is not valid for water (the shortage is because demand exceeds supply at low LOW prices), there is something to be said about the effect of population on the world's resources.

In "Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals," two scientists say:
Much attention has been paid to the ways that people’s home energy use, travel, food choices and other routine activities affect their emissions of carbon dioxide and, ultimately, their contributions to global warming. However, the reproductive choices of an individual are rarely incorporated into calculations of his personal impact on the environment.

Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent.

Under current conditions in the United States, for example, each child adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her lifetime emissions. A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-to-day activities when assessing his ultimate impact on the global environment.
So, I know that the Julian Simon folks ("people, the ultimate resource") may claim that we need kids to make the world a better place, but do we need ALL of them?

Note that these statistics are based on American kids -- not kids elsewhere in the world. Perhaps this is another offshoring opportunity: Have your kids here but raise them in the developing world -- where they are likely to live a simpler (lower carbon) lifestyle.

I guess the "god says procreate" folks (in Rome, SLC, Mecca, Jerusalem, Benares, etc.) should be buying a BUNCH of carbon permits!

Bottom Line: Have your kids, but remember that they create both positive AND negative externalities.


  1. When I was of child bearing age, we were in a recession, I didn't have insurance, and other people's kids seemed very obnoxious! As it turned out, we were an infertile pair, and didn't want to spend thousands of bucks to have a litter of babies. We have not replaced ourselves, but our neighbors (several households) who follow a strange religion where you have as many kids as possible, home school them, tell them the earth is 7000 years old, and don't "believe" in Climate Change or science have more than made up for our childlessness.

  2. I have produced one little carbon source, who is being indoctrinated heavily in the religion of deep ecology ("I don't care if it stinks, you will not flush your pee!" :) ) I would have been less happy with none, but I could have been a foster mom or something, and that would have worked out too.

    Now, I'm not saying I didn't take my tax breaks for my kid, but I think it is worth considering dropping tax breaks for having children. Give everyone the same breaks, or none. Or maybe tax breaks for foster parenting or adoption only? Maybe tax breaks for looking after the elderly instead? If everyone spent 2 years diapering a grandparent instead of a baby, maybe we could get to a saner population. I don't know.

    I think we would be better off with many fewer replacements, we'll figure out how to deal with the issues with that. I think we should all "adopt" a neighborhood standard-procreator, non-environmentalist kid, invite them over for cookies and a walk in the woods, and slowly show them the light. Or volunteer to give talks on water conservation and global warming at schools, or leave stashes of condoms and birth control information in movie theater bathrooms. Or something!!

  3. Without kids, who are we saving the planet for?

    Maybe you can develop something for kids like your water slogan. Some for free, pay for more.

  4. @Jeff -- good idea. I think the main point is FEWER kids (per Michelle and FMF)... Note that governments OFTEN subsidize kids (esp. of the "right" color) in the name of... something!


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