In this post I look at two reports which that show a worrying new trend towards the dehumanization of people by referring to children as simply “carbon emitters” and quite openly arguing that fewer “emitters” would mean lower emissions at less cost.
The first report comes from the London School of Economics, and was sponsored by the neo-Malthusian organization, the Optimum Population Trust (OPT, patron: Sir David Attenborough).
The report, entitled “Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost,” is a cost/benefit analysis which claims that reducing the future population is the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions. Although the report stresses that “non-coercive” means should be pursued to reduce births, its terms of reference are somewhat Orwellian in tone:
A Cost/ Benefit Analysis of Reducing the Number of Additional Carbon Emitters as well as Average Per Capita Carbon Emission
I don’t know about you, but when organizations with the sort of backing that the OPT has start referring to things like “reducing the number of additional carbon emitters” I find it quite sinister.
The report comes with a statement by the OPT which recommends that climate change negotiators recognize that “population restraint” is a vital part of tackling global warming and says, in part:
All environmental problems, and notably those arising from climate change, would be easier to solve with a smaller future population. Population restraint in rich countries and communities would reduce the future number of major carbon emitters (who will also be victims). Restraint in poor countries and communities would reduce the number of minor emitters and likely major victims
The statement proposes that the “contraction and convergence” targets for Co2 emissions that all countries have accepted in principle (though not formally agreed on) should be on a ‘per capita’ basis to “encourage the adoption of population restraint policies”. What this means in non-jargon terms is that when setting a nation’s Co2 emissions targets in any future treaty, these emissions should be the ‘ceiling’ or maximum allowable amount – if more people are subsequently born, the total emissions allowed for that nation cannot then increase. So, effectively, each individual’s allowed emissions will therefore have to decrease to stay within the emissions target that the nation had previously agreed to.
The other report is ‘Reproduction and the Carbon Legacies of Individuals‘ by Paul A. Murtaugha and Michael G. Schlax, published in the journal, Global Environmental Change.
This study looks at now much carbon an individual will generate in their lifetime not only by normal activities, but also the carbon generated by their children and their children’s children. As it takes two people (obviously!) to have children, the authors talk in terms of “genetic units” to indicate responsibility for these future carbon emitters (in other words, your child is 50% your “genetic unit” and 50% your partner’s).
Here is the basic assumption and aim of the study. Consider exactly what their basic premise implies:
Our basic premise is that a person is responsible for the carbon emissions of his descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him. [p. 14]
Our goal is to quantify the consequences of the child bearing decisions of an individual. The appeal of our weighting scheme is that it provides an accounting of the extent to which a parent’s genetic material propagates through subsequent generations, and it allows the emissions of any individual to be unambiguously traced back and ‘‘assigned’’ to ancestors from any preceding generation. [p. 15]
The study then proceeds to assign the total carbon emissions of a female alive today under different fertility “constraints”
Fig. 5 shows trajectories of person years vs. time in the United States, for ancestral females that are constrained to have exactly 0, 1, 2 or 3 children . . . [p. 17].
They then go on in figure 6 to show how these different projections affect “the average mass of CO2 for which the ancestor is responsible”. The potential for reducing carbon emissions by reducing the number of future “genetic units” was remarkable. Whereas increasing a car’s fuel efficiency from 20mpg to 30mpg saved only 148 metric tons of Co2 emissions over an individual’s lifetime, reducing the number of children by one on a “constant-emission scenario” gave a lifetime saving of Co2 emissions of 9,441 metric tons!
As the study concludes, “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle” although they caution that reducing the future population on its own is not enough. What is required is that the changes to your lifestyle are then multiplied by you having fewer children who also live a low-carbon lifestyle as well:
This is not to say that lifestyle changes are unimportant; in fact, they are essential, since immediate reductions in emissions worldwide are needed to limit the damaging effects of climate change that are already being documented (Kerr, 2007; Moriarty and Honnery, 2008). The amplifying effect of an individual’s reproduction documented here implies that such lifestyle changes must propagate through future generations in order to be fully effective, and that enormous future beneﬁts can be gained by immediate changes in reproductive behavior [p.18]
Like the OPT report, this study does not recommend any coercive measures or legislation. It’s looking at the potential for reducing carbon emissions by reducing the number of “emitters”. These are scientific papers: legislation is not their remit. What’s worrying is this new trend towards discussing children in terms of their emissions. It’s the tacit and unspoken way that the equation of humans/gas is taken as somehow acceptable in modern society because of the supposed threat of global warming.
Oh, and whom do we have to thank for funding this study? The postscript tells us it was “supported by NASA through contract 1206715 administered by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory”. What is NASA doing funding a study into the benefits of reducing the population? Who knows?