We Americans are having a bad effect on Canada. Just the other day (January 13), Kristen Pyszczyk of CBC suggested quite nicely that perhaps it would be best if people were rude to couples who, like Chip and Joanna Gaines, have more than two children. “Shame is a powerful tool for changing behaviour: it’s how we introduce new and existing social conventions. It’s unfortunate that Chip and Joanna bore the brunt of changing attitudes, but let’s learn from the reaction and examine our own actions.” And so a Canadian feminist talks herself into endorsing impolite behavior because it’s For the Greater Good.
Children and Carbon Emissions
Why must parents of more than two children be shamed and bullied out of reproducing? Well, because population growth is driving climate change, the argument runs. The Global North has a very large carbon footprint and having more kids will simply make it larger. “It’s not OK to have five kids without once considering adoption,” admonishes Pyszczyk. “There are so many children in North America and beyond in need of loving homes, yet adoption rates in many areas are lagging.” It apparently doesn’t occur to her that so many children might be waiting because the far more numerous couples with 0 – 2 kids aren’t beating down the orphanages’ doors either.
But population growth per se isn’t what’s driving global warming. Rather, the culprit is energy consumption reflected in carbon emissions. Industry and commerce consume far more energy than do families. The second-most populated country on the planet, India, produced a mere 1.73 metric tons per capita of carbon in 2014 while Qatar, ranked 147th, emitted an astonishing 45.42 tons per person. What’s the difference? In 2014, Qatar’s economy produced roughly $93,965.20 per person, while India’s produced a mere $1,627.00. The U.S., with the fourth-largest population, produced 16.49 metric tons per person while generating a per capita GDP of about $54,596.70.
Moreover, the correlation between carbon production and population growth is modestly negative. Why? Because wealthier nations tend to have lower natural population increase rates. Countries like Malawi, Afghanistan, and Haiti had the highest natural population increase rates but some of the lowest per-capita GDPs and average wages in 2014; they also produced far less than a ton per person of CO2. By contrast, many First World economies are already at or even below zero growth. Many of them have already instituted wide-ranging “green” measures and are reducing their outputs. Nevertheless, the correlation between national wealth and carbon production is far stronger than between carbon production and population or population growth.
The first point, then, is that the U.S. and Canada are already very close to zero natural increase rates, so it isn’t necessary to hound the multi-child parents into contracepting and adopting. In fact, people who are already at the arbitrary limit of two kids can adopt as well. Why not bug them? This isn’t a tu quoque; rather, it’s a call for the well-meaning nosy jerks with 0 – 2 kids to “walk the talk” before they criticize couples for reproducing instead of adopting.
Besides, some multi-child couples do in fact adopt and take in foster children out of the same generosity that prompted them to have so many children.
The second point: Arguing that more children will consume more resources overlooks a significant flaw — birth control does nothing, nothing, about all the people alive who are (presumably) generating so many metric tons of CO2 now. “Population control is a fraught topic, and carries with it associations with eugenics and other nasty historical events,” Pyszczyk admits. But the only point of putting a gun on the table in Act One, to paraphrase Anton Chekhov, is for it to go off in Act Three. Birth control, abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia have already been put on the table; state compulsion is simply waiting in the wings.
Once you’ve concluded, in good utilitarian fashion, that the Greater Good justifies dismissing taboos, you’ve crossed the only bright line separating you from condoning greater evils that you have to breach.
The third point is that we are addicted to the lifestyles and benefits that our energy-intensive technology and economy have brought us — so much so that we refuse to acknowledge the drastic sacrifices we’d have to make to avoid the predicted disaster, changes that would likely deflate the economy and impoverish us. We are not only wealthy but greedy, self-indulgent, wasteful, and arrogant, foolishly secure in the belief that whatever problems arise, Technology will eliminate. And so we pin our hopes on “green” technology, in the hope that we can continue to wastefully indulge ourselves (but more energy-efficiently).
Perhaps by doing so, we can stave off the wrack long enough to build the Giant Space Ark, leave this dump and go spoil another planet. In the meantime, it’s so much easier to bully people into having only one or two kids … if they must have kids at all.
Signs of Contradiction
Berating multi-child parents is not only wrong-headed bullying, it’s futile. Shaming only works on people who have done things of which they know they should be ashamed. Granted that my sample size is small and religiously biased, I still say I know of few (if any) such parents who can be shamed out of their behavior. On the contrary: they’ll either cheerfully deflate you with a witty riposte or rip you a new fundamental orifice for your asinine rudeness.
After all, multi-child parents are not insecure teenagers or college students looking for acceptance by the “in crowd.” They’re mature, (mostly) well-adjusted adults who made their choices knowing they were transgressing social boundaries. More than that, they’re signs of contradiction (cf. Luke 2:34): by sacrificing so much to raise more than the usual number, their lives are testimony against those truly selfish souls who will neither procreate nor adopt because they consider children a burden and an enslavement. They are the nonviolent social revolutionaries Pyszczyk and her ilk only wish they were.