I am the Population Problem

This article in Grist was really surprising. When I read the first few lines, I thought I knew where it was headed, but I was pleased to find the author pointing out some serious issues that we as American’s should consider and address.

It’s not about how many people are on the planet – population is rising in a lot of developing countries at extraordinary rates, but in reality, we have the space for everyone- we just don’t have the resources. To take it a step further, we have the resources to provide for low to moderate consumption (ie: the way people live in Africa or parts of Asia), just not the level of consumption that we are used to here in the US, and other developed countries.

The author mentioned that women in developing countries don’t have basic necessities like family planning, education, access to basic commodities, proper health care, economic independence, general equality, etc. These are all factors that contribute to large families with tons of children. Once people begin to have these things, birth rates drop.

The more affluent = fewer children (typically). Birth rates in places that are highly developed like Germany and Japan are seeing declines in their birth rates (which will cause other issues down the line, but that’s for another post).

But with affluence comes higher consumption of resources (energy, food, products), which is the true threat to our sustainability. China is a shining example of this.

Here’s one of many interesting excerpts from the article:

“A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that the climate impact of having one fewer child in America is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, things like driving a high-mileage car, recycling, and using efficient appliances and CFLs.”

The author suggests that it’s time that deciding not to have children is not considered so taboo. There is a stigma that surrounds the choice to not have children. Parents, colleagues, friends will all at some point ask you, “So when are you having kids?” It’s a totally expected thing, part of the formula of life, apparently. But, if a person were to decide not to have children, maybe it shouldn’t be considered so terrible or weird. Maybe it should just be considered another choice, like whether or not you have a pet.

So how do we address this issue? Well, you don’t have to go so far as to just not have children if you don’t want to, but every one of us can certainly cut back on some bad habits… buying the new iPhone every time it comes out…..cutting down on meat consumption (particularly beef)….. not printing everything we see online…. using things like cars, clothes, and furniture for longer periods of time or simply getting them repaired….. walking or biking somewhere instead of driving – just to name a few.

And maybe the most important thing we can do when we have offspring is teach them from the start that we don’t need to over-consume. We don’t need to eat too much (perhaps that will solve the obesity issues here as well), buy too much, or collect as much stuff as possible to be happy. We don’t really need to buy an enormous house with tons of rooms that we never use but which we have to cool and heat and maintain on a huge property with a 3 car garage which also needs to be maintained and be forced to drive every single place we want to go. I guarantee the people living in big houses only spend time in about 2 rooms. Can’t we evolve past the point where in order to show our dominance we have to show that we have the most/best money/stuff?

Kids should be taught as part of their basic education that everyone in the world is connected to each other and to nature, and we should respect all of it.  They should be taught moderation, consideration, and how to not discount the future – regardless of how wealthy their parents are.

3 Comments on “I am the Population Problem

  1. My wife and I decided years ago that we weren’t going to have our own children. Although I’d like to say that the decision was 100% environmental, I’d be lying if I did. A severe handicap in the family, combined with our lifestyle (by that I mean work hours and personal past times that keep us away from home) and our environmental positions lead to that decision. If we ever decide that we are ready to “have” children, we will adopt.
    By the way, if you would like to watch a great video about consumption (which I use as an educational tool – I’m a high school teacher), look up “The Story Of Stuff”. The Story of Stuff Project has produced a series of animated videos that look at a variety of environmental and social issues including consumption, water bottles, cosmetics, cap and trade, Citizens United, and others.

    • Thanks for the comment! The Story of Stuff is a great educational tool. Adoption is an admirable choice – best of luck if you decide to go down that path!


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