Could the Climate Crisis be a Reproductive Crisis?

In Children, Climate Change, Environment, Life, The Big Picture by Wesley Haverlah0 Comments

“Here’s a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them.”

Or so says Travis Rieder, a philosopher with the Berman Institute of Bioethics, in a presentation on a “small-family ethic” to students at James Madison University, according to a recent NPR article.

The basic premise is this: climate change predictions are so dire as to merit little hope—aside from severely reducing the earth’s human population. Such reduction would be accomplished, in Rieder’s view, by having fewer children.

Rieder’s analysis, as well as those of his colleagues, heavily relies upon an alarmist perspective on climate change—that perspective claims that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is real, dire, inevitable, and near incontrovertible.

Despite the oft-repeated (but completely debunked) statistic of a 97% scientific consensus, Chris Skates recently exposed the anti-scientific practices increasingly common among university professors and politicians, and the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and other organizations regularly publish evidence that the climate situation is far from dire.

To state the inconsistency less starkly, Roger Scruton pointed out that most middle-of-the-road thinkers acknowledge that “[environmental] science is in its infancy and that we cannot predict with certainty what might happen if human beings continue to discharge greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at the current rate.”

Even if the future is as grim as he claims (which it’s not), Rieder’s response to catastrophic climate change seems radical. The idea of embracing trouble in our day so that our children may have peace has most often been attributed to Thomas Paine. In a political culture that delays current problems to pass them on to a later administration, the sacrifice and responsibility found in the movements of sustainability and environmental conservation are inspiring. However, Rieder advocates for a different kind of generational ethic.

Rieder’s ethic calls for population engineeringwhich he describes as “the intentional manipulation of the size and structure of human populations”—in order to protect future generations. Rieder and his colleagues argue that this should be pursued not only via non-coercive but also via potentially coercive, and even clearly coercive means. Though an attempt is made to distinguish this from China’s one-child policy, the resemblances are eerie.

Responsible choices about reproduction are one thing. Parents are constantly deciding whether to have more kids, and when, and why, and no one should have the power to coerce them. But population engineering is something else entirely. It would have far-reaching implications for all areas of social policy, as well as human freedom.

As we navigate the ethical questions surrounding environmental conservation—and the contradictory research that informs them—it will be essential for us to prize humility and clarity. Reproductive responsibility is ethical and godly. Population engineering, however, is not.

Wes Haverlah is a student at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School studying marketing with a minor in philosophy. He is an intern with Earth Rising Blog, a project of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. Growing up in a family with deep agricultural roots, he is passionate about responsible stewardship of the environment and balancing conservation with relevant economic concerns.

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