With the United States already having a fertility rate that’s below replacement level, and dropping, a new factor exacerbating this problem has become apparent: people reluctant to have children because of “climate change.” Some are worried about having kids destined to live in a “kind of ‘Mad Max’ dystopia,” as one woman put it. Others don’t want to add to the planet little “carbon footprints” who’ll grow into big “carbon footprints.” All have things out of perspective.
The New York Times reports on this phenomenon, writing, “A 32-year-old who always thought she would have children can no longer justify it to herself. A Mormon has bucked the expectations of her religion by resolving to adopt rather than give birth. An Ohio woman had her first child after an unplanned pregnancy — and then had a second because she did not want her daughter to face an environmental collapse alone.”
The paper later relates, “‘Animals are disappearing. The oceans are full of plastic. The human population is so numerous, the planet may not be able to support it indefinitely,’ said Ms. [Amanda] PerryMiller, 29. ‘This doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for people bringing home a brand-new baby from the hospital.’”
Of course, there certainly are problems in the world, but what picture was generally faced for most of history when bringing home a baby from the hospital?
Actually, most people in history didn’t have hospitals to bring babies home from.
Before adding more perspective, note that these climate worrywarts would be well-served to consider that the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) thesis is not, as its proponents assert, “settled science” (read here, here and here). Note also that higher temperatures and CO2 levels would be a good thing; some have pointed out that delaying “climate change” four years would cost $100 trillion; many scientists predict an impending ice age; and, to top it off, some researchers warn that life on Earth will end because of too little CO2. (In addition, the Earth’s population is poised to implode, not explode.)
Yet what if the AGW thesis were true? The Times writes that the climate-over-kids crew has a “sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront.” Now while naturalist John Burroughs did say in 1877 that he “was born with a chronic anxiety about the weather,” it’s true he wasn’t alluding to AGW. But let’s look at previous generations.
If you lived during the Great Depression or 1950’s duck-and-cover times, you faced the prospect of raising children in grinding poverty or in a world threatened by nuclear holocaust. If you were American pioneers, you faced uncertain life on the frontier, hostile Indians, wild animals, and little medical care (and the Indians had to consider other tribes and the settlers, who quickly outnumbered them). Yet they all had children.
Many people in history were born into slavery and knew their progeny would as well (the Helots in ancient Greece, for example). If you lived in the Middle Ages, you perhaps knew that “barbarians” could pillage your town, steal all you had, rape (and maybe kidnap) your daughters, and perhaps even slaughter your family. Or maybe drought would kill the crops and your brood would starve to death. Then there was disease, such as the Black Death, about which to worry — and no antibiotics to save you from simple infections. And if you ran afoul of the law, torture was a possible consequence.
Was life better in the cradle of Western civilization, ancient Greece, or the glorious Roman Empire? I read once that the average lifespans in them were, respectively, 35 and 22. However accurate these estimates, suffice it to say that for most of history life was short, hard, and often brutal. This, not to mention that up until very recently the rates of infant mortality and women dying in childbirth were quite high. Yet people still had children (many).
We aren’t unique today in being saddled with hardships or “ethical questions.” What we are is uniquely spoiled, with idle minds that are the Devil’s playgrounds. We’re so uniquely comfortable and detached from the past — thinking “globally” but nonetheless cloistered in a small world of narrow perspectives — that our problems, real and imagined, seem large when viewed within it.
Aside from perspective, humility is also in order. Do we really know the future? How much stock do we want to put in futurists’ and doomsayers’ predictions, with their terrible track record? Just consider a small sample, provided by Professor Walter E. Williams last year:
In 1970, when Earth Day was conceived, the late George Wald, a Nobel laureate biology professor at Harvard University, predicted, “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” Also in 1970, Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford University biologist and best-selling author of “The Population Bomb,” declared that the world’s population would soon outstrip food supplies. In an article for The Progressive, he predicted, “The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.” He gave this warning in 1969 to Britain's Institute of Biology: “If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” On the first Earth Day, Ehrlich warned, “In 10 years, all important animal life in the sea will be extinct.”
… In 2000, climate researcher David Viner told The Independent, a British newspaper, that within “a few years,” snowfall would become “a very rare and exciting event” in Britain. “Children just aren't going to know what snow is,” he said. “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past.” In the following years, the U.K. saw some of its largest snowfalls and lowest temperatures since records started being kept in 1914.
In 1970, ecologist Kenneth Watt told a Swarthmore College audience: “The world has been chilling sharply for about 20 years. If present trends continue, the world will be about 4 degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990 but 11 degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
So would you buy a used prediction from such people? Late author Michael Crichton made this point in a brilliant 2003 lecture humorously titled “Aliens Cause Global Warming.” As he put it:
Look: If I was selling stock in a company that I told you would be profitable in 2100, would you buy it? Or would you think the idea was so crazy that it must be a scam?
Let’s think back to people in 1900 in, say, New York. If they worried about people in 2000, what would they worry about? Probably: Where would people get enough horses? And what would they do about all the horse[****]? Horse pollution was bad in 1900[;] think how much worse it would be a century later, with so many more people riding horses?
But of course, within a few years, nobody rode horses except for sport. And in 2000, France was getting 80% its power from an energy source that was unknown in 1900. Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan were getting more than 30% from this source [nuclear], unknown in 1900.
After providing numerous more examples, Crichton summed up, “Now. You tell me you can predict the world of 2100. Tell me it’s even worth thinking about. Our models just carry the present into the future. They’re bound to be wrong. Everybody who gives a moment’s thought knows it.”
What’s easy to predict is that climate-over-kids women will soon be past their child-bearing years. Most will realize that they let life pass them by and, worrying about a future unknown, sacrificed a future that definitely could have been: all their children’s — and children’s children’s — tomorrows.