“A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Reducing the Number of Additional Carbon Emitters”

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

OPT Report: Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost. Appendix A: Terms of Reference.

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

OPT Report: Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost.

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?


6 responses to ““A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Reducing the Number of Additional Carbon Emitters”

  1. Having made quick searches in the second study for the words “immigration” or “emigration”, producing no matches, I realised that this was no more than another rather meaningless attempt at modelling out to year 2100, then assuming that “emissions continue at that rate indefinitely” (according to the paper).

    What about future progress in technology, in countries’ development, in mortality (such as if humankind in future discovers a general cure for cancer)? How can we see 90+ years into the future? And why isn’t a “net present value” discount applied, so as to tie it all back to real-world values today?

    This is effectively more US self-flagellation, applying a further compound multiplier to its already high levels of personal energy consumption as a developed nation – as you say, with NASA support.

  2. Let those who wish to reduce the number of emitters begin by topping themselves and their kith and kin. Of course, this will never happen. Being the intellectual class will mean they will be exempt from any such sacrifice, leaving it to the plebs and peons to do what is required – any without any complaints.

  3. Of course humans are not the only carbon emmitters, ants, worms, swans, termites, elephants, rats…….lets start on the eco diversity first, perhaps by emptying the sea of fish.

  4. IIRC the economic projections that underlie the IPCC’s climate projections already take into account population decreases. Globalisation is expected to cause wealth in poorer nations to increase – wealthier peoples tend to have fewer children so the population is expected to peak and then decline.

    From that it is a doddle to see that more rapid globalisation and a shot in the arm for free trade would do wonders for speeding up that population decline without it needing to be a Government (or United Nations) edict that we should have fewer children. Increased competition pushes prices down so our cost of living falls. Developing nation producers see a rise in their incomes. Wealth is redistributed by choice not by force and with minimum involvement from Governments.

    There is however one issue that is *always* glossed over by the population reduction argument – welfare. If population growth is a sin to these people why aren’t they advocating for an end to child benefits?(And foreign aid) Then only people who can afford to have children would have them. Think of all the emissions we could save!

    And to use their own language against them that isn’t a regressive move but a progressive one. Even arch socialists have accepted that price signals work or they wouldn’t support carbon taxation. Ceasing child benefit programmes would empower the public because a greater proportion of the cost of children would be on the shoulders of the parents. Socialising the cost lessens that price signal. Socialising it as far as some countries have turns it into an incentive to have children. You do not empower people by removing responsibilities from them – all you do is deputise them into your cause.(eg the clamour for a $100billion a year fund to ‘combat’ climate change by redistributing taxpayers’ money to foreign Governments)*

    I know why this doesn’t happen – the Fabian is strong in them. It overrides any sensibilities they might have about tackling their bugbear because it involves reducing the influence of the State and diminishing the feel good factor that they get from knowing money has been taken off productive people.

    * But the whole eco-wibble money train is all about removing responsibility for spending our own money from Western taxpayers and removing (and to some extent preventing) responsibility for earning their own money from third world and developing nations. Trade barriers are getting higher and foreign aid is getting higher when they should both be getting lower.

  5. ‘Environmentalism’ = anti-humanism. By definition.

    This is only now becoming apparent to a wider audience, and not before time.

  6. Pingback: Eye on Britain (2)

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