I recently finished the fascinating, sad and encouraging The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. Coincidentally, I also read a Slate article by Daniel Engber examining one of Weisman’s recommendations for saving the planet–the single-child policy:
Let’s cut the birth rate to one child per couple, for a few generations at least. The population would dwindle by about 5 billion people over the next century, he says, ensuring the habitability of the Earth for the 1.6 billion who remained. At that point, they could all reap the rewards of a more spacious planet, sharing in “the growing joy of watching the world daily become more wonderful.”
I tell you, the graph in the book is a pretty impressive bell curve, and nearly mirrors current population estimates of 9.2 billion Earthlings by 2050.
One of the things that gives me hope for humanity’s future is Japan’s aging population. If we somehow manage to survive the crush of another 3 or 4 billion humans, and continue to improve the lives of the average Asian and African, then eventually many countries on the planet might develop to the point where populations shrink instead of grow. Weisman’s dream of a population of a couple billion might not happen by 2150, but it could happen.
If you enjoy Engber’s article, you might want to read the transcript of his online chat with readers which is both argumentative and insightful.
I wrote about a similar yet more radical proposal back in January. In the comments, somebody pointed out that the most effective way to go green is to commit (an environmentally-friendly) suicide. Somebody makes the same point to Engber, and I liked his reply:
I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails asking me if I favor euthanasia, murder, genocide, etc. But I don’t think that’s the logical extension of my argument. If I told you I favored a Prius over a Hummer, would you then ask me if I thought we should walk everywhere?
Here’s a related bonus link: Michelle Tsai writes about Russia’s peculiar attempts to increase its population.