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Are our children to blame?

Justin Rowlatt | 09:37 UK time, Sunday, 27 December 2009

elsa203.jpgNormally the birth of a child is a moment of pure celebration. Not for me.

When my lovely daughter Elsa was born (our third child) I had to justify her very existence.

Her birth came half-way through my year of carbon cutting as the BBC's Ethical Man so my family life was under intense scrutiny.

I discovered that lots of people (who I am sure are very pleasant in their everyday lives) believe very strongly that the world is already full, and new Elsas are simply not welcome.

So is the burgeoning human population really the cause of our climate crisis?

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It is easy to see why so many people believe that it is. People are responsible for greenhouse gas pollution, so - the argument runs - the more of them there are, the more damage they will do.

One reader of my blog last week asserted that "the human population could do with a good 25% knocked out."

He goes on to suggest that we should: "restrict every woman to a single pregnancy, once she has had that then sterilize her, restrict every man to causing a single pregnancy, after that castrate him, stop ALL forms of artificial preganancy (test tube etc.) This way we will reduce the population - and quite quickly."

Strong stuff! But it is certainly true that for the last couple of centuries population growth has been inextricably linked with the use of fossil fuels.

Thomas MalthusIndeed, the big mistake made by the original prophet of population doom, Thomas Malthus, was his failure to appreciate how fossil fuels would transform the world economy.

To be fair, it would have been hard to foresee, back in 1798, how industrialisation - powered by fossil fuels - would create the vast agricultural surpluses that would sustain a huge increase in population.

But his mistake points to the real culprit here: the problem is pollution not people.

Why? If we were to successfully "decarbonise" our economies then - in terms of the climate at least - the vast human population would not be a problem.

But that is a big "if". The distinctly lacklustre deal at Copenhagen suggests that the world isn't going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions anywhere near as quickly as the science says is necessary.

And the population is rising. You'll find no shortage of frightening statistics at the website of the new Malthusians at the Optimum Population Trust, which campaigns to reduce population. It details how world population is expected to swell from 6.8 billion this year to 9.1 billion in 2050.

But with the New Year looming let's not dwell just on the negatives.

The OPT's forecasts stop in 2050 and there may be a good reason for that. After 2050 it is expected is that world population will stabilise and then, very gradually, begin to reduce.

That's because there has been a dramatic fall in fertility worldwide.

koreababiesafp226.jpgThe key figure in population statistics is 2.1. That's what is called the "replacement rate", the number of children per couple that would keep the population stable. Any higher than 2.1 and the population will rise, any lower and it will fall.

As recently as the 1970s only 24 countries - all of them rich - had fertility rates of 2.1 or below. Within the next few years the fertility rate of half the world will be 2.1 or less and will include countries like Brazil, Indonesia, China and even South India.

Sometime between 2020 and 2050 the world's fertility rate will fall below 2.1, at which point the long term trend will be downwards.

So while we undoubtedly face a population explosion now, pressure will ease over time.

And away from the queues and chaos of Copenhagen there is cause for optimism about the world's move towards a low-carbon economy.

On my travels around America earlier this year, I saw all sorts of exciting developments - technological breakthroughs, vast investment in renewable technologies, and a growing army of climate activists with friends in the highest places.

But the most inspiring thing of all was the sense that many Americans realise that a low-carbon energy revolution could be the key to America's future prosperity, kick-starting the American economy.

china_afp226.jpgAnd, despite its obstructive position in Denmark, China also recognises the huge potential market of sustainable technologies too - make no mistake about that. The country is also investing billions trying to steal a march on the rest of the world.

Indeed, the coming decade should see an international race to develop the world-beating sustainable technologies.

The question now is whether these two trends - the move to a low-carbon economy and falling fertility - will happen fast enough.

But there is a further factor to consider when assessing how ethical it was to have Elsa.

Another commenter on my blog last week, Krupt, hits the nail on the head when he writes "20% of the worlds population consumes 86% of the world products and food. Bon appetite."

It's a theme George Monbiot explores here.

"To suggest", he concludes, "as many of my correspondents do, that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich."

Which, unfortunately, still doesn't get me off the hook.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Nice try, but no cigar. To assert that "the problem is pollution not people" misses the point. 1 million people can pollute far beyond the levels of current Americans, the whipping boys of so many ecological arguments, and the planet simply wouldn't notice. When 1 billion people want to do it, as China aspires to, then we have a problem. You can claim that 10 billion people living lives without fossil fuels won't be a problem for the climate (although obviously there will be other problems since we will struggle to feed them without artificial fertilisers and vast power to extract water from improbable sources), but I suspect you're rather letting your personal feelings cloud your judgement about this sensitive issue.

  • Comment number 2.

    It's nice that you're thinking this through - but I can't help feeling it's a little late, now that the child actually exists! Shouldn't you have done all this thinking *before* making the decision to breed? Especially as you conclude that the evidence 'doesn't get me off the hook', by which I assume you mean you don't feel your choice was justified after all?

    I can't say whether you should have had a child or not, as I don't know all your reasons for and against, and really it's none of my business. But it seems a bit ingenuous to me, to conveniently forget to do this analysis until after the child is concieved and born, so you can say 'oops, too late', and so have your cake and eat it - toeing the ethical party line, but still having the child you wanted.

    Anyway, what's done is done, and I don't see the point of you agonising over the decision now it's too late to change it - if nothing else, think of poor Elsa when she's old enough to read your monologue on whether you did the right thing in having her...

  • Comment number 3.

    With all the mounting evidence that the so called "greenhouse effect" and "global warming" is no more than a huge load of that stuff that comes out of the south end of a horse going north, I find it hard to believe that you or any reasonable thinking being would still entertain the idea that there is anything even remotely resembling that scenario going on.

  • Comment number 4.

    The population *growth* tails off after 2050. Kids growing up around that period will start to consume more and pollute more as they buy their own houses, cars, holidays and so on.

    It's a bit starry-eyed to think that 2050 is going to be a year of eventual relief for the planet!

  • Comment number 5.

    I agree with the first poster here, but I'd go much further. You are missing the main point of the population problem. You see, while I'm not a MMGW sceptic, I don't actually think it's the biggest problem facing the planet. For me, loss of biodiversity and general habitat degradation is far more important, for a whole host of reasons. MMGW may exacerbate these, but even if we cleaned up our act vis a vis CO2 we'd still be losing species and habitat willy-nilly. The main reason for this is population pressure, people need to farm, to extract fish, and to build houses and other infrastructure. They cannot do this, however 'sensitively', without changing and often destroying habitat, and displacing other organisms. More people means more agriculture, infrastructure and houses, and more bits of the wild world reduced to parkland or nature reserves. It can't go on, and a small reduction in population pressure won't help. There really are far too many of us.

    If you check out sources like the red data book you'll find a numerous cast of endangered and threatened plants and animals, and in almost no case is the threat anything much to do with CO2. Green and environmental issues have been reduced by much of the media, and even by some elements of the green movements, to a single issue, CO2. Well, even a carbon neutral economy will carry on chewing up the world and spitting out the remains of tigers, sharks, mahogany trees and lemurs.

    Every kilogram of biomass accounted for by us or our domesticates is one Kg less for all the uncounted millions of other species we share a world with, by not breeding I hope to give my body weight back to the wild world when I die; vain hope but it's the only plan I've got,


  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am not sure there is cause for criticism of people's choice to have a child or two, what matters is that we examine whether other families around the world have the same choice and whether the distribution of the world's wealth is equitable enough to guarantee children in all Nations a the right to environments that are capable of supporting them and their future families indefinitely.

    I are with the post by StanleyRIP, loss of biodiversity has become the poor cousin of AGW, in the classification of 'real and present danger'.

    It would be disingenuous not to see the 'carrot' in the statement that:

    "... the most inspiring thing of all was the sense that many Americans realise that a low-carbon energy revolution could be the key to America's future prosperity, kick-starting the American economy."

    Reading around on Yahoo Answers, the COP15 YouTube site and the comments posted on their website's News section, I am disheartened by the number of climate change deniers out there, I imagine their attitude to biodiversity even more rabidly pro-hunting (I use that as a 'qualifier', rather than specific allusion) unconcerned about biodiversity facts and figures.

    I don't think the population issue will persist in the face of development; past population graphs exhibit strong, negative correlations between affluence and birth rates, there is no reason to suppose that Indian and Chinese women will be any keener than Western ones to have multiple pregnancies, where survival rates are good and a state pension guarantees her and her husband a living in old age.

    Shouldn't we therefore be concentrating on helping development to underpin the rights of women to economic self-determination and reproductive rights, in order to reduce natalities?

    After all, if we were to develop renewables that utilise more sustainable methods, such as permaculture and appropriate technologies for local development, like forestry, we can combine environmental reparation with development.

    Women and men in rural communities could be helped to develop their own, low-technology solutions, that suit their environments and do not depend on fossil fuels. If well-designed, wood and canvas make superb wind generators and only the electrical component of their installation would require expert technical knowledge. They can even be made suitable for nomadic people.

    Not forgetting that Asia, India and Africa have amongst the most promising solar resources in the world, they could generate electricity to power their own Hydrogen Economy, given judicious inland conveyance of sea water for the process feed. After reverse osmosis to desalinate the water, to prevent evolution of poisonous Chlorine gas, electrolytic separation of the water into its component gases, hydrogen and oxygen, gives the opportunity of Fuel Cells to power African Cities and even villages with electricity and vehicular fuel and only pure water as the sole by-product at the tailpipe!

    That's what COP15 should have been all about, that is what the money that was requested by Developing Nations and that is what the pitiful washout we got denied them: the chance for continued development that skips the 'dirty phase' by using outmoded technologies, like oil, gas and coal, because they cannot afford the infrastructure to develop their own, clean resources.

    One can only hope that industry and commerce will see the economic advantage of being first in this lucrative emerging market and tap it, while African heads of state will see their chance to underpin Africa's development of a tangibly beneficial economic market based around Hydrogen fuel.

    When that happens, we may see affluence at last break out amongst the world's poorest and populations stabilise as you suggest.

  • Comment number 8.

    As many of us scientists have been saying for a long time, there is no man-made climate change. It's the biggest scientific scam bssed on fraudulent science, that there has ever been. Climategate has at long last brought it out into the open.

    So no need to worry about CO2. Overpopulation in a cooling climate, poverty, diseases and pollution, are what we need to be focusing on.

  • Comment number 9.

    You clearly are not ethical man, you should hang your head in shame for having 3 children.

    I fully believe we need to switch away from fossil fuels, to primarily nuclear energy mixed with other zero carbon resources such as wind, solar, tide etc. This is as much because fossil fuels and running out as it is about reducing levels of CO2 in the climate.

    Your column "Think before you carve" tried to persuade us that we all needed to go vegan, so the world's increasing population could all be fed directly rather than using grains and grasses to feed animals; so don't start trying to say now that overpopulation isn't important because it is, hand in hand with the reduction in fossil fuel usage.

    The world is already overpopulated, we need to return to 1970 levels, and that will take many centuries of a maximum of two children per family legal restriction. I am not going to eat what in my view is disgusting vegan food (I've never had a vegan main meal, no meat fish eggs or dairy, that I would choose to eat if there was a meat/fish option) just so couples can have a 3rd maybe even 4th child.

    If Brown wants to make cuts in public spending, he should abolish child benefit, as currently it is an incentive for people to have children and hides the real cost of having children from middle and lower income families.

  • Comment number 10.

    What concerns me as the human population expands is the animal world slowly disappears. I can see encroachment where we live and I always wonder where the animals adapt to less and less habitat. We feel that we have to right to live wherever we want but what about them? We're all part of the same world.

  • Comment number 11.

    Of all the idiotic comments I have heard regarding the nonesensense promoted by the media in general and the BBC in particular about global warming this must rank as one of the worse.

    It is clear that the BBC and its staff are in complete denial about whats actually happening regarding global temperatures and comments such as this only serve to validate the point.

    My commiserations to your family if this is what they have to put up with!!

  • Comment number 12.

    It's difficult to tell people not to have children because it's so instinctual. Most people don't feel like they've lived a full life without having children.

    However, there's an alternative. If everyone has children at a later age, the world's population will decline. Take for example a woman born in 2000. If she has a baby girl when she's 20 (2020), and that baby has her own baby girl at 20 (2040), and this continues until 2080, there will be five people. But if the same woman has a baby girl when she's 30 (2030), and her child has a baby when she's 30 (2060), there will only be three people by 2080.

    As a nice little bonus, people tend to have more stable lives as they get older, so maybe there would be fewer children with divorced parents.


  • Comment number 13.

    Sure, the earth can sustain an infinite amount of people, providing that each individual uses zero resources. Anyway, even if the world population will eventually decrease, 2050 may be too late, even if we assume that in 40 years people will not live much longer than they do now. But what if somebody finds a cure against cancer or even against old age?

  • Comment number 14.

    Even given AGW, which is over hyped & less of a near term threat than other issues IMHO, population pressure is THE most worrying underlying problem. The "elephant in the room" which most ignore because too sensitive an issue, with any direct action striking straight at our fundamental freedoms & raising horrendous possibilities. But indirect action thru' education, inceasing economic security, lower infant mortality, etc surely can reduce "excessive" reproduction.
    VERY dissappointed that the CO2 AGW thesis is still being repeated as if there is no doubt! Is the BBC "institutionally warmist"?
    There is mounting evidence that measuring global temp. is so difficult that climatologists have made mistakes and are looking at "noise" in the measures, that data manipulation has been poor, that models are very limited and use unproven feedback scenarios, that the theoretical physics of atmospheric warming via CO2 is far from "settled", and that there are other major and totally natural forcing mechanisms also at work.
    There is also the problem of vested interests, including fame and fortune for climate scientisits, but thats a bit off thread.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    I do not have any children, nor do I plan to have any children. In a similar way to off-setting carbon in a carbon credit scheme, we could offset sperm/egg in a similar credit scheme. Elsa does not need to be justified she can take the place of my non-existent child, it would be my pleasure.

  • Comment number 17.

    Population relating to the planet's resources is a senseless issue of "only lazy people sitting and do nothing" while their Rome burns. This includes people in offices around the world sending their young to the market of [take.take.take] and not giving a thought to [give just once]. It might change your life?

  • Comment number 18.

    To argue that pollution, not people, are the problem is utterly ridiculous. Overpopulation is the problem for the simple reason that people always have made decisions based on very primitive motives such as greed, selfishness and short-sightedness. Always will.
    We have pushed technology to make ever-accelerating progress, but our consciousness hasn't moved more than a hair over the past several millennia. The fact that only a tiny fraction of people consciously support beneficial revolutions such as universal health care and atheism, is proof of our primitive, regressive mind-set.
    And, to the author, please end your pity-party over your own selfishness at having a child. You knew the consequences long before starting this project.

  • Comment number 19.

    ZPG still allows for us to have children. I think it's criminal to restrict someone to only one child, and not just criminal to the parents but to the generation who will never know what it's like to have a brother or sister, and who will be solely responsible for the care of both their parents as they age. 2 children is perfectly reasonable and will still lead to population decline. And if the population *averages* out to 2 children, we're still o.k. So some couples might only want one child and others could have 3... Besides, it's also the way in which we raise our children that contributes to greenhouse gases: formula feeding, disposable diapering, overreliance on factory-farming and eating higher on the food chain, etc. There's no reason we need to be filling landfills and wasting resources like that--it's not an essential part of having children. We could all be living more simply and raising our children the same way. Diapers weren't even invented until relatively recently in human history, nor were breastmilk replacements. In addition to wasting resources, formula has other negative impacts on the environment and population growth. Indeed, corporations ignoring the World Health Organization mandates not to market formula to third world countries are contributing to population growth in those areas, since formula feeding strips a mother of any natural child-spacing benefits of breastfeeding. And when those mothers have little access to other forms of birth control, this makes a huge impact on average child-spacing, thus dramatically increasing population growth. But blindly saying that no one should pro-create or stating that it should be mandated to have no more than one child ignores the deeper issues and nuances behind population growth and its impact on the environment, and places the blame on the wrong people.

  • Comment number 20.

    There are two points I would like to make regarding the discussion:
    The first is that is there is and has been for many years the scientific evidence that it is impossible to continue to maintain the existing lifestyle when population growth increases(see The limits to Growth)since it has relied on the consumption of finite resources, and there is therefore a need to reduce "humanity's ecological footprint". A key factor in this is population control.
    The second point is the political viewpoints of many diverse cultures are often neglected and result in the proosal of dictatorial solutions as well as the devwloped/developing countries antagonism which are unacceptable to the majority. A suggested solution is therefore a voluntary one at first with a global education initiative so that societies can discourage population expansion if they wish. This subject has for a long time been the elephant in the room and we must concentrate on better education as a priority.

  • Comment number 21.

    Not surprising you received negative feedback. You deserve it. Overpopulation is the elephant in the resource room. Monbiot has a sort of point but curiously the Chinese when far poorer than now grasped this was a huge problem and dealt with it. The belief by the right-on that somehow their children are not part of the problem is humbug. As Mackay's book on sustainable energy makes clear the UK can't support itself without importing energy- more heads, more requirement to ponce off the rest of the world. What is particularly weasely about this article is the title- the question is whether the parents are to blame. Are they? Oh yes.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.

    Rescuing the planet must be multi-focal, including measures to trim lifetime fertility rate from 2.1 to, say, 1.3...w/in 5 generations we'd have slashed the global cohort to the 150M range, permitting rapid decarbonization, restoration of biomes & purging ecosystems of invasives...e.g., the blue whale could recover density = to that of 1800 CE w/in 300 years...meanwhile, pronatalists worship the blastocyst on grounds that it enjoys a 'soul'...who wants to live in a world as crowded as one billion, let alone nine...En passant, 150M is plenty to sustain a panoply of medical, scholarly, scientific, mathematical & aesthetic services, not excluding a colonia martialis potentiated by rapidly evolving new tek].

  • Comment number 24.

    THE POINT IS OVERCONSUMPTION, NOT OVERPOPULATION. I completely agree with the article's following comment: "To suggest . . . that population growth is largely responsible for the ecological crisis is to blame the poor for the excesses of the rich." Massive, irrational, unfair consumption by the wealthy of the world is to blame for the current climate catastrophe. (Please don't forget that overconsumption in the wealthiest countries is by the elite. Many even in the U.S. go hungry and without basic health care.) Almost half the world's population lives on less than $2.50 per day. In fact, "at least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day."[1] These people and their children have had no part in destabilizing the climate. A wealthy minority is responsible: a relative few who have taken and used too much of our planet's natural resources and who thereby have poisoned and threatened the balance of the entire biosphere. A fifth of the world's population is responsible for 90% of the world's consumption.[2] These are the people who must drastically change their lifestyles in order for all of us to survive. These are the people who must learn the difference between want and need. Yet they are also the people who frequently continue to deny that the climate crisis is real or that it has a human cause.
    Global warming has spiked concurrent with the rise of the U.S. military-industrial complex over the last sixty years--a military used to secure U.S. "interests" and wealth. I am left wondering how much U.S.-driven war and the U.S. military-industrial complex itself, more than any other factor, is destroying our planet: from the killing, destruction, pollution, and degradation caused by unending war and spreading militarization, to the extensive, polluted manufacturing of fossil-fuel-dependent war machinery.[3] Babies worldwide (as pictured in this article) are not the problem. The argument of overpopulation is a way to distance the debate from the real culprits: Immoral war[4], greed, and thoughtlessly overconsumptive lifestyles.
    Lately a story has been writing itself in my head: They were an extraordinary species, capable of art, love, learning, and forethought. But they never learned to share. Willfully they stole the plenty of the Earth from each other. Willfully, even after they learned full well what they were doing and the consequences of their actions, they continued to kill a world they could never regain and lost even themselves in the end.


    [1] Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, "The developing world is poorer than we thought. . ." World Bank, August 2008. For the 95% living on $10 a day, see Martin Ravallion, Shaohua Chen and Prem Sangraula, "Dollar a day revisited," World Bank, May 2008: They note that 95% of developing country population lived on less than $10 a day. Using 2005 population numbers, this is equivalent to just under 79.7% of world population, and does not include populations living on less than $10 a day from industrialized nations.
    [2] Source via the Web: 15 Reasons to be Angry.
    [3] USA military bases now exist in over 130 of 196 countries worldwide. "According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owned or rented 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories." (from History News Network, "The Arithmetic of America's Military Bases Abroad: What Does It All Add Up to?" by Chalmers Johnson) --I am sure that number has future escalated since I found this fact.

    [4]"'Smarter' bombs still hit civilians" by Scott Peterson, in Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2002: "Military experts say . . . that the proportion of civilian casualties to military in war has grown from 10 percent a century ago, to about 90 percent on modern battlefields." --If 90 percent of the casualties of modern war are civilians, then "Just War" (if it ever did exist even in the days of swords on battlefields) does not exist now.

  • Comment number 25.

    "1 million people can pollute far beyond the levels of current Americans, the whipping boys of so many ecological arguments, and the planet simply wouldn't notice. When 1 billion people want to do it, as China aspires to, then we have a problem." Ian Nartowicz

    It's easy to point your finger at the others, isn't it? The fact is the developed countries pollute more per capita than the developing ones. So what are YOU doing to reduce YOUR impact on the envirement?

  • Comment number 26.

    Blaming your child for your action is unacceptable. I don't see whats ethical in it.

  • Comment number 27.

    Population, energy and bio-diversity are all vital factors in what we humans are doing and will do to "our" planet.

    In the 1980's, the position was presented very simply in the form of the "I-PAT" formula: I = P x A x T. This means that the environmental impact (I) is the product of the population (P), multiplied by the affluence and aspirations of that population (A), multiplied by the technology it has (T).

    Hence, as any of these increases, the impact increases: if more than one increases, the increase will be exponential. Let us take some examples. A subsistence society will have little effect beyond the immediate environment, even if the population grows. If the UN is right that, on average, a child born in the USA will consume fifty times as many resources over its lifetime as a child born in India, this shows the greater responsibility of those of us in the affluent West in terms of the number of children we have. As the technology in China, with its already large population, develops, along with rising aspirations, the global effect will be increasingly significant.

    What we need to do, collectively and individually, is to be increasingly aware of all of these factors and their interactions - in everything we do, individually and collectively. We need to do this, not for the planet - the planet will continue, despite us humans - but for ourselves and each other. It is an issue of basic moral responsibility as a human being.

    Justin Rowlatt is right to be concerned. Let us hope he helps all his children to tread lightly on the Earth.

  • Comment number 28.

    Some people say that the right to procreate is an inalienable right, but others may say the same about eating meat or driving a big 4WD. And who is to say that using a certain amount of resources to raise a child is ethically superior to using the same resources to indulge in one's favourite luxuries? In the end it does not matter whether the catastrophe was caused by a small number of people each using a huge amount of resources, or by a huge number of people each using a small amount of resources. You can call the first road to disaster "unethical" and the second "ethical", but the destination will still be the same.

  • Comment number 29.

    I have enjoyed your year as ethical man. You have shown the reality that faces anyone who tries to live ethically by choice. I was wondering when you would dare to mention overpopulation. It is such a controversial subject and I doubt if as many would have followed you if you had mentioned it at the start. I really don’t see why you should feel guilty about your new arrival. She was underway before you started your ethical year. I have 3 kids, the youngest is 15 and I did feel a slight pang of hypocrisy when I recently joined the OPT. However, my brother only has one child and my sister has none, so it all balances out? Like climate change population is a macro level problem. If everyone had 4 kids like your sister, then we would have a problem, even in a wealthy country like ours. It is hard to see how food production will be able to grow to meet the projected population growth by 2050, given that there is no more fertile land and what we already farm is loosing its fertility or being dug up to build more cities and roads. The OPT’s projections for population growth do not stop at 2050, it’s just the current graph that does. Fertility will not fall without some educational changes. Just waiting for it to fall would be disastrous for the planet and all of us. In the developed and developing countries we continue to consume every increasing amounts of the planet’s finite resources. Each additional ‘western’ child will cause considerably greater ecological damage than a child in a poor country. Don’t forget that many children are still unplanned and often unwanted, even in the UK. Our teenage pregnancy rate is one of the highest in Europe. In the poor countries the fertility rates are still way too high to avoid famine, drought and disease. Just handing them food is not the solution. Look at Ethiopia, which has doubled its population since Band-aid. Now they are starving again, but there are twice as many of them. Did we really make a difference there? The same equation works the world over: Fewer people consume less. We are already beginning to see the start of ecosystem collapse worldwide as we continue to plunder resources to supply massively increased numbers of consumers. Many of these ecosystems will be gone for good once they collapse, along with the many unique species of wildlife that depend on them. Continued population growth will increase the pressure on these natural systems and just waiting for it to level off is not the solution. All it takes is education, not coercion and not rocket science. Without the right kind of help, in many of the poorer countries the levelling off will be done by famine, drought, disease and war. Is that what you and George think is the ethical solution?

  • Comment number 30.

    I find population growth conversations interesting and (often) humorous as people proselytize on the virtues of reducing the population. Funny, though how it is generally a third person that needs to comply. Ironic that this is characterized by BBC's Ethical man with a bit of (feigned?) guilt over his personal overpopulation. About efficiency, it makes sense that urban living requires less impact than agrarian lifestyles in that the larger commercial farming ventures are far more efficient than individuals sowing their own oats and fits the command and control model well since it is easier to herd sheep in a pen which is what the deniers and skeptics say is the real justification for these assertions. I think as this becomes a real problem the simple answer is for those most concerned to donate all they can afford to relocating the fauna they love most to wildernesses they purchase for the purpose. With 57 million square miles of land on Earth it should not be too difficult to find some suitable places. This would win my approval. Keep in mind just as an example, there is more land just in national parks in the United States than is developed(including agriculture) and many times the area when states and localities are counted.

  • Comment number 31.

    Population = pollution. No argument. Reason we did not notice it during the first half of the last century (20th of course) was 2 World Wars with one followed by flu that killed more than the war itself.

  • Comment number 32.

    I find it interesting you suggest what will prevent a Malthusian catastrophe is fossil fuels, when the overwhelming opinion among experts is that production will peak around 2010 and then decline extremely rapidly. Come 2050, what will be driving the farm machinery and synthesising the fertilizers?

  • Comment number 33.

    Great, another eco-crusader with children, way to completely undermine your own argument. How can I possibly take all the alarmist squawking about environmental damage and "climate justice" seriously when the very people telling me what I can't do are knowingly adding another generation of Western level resource pressure to the planet? If our Ethical Man (and indeed the likes of Monbiot and Lynas, just to show this isn't personal) can justify having children, when the money spent on raising them could make an instant difference to someone in the developing World, then surely my small car and one foreign holiday a year are off the hook? Which is more selfish in the longer term? I have no children and do not intend having any, yet I'm badgered and lectured about the evils of everything I do, from driving to flying to where I source my energy needs. How can I take these people seriously when they are themselves selfishly using future resources via their children? To suggest that nine billion people will get along just fine with the planet and everything else currently inhabiting it as long as they are "post-carbon" is hopelessly naieve. How will we grow the food to feed them, build the property to house them and generate the power to enable them a decent standard of living? More to the point, how will we cope with the waste they produce? Fossil fuels or not, that many people will still cause massive ecological damage that cannot possibly be repaired whilst we still walk the planet in such numbers, and to try and argue otherwise just highlights how narrow the environmental argument has become. Seems if it doesn't involve a mega-summit or book tour about CO2, it isn't fashionable. Good news for the Sterns and Gores of this World, with their fingers in carbon trading and consultancy pies (from Big Oil to Big Carbon, but no vested interests, right?), but bad news for everyone (and indeed everything) else.

  • Comment number 34.

    "The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome.
    The real enemy then, is humanity itself."
    - Club of Rome,
    premier environmental think-tank,
    consultants to the United Nations

  • Comment number 35.

    Given that Anthropogenic Climate Change has recently been exposed as the biggest and most audacious scientific fraud that the world has ever seen, it is surprising that this subject is still being discussed.

    Levels of atmospheric CO2 are increasing, and this will result in much more luxuriant plant growth, meaning higher yields for agricultural plant products and an increase in the ability to feed the human population. Some farmers increase yields by growing crops in polytunnels and greenhouses with CO2 concentrations of up to 1,000 ppm/v, and atmospheric concentration is presently only 385ppm/v.

    If a reduction of human population is required, (and I don't see why it should, because everyone could be adequately fed if the right kind of effort was put in), then it would make sense to concentrate on the areas of the world where populations are not receiving the resources they need, namely Africa, Asia and South America. Justin, you don't have to justify Ella, any more than I have to justify my 4 children and 2 step-children. We are able to provide them with the resources they need to live. And the more CO2 they generate, the better.

  • Comment number 36.

    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that there is not a single problem that could not be helped by reducing the human population;
    The human contribution to climate change, the pressure on resources that leads to loss of bio-diversity and habitats, the relentless pursuit of raw materials, the need for adequate essentials such as drinking water, the shortage of available housing and places to build new housing.

    We are selfish in the extreme, We have no natural predator and live in a finite eco-system yet we refuse to control our numbers. There must logically be a crash at some point. Talk of the human right to procreate is to give legitimacy to a primal urge. We control our urge to violence, our urge to promiscuity (sometimes). We are en route to a new dark ages of conflict and disaster, entirely of our own making, and completely foreseen. Who would inflict that on their children?

  • Comment number 37.

    Are most people in Britain really this trendy and narrow, or is it your blog attracts horse flies like a steaming prairie oyster? Do British mom's drop their children on their heads when young? The negative comments read like a science fiction horror novel peppered with moments of lucidity. I wish the people who believed so much in this irresponsibility and ridicule would condemn themselves immediately to its most obvious and reasonable conclusion, without dragging the rest of us down with them. If one would step out of their little cocoons for just a short time they would really see that their minutia is of little consequence to the world. Like the socialists they are, nothing is ever good enough and they move from one hollow complaint to the next. Do LIFE a favour complainers and execute your harsh judgments on yourself first. If you live, according to your rules you are the problem.

    Do yourself a favour and rear as many children as possible. The birthrate for greed centric europeans is in the toilet and if it continues you won't have a anglo nation of whiners to contend with about any such nonsense concerning children, pollution, or fuel use of any kind. Is this whining and self loathing the product of self actualization? If so, I'll never wish for it. You make me wish I was French!

  • Comment number 38.

    The people on here calling for a limit on the number of children, why were you born? Ah yes, your parents fell victim to that hard-wired biological urge to procreate. You can not say to someone you may not have any children, or put a numerical limit on it.

  • Comment number 39.

    Be careful for what you wish for. Falling populations are already a big problem for countries. Japan's drop in fortune is due to its population aging fast with few replacements being born. In the US even with being just at replacement levels programs like Social Security and Medicare are in trouble. This is suppose to be China's century but now that they have started a catastrophic fall in their population that will not happen.No country has ever prospered or became a world power with a falling population. Prophets of doom have been around for centuries.Every time man has used his imagination to over come the problem. For instance in the horse and buggy times pollution was a much bigger problem than we now have. The combustion engine solved that problem. You have already mention Malthus. What he foretold didn't happen either.You could fill a book with examples like these. People are not the problem but the solution. Someone will eventually imagine how to over come our current ecological problems. While nature has boundaries our imagination does not.

  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    According to United Nations data there is problem with population decline in some regions and "below-replacement fertility is expected in 75% of the developed world by the year 2050". The overall annual growth rate has been falling for some time in 2002 the annual rate of growth was 1.2 percent, down from the high of 2.2 percent in 1963-64.

    Before we seriously start blaming children, all pets could be banned recent reports have suggested that the average pet produces more co2 than a 4x4.

    A major reduction in co2 and hot air in general could also be achieved by not holding any more Carbonhagen style conferences.

  • Comment number 42.

    First of all, let me congratulate with Elsa mother and you for the new born baby. I wish her all the best.

    Secondly, I have the feeling that most (or maybe all) of the comments (including this) are from males. It strikes me that usually when rules to decrease population growth are discussed, women opinion is not heard.
    As a world-average, however, the family burden invariably stay on women shoulders. In many countries they get pregnant for the first time while in their teens.

    I think the only way out of this unhuman situation is to give women an education. Education programs for women in poor countries must be promoted, first of all because it is the most ethical thing to do, and then because it is probably the best way to decrease popolation.

    Finally, I would like to comment your line about industrialisation: "[...] industrialisation - powered by fossil fuels - [...] create the vast agricultural surpluses".
    IMHO fossil fuels and industrialisation have also helped women (in rich countries) to manage family duties leaving them enough time to get a job. Let us assume low priced energy come to an end; let us assume electricity costs so much that washing machines become unaffordable; I bet that washing and cleaning duties for the family will be anyway women responsibility, leaving them no time for a job... and leading to increasing population growth rate. Our civilization depends on low priced energy more than we are aware of.

  • Comment number 43.

    I don’t know who lied to as more the politicians or the ecologists.
    They get money for telling as how terrible we did the ecological system.
    All about the global warming,
    And they keep the secret that the temperature on Earth corresponds to the solar flares.
    Don’t believe them it is a pseudoscience.

  • Comment number 44.

    As a "humane" gesture we already cull numbers of animals where the natural resources simply cannot sustain their numbers - deer, hedgehogs, seals etc. This is done to stop them exhausting food and thus avoiding mass starvation and suffering. While not an exact analogy the premise holds that humans are careering towards the same fate - mass suffering because resources cannot support such large population expansion. As a species are we really so arrogant to assume that some degree of population control isn't now necessary - surely some level of birth control is far preferable to mass starvation - or perhaps an enforced cull? Climate is somewhat irrelevant here, resource shortage will become the world's big issue very shortly and Climate Change will soon be forgotten about in the race to feed the planet.

  • Comment number 45.

    I feel we have all got the polution problem wrong.The most destructive thing on this planet is not green house gases,over population it is the thoughts of each individual our thoughts create self judgments and judgements of others.They created atomic energy,religion,society,money ENVEY,which created a world of have's and have nots,countries and citys that compete against each other,etc etc..The problem to human suffering is not out there it is in each individual.Blame is part of the cause.We were all taught to compete to become successful to be a somebody from an early age.Why?be your unconditioned self and heal our world.

  • Comment number 46.

    If there was no oil:

    Please give me your focus for this moment in time.
    Block out the world, I need all of your mind.
    Imagine a place were the trees could grow tall.
    The rivers could flow, the water could fall.
    Humans helped nature by spreading the seeds.
    Underground growing provides most of their needs.
    Housing is permanent, and rarely alone.
    Made of huge blocks of glass and laser cut stove.
    A network of domes as big as can be.
    On the top housing, the bottom factory.
    With all of the things you would expect in a town.
    Like a school, medics, and a place to get down.
    In a center is a circle, were people could trade.
    The service they did, or the thing that they made.
    You could find what you need, much like a store,
    but it's powered by heat from the earth's core.
    You pay with a token, and take what you've found,
    and get in a tunnel, that goes deep underground.
    It takes you to a place, hundreds of miles away.
    The ride has no bumps, and you don't have to pay.
    There are tubes to send you wherever you're going.
    They're powered by air, and the wind's always blowing.
    When you get there you find more of the same.
    Only in this dome, they all know your name.
    Now that my vision is locked in your mind.
    Go on with your day, thanks for your time.

  • Comment number 47.

    Whatever the cause, climate is changing. Deserts around both tropics are becoming wider, and soon most of Africa, all of Australia, and a good part of South America will have become too inhospitable for a large population to live there. Already some of these people are trying to find a way to survive, sneaking into Europe and bringing their culture with them, however unadapted. Others are turning to piracy.

    We are going to need to find a solution soon, or we are going to perish.

    The Copenhagen conference failed. Not because Obama and China snubbed the Europeans, but because the Europeans had only one obsession: reduce CO2. No plan B, nothing.

    Overpopulation is a fact that people are choosing to ignore.
    If people have, as an average, 2 children, each adult must support exactly 3 persons: himself (or herself), one of his parents, one of his children.
    If people have, as an average, 1 child, each adult must support exactly 3.5 persons: himself (or herself), both his parents, half his child.
    If people have, as an average, 3 children, each adult must support 3.17 persons: himself (or herself), 2/3 of one of his parents, 1.5 child. With more children the situation gets rapidly much worse as many women will give up employment.
    When people are concerned about having enough children to pay for the elders' retirement, it is obvious that the most desirable situation is the exact replacement of the generations. Rich people have understood this instinctively.

  • Comment number 48.

    Overpopulation is a huge problem and is one that we refuse to deal with. Even if climate change is untrue, which considering the scientific consensus would be unlikely, then there is the problem of massive destruction of environments and the resulting loss off biodiversity. The world is currently undergoing a massive extinction event which sees massive destruction of habitats and consequently extinction rates at thousands of times the normal background rate. These events are directly attributable to humans, and our desire for more living space and resources to fuel our growth obsessed economics systems, and have grown exponentially since fossil fuels sparked the industrial revolution. Biodiversity is hugely important and its reduction will see a lowering in human living standards.

    The other major problem is that of peak oil and of fossil fuels. The capitalist economy is totally dependant on growth for survival and thus requires ever increasing energy. Also fossil fuels have allowed the population to grow exponentially. In fact as fossil fuel use has increased so has the human population in almost perfect tandem. This raises serious issues as to what will happen when fossil fuels enter their inevitable decline, which has probably already happened in regards to oil production. They are no effective substitutes for oil used in transportation or for most agriculture processes. The economy will inevitably shrink also as remaining fossil fuels are diverted away from consumer use to maintain agriculture and industrial output. It logically makes sense then that the carrying capacity of the Earth is only at its current limits due to fossil fuels use and will decline significantly as fossil fuels production peak. This makes discussing and controlling population essential as otherwise a crash will be the inevitable outcome. This has happened to every species that has exceeded the carrying capacity of its environment and humans will be no different if they carry on the same path and do not make a managed transition.

    The problem in making a transition as Bill has said is that humans overwhelming act on their base instincts which are genetically built in by millions of years of evolution. Humans have advanced tremendously, in technological terms, since the advent of agriculture allowed settled communities to be founded 8000 years ago. However the way we act has barely changed at all as we are driven by our genetics which emphasise violence, competition and survival and propagation of the genes at all costs. In order to survive and prosper into the future our species will need to reduce the size of western economies as the point where increased growth raises happiness has been passed. Also capitalism, with its insane constant growth mindset, must be abanded in favour of a zero growth steady state economy which sees resources distributed more fairly and for the majority of people to voluntarily not breed until pre-industrialisation population levels have been reached. However these policies contradict our evolutionary nature and will thus not happen. Our nature has allowed us to be immensely successful and to dominate the biosphere, but in the modern industrial age it makes our species act in a way that can only be described as cancerous. It is ironic that the things that made us so successful will also sow the seeds of our probable destruction.

  • Comment number 49.

    I think that it is more than the carbon emissions that you mention. What about the supplies of viable water that is around. The levels of necessary supplies to keep the population from fighting over what is left. Water is a common enough commodity that it is why I mentioned it. Also, don't forget that people themselves are mostly water in composition.

  • Comment number 50.

    The way I see it, once you have a had one child, it makes sense to go on to have several more. All the baby's stuff will then get re-used. Also, households with more occupants will save on heating/light/water usage, etc, compared with single/duel occupancy households. Having just one child seems incredibly wasteful.

  • Comment number 51.

    "Normally the birth of a child is a moment of pure celebration. Not for me."
    You are so shackled by the chains of an illogical religion, "Climate Change" aka "Global Warming" aka AGW, that instead of enjoying the birth of a beautiful daughter, you are plagued with guilt and remorse. A feeling that must inevitably be transferred eventually to the child.
    The basis of this guilt and remorse is the acceptance without question that "greenhouse gas" (meaning CO2) is "pollution". Obama and the EPA has now defined it so, so it must be true. Once you assume that as a fact, of course then logically it follows, humans cause pollution, and what you have caused the birth of is not a bundle of joy but a polluter, a curse on the Earth, a great evil. Why stop there? From that supreme unquestionable fact, you have to follow through to its logical conclusion, which I will not state, but I presume you have the intelligence to work out.
    If you start with a false premises, and that premises is assumed to be unquestionable, inalienable truth, then the logical conclusions you reach from that false premise are illogical and can be dangerous and disasterous. Premises like, Jews are evil, Infidels are evil, my religious teacher / leader cannot be wrong, everything that is written in X book is true, the list is endless.
    Here it is good to remember the motto "nullius in verba", take nobody's word for it, and another one from the Greeks "panta metrios", all things in due proportion.
    How would other religions look upon this? Catholics and Islam espouse the old testament edit of "be fruitful and multiply". In compliance of this Osama Bin Laden has fathered 26 children and has 54 siblings, compared to your paltry 3. Does he have the remotest feeling of guilt about this? I doubt it.
    According to the FAO 203.5 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are malnourished. The average family size in Nigeria and Senegal is 6 (reduced from the previous 8). It is they who have to control their population, with better education, not the western nations with near 0 or negative population growth.
    Here are my most heretical and politically incorrect views on the birth of your daughter. Enjoy her, love her, cherish her without guilt. Educate her, teach her not to accept anything without question. The cause of malnutrition in Africa is not the food that your daughter eats, or you and I eat, but the education their parents lack to control their families and better provide for their children. It is the generation of energy they lack, to irrigate their land and till their soil. Their curse is not the generation of CO2, but the lack of energy that generates it, to provide them with a better life and a better chance to save their ecology.
    The world needs more children like your daughter, well fed, loved and educated and less indoctrinated people like Bin Laden. Do not indoctrinate her and de-indoctrinate yourself.

  • Comment number 52.

    Flatearther, Are you denying that the climate is changing, as you seem to be in #8 "Overpopulation in a cooling climate......."? The evidence that the climate is changing seems to me to be pretty overwhelming, loss of Artic ice, glaciers in retreat, the noughties decade is the warmest on record, rising sea levels primarily due to rising temperatures and consequent thermal expansion, drought in Australia and East Africa. The references are all out there. If you let me know which one of these you think is not true I'll look it up for you.

  • Comment number 53.

    One thing you failed to take into account is that the natural drop in fertility will most likely be surmounted by medical science by the time we get to 2050, probably before that. I doubt the replacement rate will actually drop below 2.1 in the end or, if it does, it will only do so briefly before science overcomes poor fertility.

  • Comment number 54.

    It is a real possibility that Thomas Malthus was only wrong about the time of the doom that he predicted. It can still happen!

  • Comment number 55.

    While you are busy blaming average joe for not putting his bins out correctly filled and mrs so-and-so for having too many kids -

    FACT: Just 16 Global Corporation Ships Expel as Much Pollution as All the Cars in the World!!!

    Is that too simple for you to deal with.
    Gawd help the planet with you on it Ethical Man - Pathetic Man more like!

  • Comment number 56.

    I agree with others on the importance of maintaining natural habitats, and that these are threatened by a high level of human population even at relatively modest personal consumption rates. Also that, however high or low the rate of consumption is, population level will still be a multiplier for this.
    I don't think the harmless births (in poor countries) v harmful births (in rich western countries) distinction holds up. Borders are increasingly porous and it's also quite unsafe to assume that conspicuous consumption will be confined to a few regions in the longer term.
    If and when greater affluence does permeate to all parts of the globe, and all levels of it's societies, I wouldn't feel confident that the fall in birth rates previously associated with this will be matched in all cultures.
    I would question the psychology of those who persuade themselves of the need for even lower birth rates among western nations. One might reasonably be accused of attempted genocide for urging further self restraint on family size for some other ethnic group which already had a fertility rate down around the 1.6 mark. Those who are urging it for their own group really need to talk the whole thing over with their psychiatrist, (except that he may well be of the same cultural background and so on the same guilt trip).
    Turning to the comments from a reader which you quote, I'd say he's rather over the top in suggesting castration as a method of male contraception. (Are you sure this was a 'he'?)
    That reader is also over the top in suggesting child rationing for both women and men. At the present stage of technology, the total number of children born to women is equal to the total number of children fathered by men. There's no need to ration both. Of course, a naive feminist might argue that, if women are to be limited to one child each, then men must also be limited to one each. But she'd be shooting women in the foot. Individual rationing for men would actually limit women's choice of biological father for their one precious child.
    But, rather than try to constrain women's freedom of choice on family size, we could first try simply giving them that freedom. We don't know that those having several children actually want to do so. We do know, however, that many have unprotected sex with a partner who is at a high risk of being HIV positive. Does it seem likely that this is a free and informed choice? More likely the domestic life of many women is actually little better than rape, made less obvious by their being too habituated to it to protest. Offering them some alternative family structure and means of support would be more productive than setting rules for them or supplying them with contraceptive equipment which their husband is unwilling for them to use.
    I see a role here for Ethical Man, spreading around his wealth, his wisdom and his genes. From an environmental perspective it doesn't matter how many children he fathers. What matters is that the total number of children divided by the total number of mothers is less than 2.1, He is already in need of a mother of one to balance out his previous activities.

  • Comment number 57.


    Are you another person who can't read?

    What I said @ #8 so that you can be clear was " As many of us scientists have been saying for a long time, there is no man-made climate change. It's the biggest scientific scam based on fraudulent science, that there has ever been. Climategate has at long last brought it out into the open. So no need to worry about CO2. Overpopulation in a cooling climate, poverty, diseases and pollution, are what we need to be focusing on."

    Did I say the climate wasn't changing. No, of course I didn't. I know the climate is unstable and is always changing due to natural processes, which cause glaciers to retreat and grow, sea levels to rise and fall etc etc. Obviously to any thinking scientist the cause is not CO2. There is no evidence for CO2 causing the climate to change. None.

  • Comment number 58.

    David0123 "The evidence that the climate is changing seems to me to be pretty overwhelming, loss of Artic ice, glaciers in retreat,.."

    The climate always changes. What is your point? You gaze on a retreating glacier and assume it to be an eternal truth. If you were thousands of years old you would have seen the Alpine Glaciers advance and retreat many times. The last advance being from 1950 to 1985. The Arctic has been free of ice at least twice during the last 10,000 years. Before that we were in an ice-age.

    During the Medieval warm period, when Grapes were grown along Hadrian's wall in northern England and the Vikings settled Greenland, an Oberriederin (irrigation canal) was built in the upper reaches of the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland. This was over-run by the advancing glacier, as carbon-dated by the larches growing there at the time and unearthed now, in 1215, during the Little Ice-age. The canal head is still covered by the glacier today. Showing the Glacier has retreated much further during Medieval times.

  • Comment number 59.

    Most people here forget about FOOD CHAIN. More people means more food consumption, not only fuels. Dont you guys notice how much forest has been gone into toilet papers and how much fish in the ocean has been taken ? So,getting rid from fossil fuel would not be the solution here. Abundant non fossil fuel would not change the fact that we, human, are becoming a threat to other species on earth. Overpopulation of men, would create negative impact on FOOD Chain among other species,who has the same right to live on this planet. Unless, we not only find non fossil fuel to run our industry, but also create our own artificial food to feed 6.1 billions of people. Another issue is 6.1 billions of people means 6.1 billions of thought and idea. Very not easy to govern such number of people. I think , human population is getting too large and hard to control. Without control there will be no order. Too impossible to make 6.1 billions coming to the same resolution especially because we have too much diversity in background religious, culture and tradions.

  • Comment number 60.

    Don't feel guilty. Replacement rate is 2.1 children per couple, which means that one in every ten couples can have three children without increasing the world population at all. A point all the posters screaming hysterically about sterilisation and 'how dare you' seem to have missed.

    So unless every single family you know is also having three children, little Elsa is just doing her bit to keep the population stable.

  • Comment number 61.

    A friend of mine had brain cancer and was told that he had less than a year to live.
    However, he searched and until he found a doctor that told him that with surgery and aggressive chemotherapy there was a slim chance he could be cured. He engaged this with open arms.
    Consequentially it totally destroyed his quality of life. He died thirteen months later, having been bed ridden and semidelirious most of this time.
    His efforts to cure himself stole what time he had left.
    As a population we should not make the same mistakes. The planet is doomed and realistically there nothing we can do about it apart from talk. I advise you to go on as before, have 3 or more children, burn coal and leave the telly on stand by. Stop worrying!
    The end is coming and all we have to do is enjoy ourselves while the good times lasts.

  • Comment number 62.

    My attitude is this: There are far too many people on this planet for it to comfortably sustain. Historically, the worlds population has been kept under control via famines, droughts, floods, diseases and all manner of pestilence. In this modern age, man has sought to master nature, and has been busy blocking all of nature's main defenses against overpopulation. This attitude of "playing at god" that modern society has nurtured has caused more problems than it has cured. At this point, we all stare at the facts that there are too many of us, but because of societies actions, what choices are left to us? Who gets to live, or die, and who has the right to decide? We the human race are the architects of our own demise, and that is sad. We stole the job of deciding from nature, and we cant give it back easily. So what do we do? I for one hope that against all the odds, she will wrest control back from us once and for all!

  • Comment number 63.

    Bravo spider and Greig McArthur.

    As a father of three who has struggled with these issues since the conception of my third child nineteen years ago, I have come to the conclusion that it is time to put the husbandry back into the husband's role. Strangely enough, my role was actually full-time "Mr Mum" to a professional wife, whose biological imperatives seemed to be the final arbiter in these matters.

    How was any amount of 'education' going to change the procreative outcomes of these two wealthy professionals in the First World? Get real! We are the victims of our biological urges, and this very much suits the short term agenda of the corporate world and all the finely-tuned drivers in the global economy.

    Sadly for our three beautiful children, the global economy of based on Walrasian general equilibrium models, which completely break down if disturbances, such as Peak Oil, and a two-degree-temperature-rise are big enough.

    The Final Solution to this little problem might be planet-wide ecological collapse, in which case the harsh retribution meted out by Mother Earth to her very many naughty children will trump the fascist killings of the mid-twentieth century by a factor of one thousand.

    Men and women voluntarily implementing a new global social order strong enough to control the [primarily female?] biological urge to procreate: - I see no evidence to date that this, "the penultimate solution" can be fast tracked in time to avoid the collapse of our sustaining ecosystems. We have probably left it far too late. In the 1970s, I read Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb", thought I understood it, and yet could not control my own - or my partner's - biological fire-cracker: boom, boom, boom - three more high-demand economic units to assist First World economic growth.

    "Sorry kids" from dads everywhere, we tried, but we could not stop your mothers. Over now to Mother Earth........?

  • Comment number 64.

    "The key figure in population statistics is 2.1. That's what is called the "replacement rate", the number of children per couple that would keep the population stable."
    Please explain what this means in more detail. The article does not.

  • Comment number 65.

    Jeez! Some people need to lighten up and read what's written. The author is not blaming his child; it's just an opening gambit to discuss world resources and over-population.

    Greig & Spider - major wars and leaving the weak to the wolves used to sort population issues...

  • Comment number 66.

    Seeing that so many people feel so strongly about this theory of overpopulation, certainly we can count on them to volunteer for the compost heap. Since Al Gore has championed the global warming theory to a Nobel Prize, fame and fortune, we wait with anticipation for him to lead the green movement to compost.

  • Comment number 67.

    First, this is not aimed at Mr Rowlatt, rather some of the nice people who have seen fit to bash him over a baby.

    I take offense at the your use of the word "Ethical". What is ethical in the idea of trying to force your ideals and lifestyle choices onto other people? What is ethical in demanding someone else sacrifice their free will, because you don't like the idea that they ay not come to the same conclusion that you have?

    Forced sterilization? Ethical? If you view the 'overpopulation' of the human animal as the greatest threat to the globe. Fine. but carry that argument to it's logical conclusion, and you may find that the only truly 'ethical' option is to consider removing yourself from the equation.... no?

    The green movement would project a bit more ... true ethics, if the biggest proponents didn't a: Have their hands out for a huge government grant. b: Want to bankrupt and ruin the world economy in order to 'save' it. c: Fly in to these dog and pony show 'green' conferences in private jets, travel about in limos with more limos for security, hang out in luxurious climate controlled venues, and eat like hogs while they were there. The total 'carbon footprint' of that little soiree was ____????? More than I'll produce in my lifetime, I'll bet. The little 'common' man may not understand all the science involved, but don't bet he won't recognizes hypocrisy when his nose is rubbed in it.

    Let's all make a new year's resolution to be totally honest... with ourselves.

    Cheerfully submitted

  • Comment number 68.

    There is no logic to the drive to reduce carbon production. Money is the culprit that drives our failures. I once did a factory system change, without authority, saved 30% fuel consumption; Price per unit went up. Block of offices found to have a control problem that if put right would have saved more fuel than the condensing boilers saved. The boilers got a grant and rent rise. We are forced to travel congested routes to destinations with limited parking, via loads of traffic lights that hold us with engines doing no useful work. The lights in the main have heat producing lamps though LEDs are better suited. Moving industry to other countries puts pollution out of our control while our alternative energy production devices are imports. Some basic logical thinking is required. Glad you understand your own contribution. Well done.

  • Comment number 69.

    I planned very carefully to have two children. There were no little accidents. Married, wife pregnant within 2 months. Three years later, wife pregnant again exactly to plan. No contraception slip-ups, no conception difficulties, no need for fertility treatment.

    Two pregnancies, all exactly to plan. A plan so clinically exact that we even timed the second birth date to provide a September birth, to provide a nice distance from our elder daughter's May birthday, and for the slight educational advantage.

    I have an elder daughter and younger boy-girl twins.

    Two highly planned and exactly calculated pregnancies.

    Three children.

    For all those harping on about family planning... utter rubbish. You can plan conceptions. You can plan pregnancies. You can plan births. You cannot plan the number of babies.

    An edge case? Maybe. But 2% of births are twins; that's a pretty big edge.

  • Comment number 70.

    Who knows, maybe Elsa will grow up to be an inventor and create a pollution free energy source that saves the planet?

    A few hundred years ago there was an energy crisis because of deforestation but people found other forms of energy instead. People who project their current technological development into the future and make predictions based on it usually end up looking foolish.

    Have faith in the ingenuity of Humans. Saying that because Humans have caused a problem the solution is simply to reduce the number of humans is simplistic at best and genocidal at worst. Don't forget as well that as people's standards of living increase they generally have fewer children.

    People who call for population reduction are just anti-human at heart, in my opinion.

  • Comment number 71.

    I shouldn't feel guilty about having a third child. There are plenty in this country who will make up for it by having no children and plenty of others who make the problem far worse by having 5 or more children. If the state stopped paying them to breed you might see a bit more restraint.

  • Comment number 72.

    You cut down your population before asking China to do anything about the carbon dioxide emissions!

    Western people, don't you feel shame for your selfish and irresponsible behaviour when obviously it's every body's common sense that human activities is the only cause for globe warming!

    Nowadays, people's life expectancy is increasingly longer, the retirement age could adjust to 65 according to personal health, so the 2.1 stability birth rate is in need to be updated.

    Cut down the world population, and cut down the consumer life style. UK government, at least you could start to charge for using the plastic bags!

    Stop the blaming game, West should say a big thanks to China's one child policy which has lasted for 20 years. It is time for the Westerns to do your part, or we will all go down the hill together!!

  • Comment number 73.

    "It is a real possibility that Thomas Malthus was only wrong about the time of the doom that he predicted. It can still happen!"

    Indeed! It is possible that Malthus predictions would have been right if not for the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels. The population was 1.6 billion in 1900 when oil entered general use and is now nearly 6.8 billion. Fossil fuels revolutionised society and populations have grown in line with the increased use of fossil fuels. The green revolution that took place after the second world war saw grain production rise 250% between 1950 and 1984. This whole process is dependant on fossil fuels, with no viable alternatives, and world food production will drastically decline when oil and gas production peaks. This is exacerbated by the unsustainable nature of modern agriculture. The amount of fertile land is being reduced due to increased population and the loss of topsoil. Also water supplies are being dangerously depleted with many aquifers at very low levels. The carrying capacity of the planet is set to be drastically reduced and Malthus will be proved right if humans do not take voluntary and humane steps to reduce population.

  • Comment number 74.

    Having had the misfortune to read the post by Dave Hitchman on the other thread -

    - I feel I need to express myself about the views of people such as this man.

    Whatever problems world population growth poses I find it incredibly hypocritical that anyone should start dictating who can and can't live.

    Go and look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? A human being. A member of the world population. In other words: you are as much a problem as anyone else.

    So, Dave, therefore, according to your twisted logic, if others have to die (of swine flu as you hope) or are not allowed to be born, then what are you going to do about yourself and your own life? How are you going to relieve the world of the problem that is YOU??

    I am sorry to be so "to the point" (and I sincerely hope that the moderators can see the serious point I am making, and not imagine that I am trying to be inflammatory - I am simply following Dave's reasoning to its logical conclusion).

    You cannot deny others life if you are enjoying "life" yourself. What makes you think that you are more important than anyone else?

    Utter hypocrisy of the worst kind.

  • Comment number 75.

    The planet can sustain a human population of 20 billion - if we all lived like the average Rwandan does. A fertility rate of 8 in Africa barely makes a difference to the environment, whilst having 2 kids in Britain or America will be noticeable as the individual of a developed country produces way more pollutants beyond their "share of the pie."

    A long time ago I read a short essay by Piers Anthony about resource shortages. He compared it to two horses in a field eating from the same paddock. But the other horse was eating more than his share. At this rate inevitably come winter they would both starve. The second horse would not see the point. New food would come eventually. He would not budge. Of course the first horse could possibly save them both by eating far less. However his sacrifice might mean his death leaving the selfish horse hale and hearty.

    Pier's solution was that the first horse should eat as much as the second. Why should the good suffer for the excesses of the guilty?

  • Comment number 76.

    Flatearther. #57. It is regrettable that you can't make your point without being abusive. I hope you wouldn't be so rude in a face to face discussion and I do not understand why the anonymity of the web should allow offensive behaviour. However there really is no point in debating with you if you can't be civil.

  • Comment number 77.

    How wrong can you be!

    We are rich BECAUSE we restrict our family size.They are poor BECAUSE they have many children! Look at the transformation of China since it had a one child policy and compare with India!

    But you should blame yourself, not your child!

    Shame on you

  • Comment number 78.

    Over Population doesn't only effect global warming.

    Last week you were saying we shouldn't eat meat because their isn't enough for all of us.

  • Comment number 79.

    I'm glad to see one of your correspondents has encountered the virulently anti-human strain of environmentalism and views it with suitable disgust.

    Unfortunately, the BBC as a whole is far too willing to go on pedaling the anthropogenic global warming theory even in the wake of the revelation that the IPCC's climate record, notably the part produced by the Hadley CRU, was the result of at best dubious statistical practices (selecting urban and discontinuously reporting stations in Russian in preference to continuously reporting rural stations, unexplained upward 'corrections' to raw data from Australia and New Zealand, to say nothing of Mann's original 'hockey stick' being a bizarre statistical artifact of misuse of principal component analysis) and at worst outright fraud.

    Even before the 'Climategate' scandal broke, the only support for the anthropogenic causal theory--not the observation that the Arctic and various other regions are warming, not the observation that throughout the 1990's (or even from the 1850 to 1998) the earth's average temperature rose, but the theory that this was due to emissions of CO2 (and methane) from human activities, were computer models.

    Let me say this flatly and unambiguously as a mathematician: any hypothesis for which the only proof offered is a discrete computer model of a continuous chaotic dyanamical system with unmodelled and potentially unknown inputs is unproven. It only makes matters worse that the models were built using rigged and cherry-picked data and with unrealistic boundary conditions for the differential equations governing the greenhouse effect (cf. Miskolczi's work which rejects the 'semi-infinite atmosphere' solution and gives predictions agreeing with observation for both Earth and Mars).

    It is hardly surprising that observations--the lack of a 'hot spot' in the troposphere over the tropics predicted by the AGW-supporting climate models, and the moderate cooling trend from 1998 to the present (the 'travesty' Terenberth pointed to in one leaked e-mail)--have falsified such a hypothesis.

    I believe the BBC has a mandate to objectively report the news. It would be nice if it lived up to it in regard to climatology.

  • Comment number 80.

    #75. There in a nutshell is what happens.

    We all decide someone is consuming more than us so we increase consumption to keep up just to avoid someone else getting more. Why should I not have kids, if Justin is having three little bundles of pollution?, no benefit for me to be 'good' is there?

    Just as now China is #1 emitter, America can point to them as the cause. There is a new enemy and why should we do anything if they don't? It is a race to destruction.

  • Comment number 81.

    I don't know what you believe in but you are irresponsible if you abdicate your own moral understanding of such.

  • Comment number 82.

    This whole idea about carbon footprint, and ethics is so absurd that it is laughable. There is a move amongst judges at the Academy Awards to strip poor old AlGore of his ill gotten Oscar as his movie is so much hype. This thing about anthropogenic global warming has been exposed as a fraud. With man producing about 3% of so-called greenhouse gas, leaving 97% coming from oceans and biosphere, the whole idea of stopping cattle from burping and flatulating, amongst other laughable things to control has become even more absurd. Stopping pollution (not CO2) should be done. Following any idea from serial hypocrite AlGore should be ignored.

  • Comment number 83.

    So South India is a separate country huh?? What about population growth in N. India. If you do not believe that the human population is rising to problematic levels then please come and live in India (North or South) - you may perhaps change your mind. And anyway we cannot wait until 2050 for things to 'stabilise' or slow down. Many things might shut down by then.

  • Comment number 84.

    There are a few points I want to make here:

    1)Someone has made a point about biodiversity, which was valid. But i think not-reproducing is NOT the solution. If we all do not reproduce, WE will extinct as species.

    2)Please, do not be carried away! Yes, the whole save the world idea is great. But the same people who want this world to be green advocate castration? sterilization? Seriously? Especially when these operations are done against a person's free will?

    This is a slippery slope argument. Then arguably people like Stalin and Hitler have done the most to help the world GO GREEN. They have helped to reduce population growth. Should we applaud them? Not to mention the current genocides going on and wars.
    We seriously think that the problem is people being born? peacefully? the problem lies in people having rights to decide if they want to have kids of not?

    So please be careful. The fact also is that we do not have a problem of insane population growth now. Please read THE ECONOMIST from early December. They have really good feature on this.

    Lastly if we do want to preserve biodiversity and save the planet maybe giving better education to people so that they are more mindful of the planet and each other will help more. One can argue that even very FEW people can pollute a lot.
    Thus we are fighting the wrong thing. Maybe the new Elsa's of the world will get great education and will help to develop technologies for the better greener world, will learn to not hurt biodiversity but the opposite?

    I think if anything forceful monitoring of fertility is a bad solution. It is easy. It might be great short term. But they it IS a race to distraction. It is a myopic way out.

    But maybe i am missing a premise here? What are we fighting for? Who are we fighting for?

  • Comment number 85.

    David0123 #76:

    Sorry if I was abusive. I don't like it when people claim I said something that I clearly didn't.

    DNY #79:

    Well said, I couldn't agree more.

    On a more general note. Man is very ingenious (if allowed to be). The Earth has vast amounts of resources of all natural elements. There is no reason, putting man's ingenuity together with the vast resources, why the earth could not support ten times as many people as it currently does.

  • Comment number 86.

    Belief should be based on evidence, and a lot of people who comment on these blogs who seem to regard climate change and its causes as a matter of belief rather than a matter for science (on either side). There are a number of observations on increasing levels of CO2 which may be attributed to human activity. The level of CO2 in the current environment, and over a reasonable period, can be measured reliably. It correlates with industrial growth. ...but don't forget that correlation does not prove causation. There is some evidence for increasing global temperature, but this is much more difficult to measure, since the 'noise' in any measurement considerably exceeds the effect being measured. Predicting the effect on the global climate is difficult, since the global climate is an exceedingly complex system, and our predictions are based on simplified models. This does not mean the models are wrong, but they are bound to be less reliable.

    Science is based on objective methods, but practised in a social context, so as a scientist myself I'd observe that the scientific community is often not very objective. Its a hierarchical tribe prone to fashions and ideological conflicts, however it does change direction with sufficient evidence.

    CO2 levels and global atmospheric temperature are difficult for individuals to directly observe. But human impact on the environment is easy to see, in my 50 years I've seen many areas of the countryside change, built on, or polluted. I've cycled through the Pennines, and marvelled at the unspoilt landscape, until I realised that I was actually looking at overgrown spoil heaps from C18th industry.... I've flown across the planet, and observed on cloudless flights the land below seems mostly given over to agriculture, except in the areas where agriculture is impossible. I also appreciate that people in the US (which mostly seems to consist of long straight roads through deserts), probably do not see the impact of humanity on the environment as clearly as those of us who live in Europe and Asia, with their long history of occupation. When I was a child I expected artefacts I bought to last for a lifetime, now I have learnt that I must buy a new one every few years to 'keep up'. Market capitalism leads us to consume and discard at an ever increasing rate.

    Whilst we might debate climate warming, and humanity's role in it, we do live in a finite environment, which we are exploiting quite fully. This isn't to hard to evidence, or even observe directly. Its unlikely that even if world population remained at the current 6 billion most people could live as well as I do. If climate change is taking place, then it is likely it will reduce global food productivity, and hence make it harder to support 6B+ people. Increasing global population is risky even without human triggered climate change, since naturally caused climate changes can also cause declines in global food production.

    Historically there have been several examples of human civilisations that have expended their population, and fully exploited their immediate environment through advanced agricultural technology, only to crash and burn due to minor climate changes which reduced output.

    A very large population make us more vulnerable as a species.

    ...but look at the invective that poor Justin gets. He has spent a year suggesting often quite minor changes in behaviour designed to reduce individual impact on the world. He has advocated a sceptical approach, but has suggested that we are more open to considering personal changes. I hope as a species will start to respond to objective evidence (whatever direction that takes us in) and not only to what we can directly, individually, observe. I hope we can stop following what we want to believe, despite the evidence. ...observing how people respond to this blog suggest that that is unlikely.

  • Comment number 87.

    1. It's not just overpopulation or overconsumption it's BOTH!
    2. Population growth only tends to ease off when counties become high consumers resulting in a large population of high consumers (2050 anyone?).
    3. Never in human history has increasing technology lead to lower energy use. For every wind turbine that gets invented there are a thousand new computers, flat screen TVs and monster trucks that will hit the market at the same time.

  • Comment number 88.

    Blame games.

    Funny old things.

    No connection, one is sure...

    Hardly helpful. Or edifyng. Good job the powers that be are settled on everything, otherwise they might not be justified in trying to take the public to task for thinking they are a confusing shambles who could hardly be trusted with solving a Ch5 post CSI 0900 lottery question much less anything globally significant.

    Especially when the media get their teeth into them, and even more so on a slow news fortnight.

    'Gosh, what can we crank out to fill some space today? And... some ratings drivers might be nice. What winds folk up... now... let's think'

    And population ticks a lot of boxes in that regard. As well as a bunch of folk off.

    I'm still assessing the available science, but it is tricky to break out from opinion. And Newsnight, from Mr. Rowlatt to Ms. Watts, does have dubious form already, from dodgy kitchen 'proofs' to getting world leaders to say things in ways that enhance the narrative.

    'the problem is pollution not people.'

    I'd have to say that, at the very least, the two are hardly mutually exclusive. Ignoring the consumer-driven consequences of our latest evolutions, feeding and tidying up after just a few in a finite space would show a pretty decent capacity for generating waste products.

    And when they start procreating and it comes to the 'optimal' balances, I simply have to ponder various situations worldwide, from the need for hundreds of thousands of affordable, new, homes concreting over brown and green belt land (and then wondering where the rain might end up) here in the UK, to shanties expanding onto flood plains globally which, as the name suggests, might not solely end up under water due to possibly man worsened negative climate change (much as some might try to claim).

    None of which, as I recall, was high on the agenda when several tens of thousands of folk converged on Copenhagen to obsess about tinkering, and achieve precious little save a ton more words, few high enviROI+ actions, plenty of heat and precious little illumination.

    A bit like most generated by the BBC and its hypocritical, trivial edit suite denizens these days.

  • Comment number 89.

    This article is mixing several different issues - the growth in world population, the growth in consumption and the equality of distribution. As pointed out by Prof. Roger Steare of London Business School, the global population has increased from 2 bn in 1950 to nearly 7bn today. Meanwhile, the average human consumes 4.5 times as many energy resources as they did in 1950. There is no way the planet can sustain a sixteen-fold increase in resource consumption (the cumulative effect of both the growth in population and increase in consumption). We place our faith blindly in technology to provide the answers for low-carbon transport etc - but technology has yet to provide the answers.

    As a mother of one, I am struggling with justifying another child. Every additional child I have is taking away - not only from the quality of life of my first, but from the overall chances of survival for us all.

    As an economist and statistician, I do not believe in the population projections - we optimistically assume that there will be a smooth population reduction, but in fact, our excesses make it more likely there will be a crash. My only question is what form this will take - a virus (given that there will be 50% more humans by 2030, for viruses to mutate and breed in) or widespread famine (as is already starting to happen in large parts of the former Third World) or political disaster in the struggle for the few remaining resources (the Middle East goes to war over either petrol or water?). Or some combination.

    Our existing systems of international governance cannot cope with the extreme pressures of population growth in the face of diminishing resources, and I agree with several of the commentators that the long-run conclusion is obvious. All the rest depends on your personal outlook as an optimist or pessimist.

  • Comment number 90.

    Don't worry, Justin.

    One of the 10 commandments of the greenies is personal exemption.

    This means you can drone on and on about those beastly Americans with their comfortable cars and their warm homes, you can scold your own neighbours for bad recycling and you can pontificate at length about over-population.

    But none of this applies to oneself.

    Seee also: Al Gore's private jet, George Monbiot's 4x4, Copenhagen Limousine-jam, etc...

  • Comment number 91.

    @Pippa Biggs

    You are over-intellectualising your family-planning.

    This eco-babble did not exist 15 years ago and it will be gone in maybe 5 years from now. Just like bird flu, the year 2000 stuff, CJD, and all the previous meejah scares.

    Talk to Grannie - she may have less education but more wisdom.

  • Comment number 92.

    Hello Ethical Man,
    I have never posted on your site before but you are influencing me. No turkey this year after watching what happens to the poor blighters. Christmas presents are a complete waste of time and I broke all the old rules of christmas present giving, I gave money or gift vouchers or went shopping with the recipient to chose the present or just didn't give a present unless it was for very close relatives.
    I love your compost funeral and that would be my preferred method of exit from this world and then turned into a tree. Trees love a good bit of bone meal to help them grow.
    The new year brings resolutions, I am now wondering how to set up some recycling bins that look co-ordinated and eco-fashionable while doing the job they were intended to do.
    We have had to chuck out some of the christmas leftovers because they are fat laden and indigestible and past their use by date (sorry)

  • Comment number 93.

    Prospects for population - fine.

    Prospects for planet - fine.

    Prospects for resources - fine.

    Prospects for technological advance - fine.

    Stop fretting about everything.

    Congratulations on your new child! Leap high and dance with joy!

    Stop listening to the mean-spirited, self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual 'world-savers' who crave something fatuous and pompous to worry about to give meaning to their own lives and the self-ordained right to tell everyone else what to do.

  • Comment number 94.

    Justin, you are completely wrong about Malthus. Far from not predicting the growth in food production of the nineteenth century, he predicted that it would continue to grow linearly pretty much indefinitely. He didn't explain how he worked that out, but he was right, exactly contrary to what you say. However, again contrary to what you imagine, 1798 was a pretty good time for an intelligent and educated man to see the way the world was going with fossil fuel. Iron smelting with coke had already replaced charcoal and Watt's steam engines were already in production and hugely successful. That coal was to be an astonishingly important source not just of heat, but of raw material and power, was apparent to many intelligent people - and there were plenty of those around at that time. This was all part of a general optimism and expectation about the power of science and human ingenuity that Malthus understood and shared. He knew this growth would happen, but pointed out that it would avail the fight against poverty not at all, because population would rise to consume all that was produced. From the narrow perspective of the UK, this might seem wrong. But we import our food. Viewed from the world he could not have been more accurate, utterly spot on. There are now about 1 billion people living on the edge of starvation. We can make Malthus wrong by promoting family planning for the whole world, and an average fertility rate of below 2. You say that yourself. Your third child has, in its tiny way, made the situation worse. It's not her fault, and I wish her a happy and long life. But it is an act of selfishness on yours, and don't pretend otherwise.

  • Comment number 95.

    Sorry to rain on everyones parade but I go with #93
    Justin, celebrate your new found youth with your progeny.

  • Comment number 96.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.

    You have a really lovely family. Don't let miserable eco-activists or whatever they are called invade your home and insult your wife and children for any reason. I was worried about the impact 'that man' had on your wife and family members, when he was talking about the issue of family size. He had no right to talk like that, even if he had your permission.

    Take your wife out and spoil her a bit, then take your wife and kids out and spoil them a bit more.

  • Comment number 99.

    I would just like to ask all the contributors whether they have read what Jesus says about women and childbirth in the Gnostic Gospels and also the 12th century Cathar opinion on the human habitation on Earth ?

  • Comment number 100.

    As an englishman living in Germany since 1980 we have 4 children. We are a tiny statistical minority in a country with the lowest birth rate in Europe. The last two decades have seen Germany trying hard to raise the birthrate. The primary reason being that soon there will be too many pensioners drawing on the system and too few working people paying into the system.
    Bringing up 4 children means making significant sacrifices and quite simply costs a lot of money, but was at least regarded by the german society as morally upright, as making a contribution to the sustainability of the social system.
    If I may also be allowed the remark, the real heavy consumers whose carbon footprint I would not like to measure were the double-income no-kids neighbours. We six still had only one income with which to damage the environment.
    Of course I take the point that the planet is, globally speaking, being ruined by overpopulation. But to call for legislation to keep the birth rate down is, from the german perspective, simply a joke. And berating people who have 3 or even 4 children is equally misplaced.
    I, for my part, see no immediate danger that my example will be followed on a large scale, so that, within the local confines of Germany, I regard it as a legitimate choice to have 4 children. This is surely a position that would have to be reconsidered in other countries, but not in Germany.


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