Recently, The Guardian, a British newspaper, printed an article explaining that the best way to reduce our carbon footprint isn’t to purchase a fuel efficient car, change your light bulbs, or go vegan, it’s to have fewer children.
Population control has a long and, perhaps, not quite distinguished history, so I thought I would explore the history for those who might think the Guardian is proposing a novel idea.
Thomas Robert Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus was an English clergyman who wrote An Essay on the Principal of Population in 1798. Really! In 1798, the estimated population was 800 million people. The Rev. Malthus was concerned that the population of the world was too great, and this led to poverty. There simply wasn’t enough food to go around. And there were many people donating to charity to help the poor. It was a waste of resources.
So, he sounded the alarm. To improve the existence of humans on the planet, we needed to reduce our population — essentially having fewer children — until we could reach a utopian state in which we would all have enough food. If we didn’t do it, we would experience a catastrophic end to civilization.
The current estimated population of the world is over 7.5 billion, about ten times what it was then. His predictions were another doomsday scenario that, like the end of the world in 2012 predicted by the Mayan calendar, didn’t quite pan out.
In the first part of the 20th Century, Margaret Sanger coined the phrase “birth control”. Her stated aim was to free women by helping them to have fewer children. She began the the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Planned Parenthood is the United States’ best known abortion provider.
While her stated goal was to improve the lives of women by helping them reduce pregnancy, Ms. Sanger left an embarrassing amount of writing behind her that revealed she also wanted to reduce the number of people she considered undesirable. The poor, immigrants, mentally retarded, physically disabled, and African Americans were all considered less desirable members of the population, and she worked to reduce their numbers.
She still has defenders, but unless her critics are inventing all the quotes attributed to her, her eugenics program was only a kinder, gentler version of one she would oppose in Nazi Germany.
China’s one-child policy is well-known and much derided because of its coercive policies. Less known is its effect on its population. Because families may only have one child (though some rural areas escape this restriction), considerably more boys are born than girls. The world ratio of boys born for girls is 107 boys for every 100 girls. In China, the ratio is 116 boys for every 100 girls — not quite a 10% difference.
The daily mail claims that there are 120 or 140 boys for every girl in China, but I can find no other site that supports that claim.
But the difference between China and the world statistically is worse than its comparison to the world would suggest. Comparing China to the world is actually a deceptive ratio. It makes China look better than it is. If you look at the sex ratio per country, you can see that some countries are at 101, 102, or 103 boys per girl. Kazakhstan and Nauru actually have more girls being born than boys. Why is that? Why don’t all countries have about the same number of boys and girls being born? Oddly, it seems the wealthier or more technologically advanced the country, the imbalance between boys and girls born widens — in the boys’ favor.
Or is it odd?
National Public Radio (hardly a conservative news organ) had an article written by Susan Brink dated August 26, 2015. It was titled “Selecting Boys over Girls Is a Trend in More and More countries.” While I’ve linked to it, I don’t know how long it will be there. But the gist of the article is that “largely in Asia, Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and some parts of Africa” parents prefer boys, and they are aborting (or neglecting until they die) girl babies based upon that preference.
Is the United States exempt from that bias?
Sadly, probably not. We’re just not as bad as China. The Federalist (which is indeed a conservative news organ) actually read a paper purporting to dispel the idea that abortion in the United States impacts girls babies disproportionally to boy babies. What they found was the conclusions of the paper didn’t support its facts.
While much of the “sex selection” of aborted babies is happening among immigrant familes (with almost 89% of those carrying girls electing to abort) there is a disturbing statistic among American families. If a family already has two girls, the third baby — if there is one — is over 50% more likely to be a boy than a girl. Is it because of random chance? Or is it because the family wants a boy rather than a girl and makes sure that’s what they get?
But back to overpopulation
The truth is, when we decide children are a curse rather than a blessing, bad things happen to the children — and particularly the girls. And, yes, despite what The Guardian would claim, if you are talking about having fewer children, it’s not because you regard the children as a blessing. Everyone wants to have more blessings and fewer curses. So, if you exhort your fellow man to have fewer children, it’s because — at some level — you regard children as a curse. For the Guardian, the curse each child brings is its carbon footprint on the planet, exhausting the planets resources more and more for those who are now alive.
When Rev. Malthus decried overpopulation he was at least attempting to reduce poverty. When Ms. Sanger attempted to reduce the number of children a woman had, at least, at some level, she was attempting to make life better for women. You and I might agree or disagree with their conclusions and methods, and we might vehemently disagree with their opinion of immigrants, the poor, and minorities, but they were attempting to save people.
The Guardian is only trying to save the planet.