Apparently, a possible solution to our current environmental crisis is population control, that is, reduce our reproduction levels. I’m not convinced that this is a solution. Whilst population control seems like a logical response, it is in my view a flawed solution. Call me a cynic, but so long as there is a demand for products and services that continue to degrade our environment, commercial entities will continue to meet that demand. I am not here claiming to be the most environmentally friendly user of our planet, nor am I trying to justify my own indulgences, I am simply reiterating the point so aptly made in the Robots (2005) movie that captures the commercialisation of society: see a need, fill a need.
The argument for population control in short proposes that a reduction in people will lead to a reduction in our ecological footprint (EF) which will in turn assist in resolving our environmental crisis. However, in a capitalist economy, commercial entities and society in general will justify any increases in their EF on the basis that there are less people so there is more room to move in respect of their EF size. Consider an example using what I will call the ‘pay day mentality’:
X is a student. She gets a student allowance every Thursday. Its Tuesday and X has $20.00 in her bank account. X walks past a bakery at lunch time and contemplates buying her lunch which she calculates will cost her $9.50. X has a packed lunch in her bag. X decides not to buy her lunch since she already has lunch in her bag and she might need that $20.00 for something else.
Its now Thursday and X has been paid. X walks past the bakery, but this time she decides that she will buy her lunch, even though she has a packed lunch in her bag because she has more money in her bank account, and is not in the same position she was on Tuesday.
This is analogous to the ‘less people more room to move’ argument posited above on the basis of the following reasoning: when there is risk people will act more cautiously, and when the risk is lessened they will act more freely. Additionally, where it appears there is no risk, people act indulgently and this is the problem with asserting that population control will reduce the global EF, because people will assume once the population is reduced to a particular level, whatever that level might be, that there is no longer a risk to the environment and therefore, room to act indulgently.
Additionally, population control implicates a raft of other problems. Firstly, instituting a regime similar to China’s one child per couple rule as a global standard will indirectly affect the many minority cultures that form part of our global community and could potentially lead to the extinction of some of those cultures. Secondly, it raises issues as to whether the global standard of such control could justify forcing people to use contraceptives. Thirdly, it does not tell us what happens when a person has more than their ‘quota’ of children, that is, do we resort to the practice of infanticide and if so, is it the role of the family or the state to carry out the act of infanticide, or alternatively, will the state simply reduce the quota of other citizens to recalibrate the imbalance and how will the state decide who will be penalised because of another persons excess? Finally, it is unclear how we are to determine the desirable population size.
There are more questions posited here than answers, but the general point is to bring awareness to the many problems faced by supporting a population control policy as a means for resolving or attempting to resolve the environmental crisis.