Is Population Control a valid form of Environmentalism?

Is population control a valid form of environmentalism?

Population control is a solution to current environmental issues (climate change, ecosystem destruction, loss of biodiversity, etc) that very few want to talk about, as some feel that reproduction is an unalienable right and/or limiting it treads on religious and/or other moral values.  But is reproduction really an unalienable right? and at what point do the rights of us all to live on a healthy planet supersede individual religious beliefs/moral values?

These are tough questions and therefore one reason why the subject is avoided, but it really is the “elephant in the room” for most environmental discussions.  In a planet of 1 billion people, we likely wouldn’t be having climate change talks or many of the current environmental issues.

One definition of freedom is that I am free to do whatever I want to do, as long as it doesn’t impose (unfairly or unnecessarily) on the freedoms of others.  What people and governments have been arguing about since the beginning of time is the when one’s right to freedom imposes on another – there are grey lines, and courts and city halls decide these matters on a daily basis.

Imagine for a moment we are on an island with 9 people, with a fresh water generator that can safely provide for 9 people.  What’s the right answer to population control?  NO MORE PEOPLE ON THE ISLAND (or create better technology)!!  Technology is one answer, but the Earth has limits that we may (likely) be approaching and/or have surpassed.

In the case of Population Control – the impact of an additional person on our fragile planet has an undeniable impact on everyone of the existing residents.  I am not proposing the Draconian one child policy of China (which by many projections limited the population by 400 million this generation).  But something should be done.

Some propose to use economic growth to solve the problem – many advanced economies have the opposite problem of high birth rate countries – their birth rate is too low (below replacement value).  Many advanced economy countries are only growing due to immigration. Therefore, the theory goes, if citizens of the world gain wealth, they will procreate as a slower pace, and the problem solves itself.  There is data to support this, but it doesn’t seem like a viable short term solution, and how much of the world’s resources will be used to create that wealth?

Unfortunately many of the individuals creating population growth are the ones least able to support their children –  acting on perverse incentives such as high infant/child mortality and cultural norms that abhor contraceptive use.  What is an ethical person to do? We could take a play from international politics and try to negotiate a better outcome, but a negotiated solution seems unlikely without other incentives.  Other solutions include permits or taxes for children, contraception education and distribution, and draconian measures such as mandatory sterilization.  All with their own ethical and moral baggage.

From some perspectives limiting population is not cruel, it is just is a solution. And, unfortunately, if we don’t prevent births somehow without a giant leap in technology, then we all will suffer and the poorest will suffer the most.  We may level out to a certain population over time (some project 10 billion), but at what cost, and how much suffering?

I must ask again, is population control a valid form of environmentalism?  Let’s keep the conversation going.

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