We’re Making Too Many Babies

My Monday column:

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. [continue reading...]

  • Victor_the_Crab

    Well, I’m doing my part. I had no desire to make babies at all. Of course that’s mostly because I’m too screwed up to have kids of my own.

  • pgeorge

    According to what I’ve been reading from Bill McKibbon, the planet will NOT be fine without us – we’ve pretty much already ensured that we will leave a plant that won’t be recognizably our home plant for the last few million years. Just today I read that some little shelled creature that sustains the bottom of the arctic food chain can no longer grow its shell – the ocean there is too acidic.

  • muselet

    The incomparable Roy Edroso reminds us that it’s not just Ross Douthat who has this curious obsession with a high birthrate.


  • rob black

    “At some point, nature will rise up and correct the human population problem as we reproduce like cancer cells….”
    and we are seeing the beginning of that correction …right now.
    The planet is about to convert the central plains (wheat country) into a dessert, and convert New York and Miami…and thousands of other coastal cities..into Venice.
    That doubling rate (the global population has doubled in my lifetime) is particularly troubling, because we max out in sustainability around 11 billion, which is, at the current rate, getting very very close.
    It is a deeper problem than we can stand to look at right now. At the core of our capitalistic model is continued, sustained economic “growth”. The rest of the world is now trying to follow that model, and it creates an exponential downward spiral in the climate situation.
    China may have finally overtaken us as the worlds biggest polluter, but they actually are doing much more to mitigate their emissions than we are. It is just that they have a new middle class that numbers about 400 million (get that, China’s middle class outnumbers our entire population!) and that middle class drives cars, and consumes petrochemicals and creates carbon emissions at about the same rate we do….but much of the remaining population still goes out and gets a morning bucket of “coal” to heat their homes and cook their meals. This same situation is being replicated in India as well.
    Meanwhile, in this country, the rich quietly buy generators to power the houses in their gated communities and country estates, as our antiquated energy distribution infrastructure crumbles from lack of upgrades or maintenance (because taxes!!). While their political surrogates yell about “clean coal” and tar sand pipe lines.
    They are making their plans for the “correction”…..and I guess more white babies looks like a solution, if you cant see any farther down the road than the armed guardhouse keeping the rabble outside.

  • trgahan

    I hope Mrs. Douthat is doing her best Dugger-impression to help restock our “shrinking” population for the good of her husband.

    The reason for falling birthrates in all western nations is the very supply-side, your on your own, economic principles Douthat cheer leads. Kids have become so expensive, time consuming, and, lets face it, career killing (especially for woman) that most college educated people just don’t want do it, or at least limit it to one.

    But I think Bob identified a greater problem than population, it is overconsumption, but that gets more of a “Communist!” reaction out of the right than saying we are overpopulated.

    • muselet

      A couple of other reasons for birthrates falling as prosperity rises:

      • Infant mortality drops, so it becomes less necessary to have lots of kids in order for one or two to reach adulthood.
      • Fewer people are needed to work on family farms.
      • Pensions, savings and social safety-net programs for the elderly take the place of having adult children care for their parents.

      Douthat hasn’t thought this through. At all. What a surprise.


  • Bob Rutledge

    Sometimes I believe that the R’s and super-rich (but I repeat myself) have some Space Arks [a la 2012] hidden away somewhere and when the shit is truly hitting the fan they’ll load up and head for some other planet to pillage, because how could anyone be so phenomenally stupid as to actively destroy their planet —

    and then I remember I’m talking about Republicans.

  • agrazingmoose

    Thanks Bob. When I read Douthat’s column the other day, I almost became violent. He did some hand waving towards social support for these new babies by talking about “tax relief” and making sure that they have jobs to support him in his old age. But, what he really was saying is what “zirgar” has already mentioned. The conservatives really want maternity wards to be populated by white babies.

    He isn’t an idiot. He knows that SS and Medicare are already being given healthy support by those immigrants working two or three jobs (one of which at Walmart) and he doesn’t like it. No more immigrants making sure SS is solvent, we want white kids!

    I would surmise that his answer to your climate change and population growth issue would involve people in “other” countries curbing their population growth (he is looking at you, countries in Africa!). As if we should be telling other countries how to manage their population growth.

    Oh! We do, or did during Bush IIs tenure. No birth control for you, African countries. Here’s an aspirin.

    • muselet

      “He isn’t an idiot.”

      Objection. Assumes facts not in evidence.


  • zirgar

    Well, you know, white babies, anyway.