Mega-Moms

February 8, 2009

Reflections…

Filed under: Uncategorized — lotsofkids @ 5:51 pm

I will admit I feel a little bad about my negative rant below, particularly since I have had so many people tell us that we looked great in the article and they thought it was only slightly negative. As always, a lot of support from families of all sizes.

Reflecting on how smaller families perceive us, and misunderstand us, I think one of my friends put it best, talking about an outsider’s look into the large family lifestyle:

“The article has a slightly negative tenor. This is a bit of a stretch, but for analogy’s sake, I liken it almost to faith… or religion. Outsiders are not going to understand. They are going to send in their ‘analysts,’ who aren’t really trying to understand, either. They will report their findings which will be colored by their prejudged, preformed opinions. And call it ‘facts.’ Those of us who are practicing this life, this ‘faith,’ if you will, who are living it and know what the truth is can only smile & represent as best we can.”

Thanks to all of you who helped me put it into better perspective. I guess I was a prime example of what the article was trying to show…that large families can (and often do) feel like we are being attacked.

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5 Comments »

  1. I sympathize with large families that feel attacked or maligned. That sort of dialogue is destructive and disrespectful. Moreover, singling out a large family as the source of world’s problems is often rather disingenuous.

    Advocates of small families (or zero-population growth) and supporters of big families need to (and can) find some common ground. Here are two things that everyone can easily agree upon:

    1. Earth has exceeded carrying capacity. Quality of life for most of the world’s population will be better in 30 years if populations are lower.

    2. No matter what happens, population growth *will* level off some time. We can do it voluntarily, or wait for disease, hunger, and war to do it for us. For other species on the planet, rapid growth and tragic collapse is the natural rhythm of life, but there’s no reason this has to happen to humans.

    2. Human beings have a fundamental right to reproduce, and it is morally impracticable to let society decide who gets to reproduce and who doesn’t.

    I don’t know how to mitigate these problems, but together they create a classic tragedy of the commons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons).

    The issue is complicated by a myriad of other problems and inequities in the world. Just for example:

    Compared to much of the rest of the world, per capita Americans consume more and reproduce less. Does this mean that consuming less would entitle us to reproduce more? I don’t know, but it doesn’t change the fact that consuming less *and* reproducing less would effect positive environmental change in the world. We have reached the point where environmental problems, especially in the form of access to clean drinking water, are a major source of humanitarian crisis — especially overseas, but even here in the States (for example, providing water for Los Angelenos 20 years from now will be a critical issue).

    Modern economies are sustained by continued increases in consumptive activities, so it can be argued that population growth fuels the economy which in turn leads to a better life for everyone. On the other hand, there is that common saying that, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever on a finite planet is either a madman or an economist.”

    We can all work towards these common goals. They are important, and there’s no need for personal attacks. I’m sure we’d all prefer that humans not become an irruptive species.

    Cheers,

    Brandon

    Comment by Brandon — February 9, 2009 @ 6:46 pm

    • You make some interesting arguments, but I think the main point of contention is whether or not the planet is at “max capacity.” Thing is, there are many scientists who feel we could easily support double or triple the population. What I found interesting to learn is that the idea that “too many will destroy the planet” has been around since the 18th century–when there were arguably much fewer people. The fact that we are still here says something. For more on the flawed logic (and possible ulterior motives) of the “2-child-only” thinking, I direct you to this excellent article:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1133682/MELANIE-PHILLIPS-Why-Green-zealots-think-dictate-children-allowed-have.html?ITO=1490

      As for all of the doom-and-gloom predictions, those are heavily based on current population numbers. There is substantial data available showing that birth rates in most countries are at 0 or negative numbers. While today the buzz is about too many people, in just a generation or two the numbers are going to fall dramatically and the problem is then going to be too few people to support the economy/aging/etc. It’s a complex issue, indeed.

      Comment by lotsofkids — February 9, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  2. Strongly worded article. Nonetheless, let’s look at the main points from M. Phillips article:

    1) Dictating the number of children is inhumane. We need only look at China to see evidence of this.

    I agree. As I wrote earlier, I think it is morally impracticable to let society decide who gets to reproduce and who doesn’t. Since I’m not advocating that society dictate who gets to reproduce, I’ll assume that the “totalitarians” referred to in the article don’t include people like me.

    2) Environmentalism is an unwarranted impingement of our freedoms to use incandescent bulbs, eat meat, and not recycle.

    Yes, some environmentalists can get rather zealous in support of their cause. However, this does not necessarily undermine the arguments for environmentalism.

    3) To oppose fertility treatment that would larger families is “anti-human”, does not hold up the duty to “support life,” and represents an effort to “reduce human life.”

    First, this is clearly sophistry, playing on the two ways we can perceive phrases like “anti-human” and “reduce human life.” The author makes it sound like a human life was taken away, almost murdered. No one was murdered. Regardless of whether the doctor was right or wrong to oppose fertility treatment, it is clear that the only injured party here is the parents, who would like to conceive additional children. The unconceived cannot be counted as victims! The true goal of a doctor is to protect and prolong a high quality of life, not to maximize the number of souls on the planet. The author disengenuously encourages the reader to think otherwise.

    4) Then, amazingly, she blames environmentalism for the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust.

    There are many logical fallacies buried in here (eg. correlation implies causation: Hilter was also an artist, so did the early 20th century art movement give birth to fascism and genocide?), but first and foremost, this reflects a remarkably ignorant grasp of world history, on par with Holocaust denial and 9/11 conspiracy theories.

    5) “But then the whole man-made global warming theory has turned out to be just as absurd. As Britain shivers in its harshest winter for 13 years, atmospheric data shows that the earth is getting colder, not hotter, the ice caps are increasing not disappearing and the rise in sea level has slowed and is nothing out of the ordinary.”

    Clearly, the author is no historian. And now we see that she rejects broad scientific concensus. Is there no subject on which she is totally uninformed yet entirely ready to pontificate?

    OK, so enough of the article. You make better arguments than Melanie Phillips.

    1. …whether or not the planet is at “max capacity.”

    You’re right: max capacity is very tricky to define. One definition would be the maximum number of people that the planet could support under the idealistic scenario that 1) virtually all of the planet’s resources go to supporting the population, and 2) thanks to technological advances, amazing governance, and unprecedented altruism, humans are uniformly very efficient in their use of those resources. This definition is clearly has its problems.

    It is my view that maximizing the number of people on the planet should not be our goal. There are clearly trade-offs to be considered with a larger population, and it may be that we are already well past the point where we can sustainably support current numbers, with or without reductions in the average quality of life. Moreover, the world is not evenly populated. In some regions of the world, we are far past that region’s carrying capacity.

    Even if the planet can “easily” support 2 or 3 times the current population, current projections for exponential growth suggest that we’ll be there within my lifetime or my children’s.

    “What I found interesting to learn is that the idea that “too many will destroy the planet” has been around since the 18th century–when there were arguably much fewer people.”

    Yes, this is quite true, but you should be careful not to fall into the fallacy of appeal to tradition (“It’s always been this way, therefore it will continue to be.”) If the industrial revolution hadn’t brought us fertilizer and industrial agriculture, for example, it’s quite possible that those 18th century predictions would be right. Moreover, never before have there been 6.75 billion people on the planet, so we are in uncharted territory where the failure of previous predictions to come true tells us little about our current situation.

    In any event, the broader point is that population growth must and will eventually level off. Either we choose to limit the population (voluntarily), or we don’t. If we don’t, we are guaranteed to bring population levels to a point where populations are forced to drop: a large crop fails, war breaks out over dwindling oil reserves, or a new disease forms in some densely settled area and goes global. Even though 18th century predictions didn’t come to pass, history is filled with these examples: humans have fought countless times over limited resources, many diseases that started in crowded communities have ravaged a civilization, failed crops and changing weather patterns have also led to a civilization’s collapse. Sure, it’s doom and gloom, but it happens. The closer we get to the max capacity (whatever it is), the more likely these events are to happen. Forestalling such events is a very humanitarian thing to do.

    “There is substantial data available showing that birth rates in most countries are at 0 or negative numbers. While today the buzz is about too many people, in just a generation or two the numbers are going to fall dramatically and the problem is then going to be too few people to support the economy/aging/etc.”

    Yes, I’ve read this, and it’s an interesting theory. As nations become developed, birth rates decline. If this happens in enough countries, population growth will level off, and in some countries even decline. In some cases, population decline can reach problematic rates (eg. parts of western Europe). Right now, though, immigration tends to more than make up for this. Even worse, Africa is slipping *backwards* and makes a pretty good example of a place where disease, war, and famine are the main limits to population growth. Zimbabwe, with its recent cholera outbreak, is a shocking example of how quickly and badly things can fall apart.

    Comment by Brandon — February 9, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

    • Well, I do appreciate and respect your POV. I will say I certainly don’t dispute that a burgeoning global population presents its challenges. However, I do believe that humans are far more industrious than people give them credit for. Your quote: “If the industrial revolution hadn’t brought us fertilizer and industrial agriculture, for example, it’s quite possible that those 18th century predictions would be right.”

      That’s correct. Our population has grown because it *can*. As more people have graced the earth, there have been more brilliant minds and ideas. It is through those innovations that we saw advancements in agriculture and other industries that allowed us to get to the point where we are today. To say we are doomed now is to argue that there are no further advancements on the horizon and that there is no possibility we can find ways to support our population. That’s simply not the case. You continue to see advances in many fields that will help us tackle the issues that face us. There is always a strong argument by people who oppose population control, stating that the greatest commodity is the human mind. As one scientist said, “people don’t cause problems, they solve them.” I understand that is a rather rosy way of looking at things, but at the core, it’s a true statement.

      Another thing we simply cannot ignore is that many of these naysayers make a blanket statement about populations. As you mention, certain parts of the world are overpopulated. If we go and cut the population in America that’s not going to help things get less cozy in India. We do have to look at the global impact, but we also have to be careful not to cut our nose off to spite our face. If we lower our own populations too drastically, we will have our own problems to face supporting the aged with not enough youth to do so, and that will force us to focus all our energies here and be unable to help other countries that may need us.

      Moreover, a decrease in population will not stop another large contributing factor: corrupt governments and industry. As much as Melanie Phillips may have her own alarmist thoughts, the truth is there are countries that have food rotting in warehouses while their people starve. You mention Africa, and some of the wealthiest governments there have some of the poorest population. Greed is such a large contributing factor to this problem. There are many in the nihilist movement who will admittedly say they want to eliminate the population growth so they can take a bigger piece of the pie without guilt. This article features a bit of that thinking: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/10/04/pip.populationquestion/

      Again, no real answers. I do believe, however, that while large families may nominally add to the problem (only .5 percent of all American families have 5 or more kids), we are doing our part to help too. As you note, consumption is a big issue. Large families are more frugal by necessity. They make what they have go further. That’s the first step. Yes, it’s important to be concerned with what we may have tomorrow, but we have to start with better handling what we have today. I do believe the planet can hold more people. That’s my total, unscientific opinion. I will admit, it does depend a good deal on faith. Not simply on God, but faith that there will be responsible men who will work to find answers to these problems. Not simply telling people not to have kids, but finding new ways to feed, warm/cool, house, and generally care for the people on this planet. It seems to me (and perhaps to you unless I’m reading this wrong) that simply getting rid of a bunch of people seems like a “simple” way out. It would seem more practical to change our attitudes, get a little greener, and live lives more complimentary to the planet. If nothing else, it would buy us time until those super advancements are in place that will save us all. ;O)

      I do like this discussion, and welcome your closing comments on this. However, I don’t want to bog down this blog on this issue. If you would be interested in talking to me more about this, and perhaps submitting an op-piece to my site, Lotsofkids.com, I would be happy to talk to you more about that. You can email me at lotsofkids123[at]aol.com.

      Comment by lotsofkids — February 9, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  3. Great to read your comments. While I am skeptical that we will always be able to innovate our way out of our problems, I am certainly hoping that we do. I don’t know if the world can hold more people, but it is certainly straining under the current load. Ultimately, I think a combination of innovation, conservation, and access to contraceptives are probably the winning approach to sustainable living.

    Thanks for your thoughtful replies, I enjoyed reading them.

    Comment by Brandon — February 9, 2009 @ 11:26 pm


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