Among the fervent discussions on how to save the planet, inevitably it has been noticed that there are a lot of people in the world; apart from humans pushing aside other species who have just as much right to exist, we are using up the earth’s resources and increasing global warming.
‘In 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus famously predicted that short-term gains in living standards would inevitably be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and thereby drive living standards back toward subsistence.’
But the population has grown to numbers which probably should have caused our mass extinction by now according to Malthus. Science and technology have increased food yields and provided the means to curb reproduction. ‘… the eightfold increase in population since 1798 has also raised the number of geniuses in similar proportion and it is genius above all that propels global human advance.’
Despite over two centuries of Gaia curbing us with natural disasters and mankind drastically reducing numbers with warfare, we are still growing. It has been suggested that Malthus’ predictions could still come true. If a couple have two children they have replaced themselves, TWO is a logical number to work on, so we can all reduce our carbon footprint by only having two children. When I was at school we assumed that is what we would be doing; considering the vast populations of China and India we naively thought a few years of communist government would help India. China has now discontinued its one child programme and is faced with 33.5 million more men than women, because sons were preferred. Now they are worried about their ageing population.
Meanwhile, Japan is currently the 11th most populous nation in the world, but its failure to boost birth rates in recent decades has left it with a significantly older population base and a dangerous shortage of young adults. No more crowded trains in their future? Some European countries have a similar problem. For Gaia it could be good news, she probably does not care much about individual societies working.
History, with its various terrible regimes, means that no democratic government is going to tell people how to plan, or not plan their families and is certainly not going to put into place more sinister designs for reducing their country’s population.
But could having more than two children go the same way as drink driving and smoking indoors, become socially unacceptable? Hopefully not; it would be a dull world if we were all the same. Two is not a bad number, better than just one? Lots of couples choose or find themselves having one child and singletons might say they enjoyed their status or had a bunch of cousins to play with. In China the one child policy left a generation without siblings, then further down the line a generation without cousins or aunties and uncles. A lone child stifled by adoring parents and grandparents; the first time such a huge social experiment has been carried out.
Having just one child is nothing new; in the 1920’s and 1930’s ordinary people in Britain found themselves able to buy into the suburban dream with mass building of terraced houses and they also had access to contraceptives. Coming from big families, the prospect of less children and less work must have seemed attractive and those houses may have had the delights of an inside bathroom, but they were too small for a big family. Many people did choose to have one child and my aunt said my grandfather used to be introduced with ‘He’s got THREE daughters.’
I don’t write about my family, but here I must confess that my father also had two siblings and they had three of us; we have three and it does work out mathematically or that’s my excuse. Take my siblings and cousins, they all have two, one or none, so the ten of us have more or less replaced ourselves with eleven children. A male cousin had twins at fifty, so there is twenty five years between my first born and his – do they even count as the same generation?
There is nothing simple about families. A couple have two children, then break up, meet new partners and in a rosy romantic glow decide to have more children. If you’re an ageing rock star you repeat this process quite often. But there seem to be enough people having one or none to offset this. Births in England and Wales in 2018 were 1.7 per woman so do we need to worry? Now it’s not how many children can you afford to raise, but what is their carbon footprint?
We all have a carbon footprint just by being born, though being born is not our fault. We hope our children will make a contribution to society, we expect them to be a combination of the best characteristics of both parents, with none of the negative qualities ( in my case our children actually are! ) and we certainly don’t want them to be in prison for serious crimes.
So your daughter is a top surgeon, your son an astronaut, another child a famous musician, how proud you must be. But how much fossil fuel is the astronaut using to get up to the space station, what is the carbon footprint of the musician jet setting round the world to concerts? Your neighbour’s prisoner son is sitting in his little shared cell not going anywhere, a carbon footprint of practically zero, while your top surgeon daughter is living in a massive house full of every electrical device and a gas boiler pumping heat round a vast number of rooms. If you have produced a leading scientist who cycles to work and is busy inventing ways to save the earth, well done.
How do you see the future of the human race?