By Bob Cesca:
If someone asks you what is the planet’s most dangerous problem, your immediate answer should be overpopulation. There are simply too many people and nowhere near the resources to adequately sustain the current population, much less the population of one, five or ten years down the road.
Here’s a cheerful thought. At some point, nature will rise up and correct the human population problem as we reproduce like cancer cells, and I don’t necessarily want to be around when that happens, either by an unstoppable global pandemic or some other worldwide calamity. The climate crisis is probably first in line to wipe out large sections of the human population, mostly in densely populated third world coastal nations. Ultimately, though, the planet will be just fine without us, but unless we intend to curb our population growth and the accelerated doubling time (the rate at which the human population doubles) nature will do it for us.
In America, however, everything is fine and dandy. It feels like we’re shielded from the overpopulation crisis, which is probably why no one here really talks about it in spite of its critical importance. Actually, the only people talking about population in America are conservatives who are worried that we’re not having enough babies — arguing that we need to increase our birth rate and population.
Ross Douthat posted a column in The New York Times yesterday perpetuating this ridiculous argument. Here’s what set him off:
Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.) For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British.
Zoinks! We’re not salad-shooting as many babies as we did 21 years ago! Someone notify the Duggars to keep going!
Douthat argues that a healthy American population growth rate provides an economic benefit: more babies means more taxpayers and entrepreneurs. But of course we’ve never lacked entrepreneurs and the primary reason for the recent decline in tax revenue has been the supply-side Reaganomics ideas marketed by people like Douthat: tax cuts, deregulation, income inequality, and so forth, which precipitated the Great Recession. Instead of rolling back 30 years of Reaganomics favoring the wealthy, while also undermining the middle class, Douthat thinks it’s a better idea to “make more babies.”
No thanks. I can’t imagine anything more irresponsible.
America represents only four percent of the world’s population yet we consume 33 percent of the world’s resources. That’s dangerously unsustainable — not to mention totally immoral. We’re a self-indulgent, greedy culture, and yet even as we seemingly digest the planet like a Double-Down sandwich, America has the second highest rate of child poverty in the world — 23 percent — second only to Romania. We have 1.6 million homeless children. We’re 34th in infant mortality (Cuba is 33rd). We’re 13th in education, 31st in math, 23rd in science. Hell, we’re 51st in life expectancy. And conservatives suggest that should have more children?
The average person living in the United States uses 300 shopping bags worth of raw materials every week – weighing as much as a large luxury car. We would need the resources of three planets for everyone on Earth to live as people in the United States do. [...]
The Ecological Footprint (the amount of the earth’s surface that it takes to provide everything each person uses) of the average person in the United States is about 12 times larger than the footprint of the average inhabitant of India. So the 4.1 million babies born in the United States this year will have almost the same impact on the earth as the 27.6 million babies born in India.
We’re consuming far more resources than is necessary and yet we still have a terrible record when it comes to raising healthy children. Why?
Partly because our healthcare system sucks. Douthat and other conservatives have demonized and shouted-down the expansion of programs like SCHIP, Medicaid and Obamacare, not to mention universal healthcare and a single-payer government-operated healthcare system — the very programs that contribute to higher life expectancies in nations like Canada and Japan (in Japan, for example, citizens pay just 30 percent of healthcare expenses while the government picks up the remaining 70 percent). In the world of conservatism, as Barney Frank once said, life begins at conception and ends at birth. After that you’re on your own.
How about this: instead of indiscriminately squirting out more babies than we’re capable of adequately caring for, with one in four being born into poverty, let’s make sure the children we’re birthing have a better shot at growing up healthy, happy and well-educated, and thus developing into the taxpayers and entrepreneurs of the future that Douthat is looking for. And it’s likely that with an increase in healthier Americans, fertility rates will improve.
Until we get there, until we can figure out how to do it in a responsible and sustainable way, please don’t make more babies, America. So far, we’ve really screwed it up.