After the dreadful “baby bonus” decision in Greece, The Guardian asked for views regarding population, and since that’s the topic I have the strongest views on, I of course couldn’t pass on that, and this post will be based on what I sent. Won’t be anything new, of course, as the only new element is that some more time passed without anything being done to solve the world’s worst problem, and in fact with efforts made in precisely the opposite direction, as you can see in the situation mentioned above, which is just one of many. But if I wrote something, I might as well post here as well, with various clarifications and additions, since now that I look over it again, I see that quite a number are needed…
Overpopulation is the world’s worst problem, the other major environmental and social ones being in good part its effects. As such, while obviously not sufficient on its own, solving it is necessary in order to solve any of those other problems. Sure, consumption patterns are also a major aspect, but on the one hand the impact is more and more global, and on the other, that only means that, perhaps contrary to what tends to be assumed when one expresses such a view, the crisis is much more immediate in wealthier areas, where the individual footprint is greater, even if the local population is currently slowly decreasing. The areas that have a huge and still rapidly increasing population tend to be poorer, with a much lower individual footprint, so the problem there is that the standard of living can’t increase sustainably without the population decreasing, but elsewhere the problem is that it can’t be maintained at anything even approaching the current levels with the current population. Of course, there are ways to greatly mitigate the effects of overpopulation, and more and more need to be implemented at least temporarily even if we would finally start tackling this problem with the unwavering determination required, but without greatly reducing the population, any other measures can only delay the inevitable at an ever increasing cost, and with ever more restrictions in ever more areas of one’s life, implemented just to avoid one particular one.
Now, population can obviously decrease either by increasing mortality or by reducing natality. The first method is fast, the second is slow, especially if we, as we must, continue to improve access to resources and services and the development of medicine that prevents and actually cures ailments, resulting in better health and longer life. But I do believe we can agree that killing someone who is alive and does not wish for death, or allowing them to die due to lack of access to necessary resources or services, which is in fact what we’re doing for the large majority of the world, is a bad thing. Which means we are left with this second, much slower, option, which therefore needs to be implemented all the faster and more harshly. For that matter, goals to stabilize population might have had some merit if implemented worldwide around the middle of the last century at the latest, while restrictions on how many children can be born and who can have them most likely stopped being sufficient shortly after the start of this century. At this point, the population is so far above any sustainable level and the damage done to the environment so great that, if we are to still have any chance to solve the problem in time without needing to resort to increasing mortality, I firmly believe a complete, worldwide moratorium on having children for a full generation, 25 or 30 years, is the minimum required. And it’s not like there wouldn’t be enough people still of a fertile age after that period that even a small fraction of them having one child would be more than enough to ensure not only that humanity won’t go extinct, but that it’ll likely continue to have a much larger population than pretty much any other reasonably large animal on this planet… Though I do hope that said other species would also greatly improve by then if we’d do this.
However, instead of those necessary measures, what we get are these pronatalist policies that are nothing less than heralds of doom. They are signs, even clearer than, for example, the continued developments and subsidies for fossil fuels or the overall drive for economic growth, clearly specified as an important reason behind the decision made in Greece as well, of explicitly choosing to sacrifice the world, life, the future on the altar of continued growth. We desperately need to reduce our environmental impact, consumption, production, and obviously population, but our society continues to function as an ancient empire which can’t sustain itself unless it constantly grows, drawing in new resources and workers as it exhausts what’s available in its territory, and collapsing once it’s no longer able to do so. And now the empire we live in is global, has taken over and drained the entire planet, with nowhere left to expand to unless we start exploiting and settling other celestial bodies, which some are actually striving to do, and no hope for the vast majority of the people, other species and current ecosystem of this planet unless all of this gets turned around, unless the fundamental ways in which human society is built and functions undergo radical changes.
Of course, that process needs to affect each element, but when it comes to population in particular, reducing it would allow the overall footprint of humanity to be reduced while increasing individual standard of living and freedom of choice in all but one aspect. And by doing it in this manner, by literally banning births, immediately and for as long as necessary, we may just avoid the need to increase mortality in order to sufficiently reduce the population before it’ll be too late for those alive today, and for the other species that we currently share, or should be sharing, this world with. It’d allow us to focus on real development instead of constantly needing to mitigate the effects of the problem we ourselves create through our very existence. It’d offer the time needed to reset many systems that our society relies on, the most obvious example being the educational one. It’d force society to value those who are here now, care for them and respect them, knowing they’re not immediately replaceable with, for example, cheap and desperate workers and less discriminating consumers. And it’d force those of us who are already here to assume the responsibility of fixing this world’s and this society’s problems, without that false belief that has caused so much harm, that perhaps our children and grandchildren will.
If and when that will happen, if and when we will create a world that’s as wonderful, for all people as well as the other species we share, or should be sharing, it with, as our level of knowledge and development actually allows, maybe there will be a good reason to have said children and grandchildren, to create a new generation to live in and experience it. Until then, there’s no possible rational justification to have or support having children, and an ever greater number of irrefutable reasons not to. Not that people are likely to respond to that in any way, whether we’re talking about those at the top, who benefit from the status quo and may just have the power and the wealth required to escape the worst effects of the disaster we’re causing for a long time to come, or the masses, who tend to just follow the norms and not think things through, and who aren’t usually rational when they make important decisions, or even those who claim to, and perhaps on some level actually do, care and analyze more thoroughly, as those, if they dare to approach such unpopular topics at all, tend to limit themselves to some “nice”, feelgood measures that are vastly insufficient at this point. I mean, we also won’t completely stop using fossil fuels and end deforestation, industrial agriculture, planned obsolescence and all the other things needed to solve the climate crisis and environmental problems in general, and those are easier than this… But a step would be to at least admit that it should happen, for whatever it’s worth.