Quantity Control

Must we care about population statistics?

Once human beings were relatively rare. There were only four million of us in the year 10,000 b.c.e. If life was good even in that harsher world, that’s reason to think it was a net positive that the human population grew to five million by 5,000 b.c.e. Barring special reasons why not, it’s fair to say that more of a good thing is a good thing. But now we’re getting exceedingly numerous. By the end of the nineteenth century, the world’s population was 1.6 billion and in 1960, there were three billion of us. It took just forty years for the human population to double again—making six billion of us in 2000. The rate of growth has slowed, but the total population may rise to nine billion in 2050, and ten billion by 2100.

People haven’t stopped being good things, but the good in one new life has to be balanced against the overall impact of adding one more person to an already crowded world. A new child will use up resources (land, water, oil, minerals) and produce waste (garbage, greenhouse gases, pollution). Because of rampant human procreation and consumption, the planet is warming and biodiversity is threatened. Making a child is a good thing to do, as far as that one child goes, but considering the impact, must responsible people think twice about having a third or a fourth child, or even a first or second?

If you are on the verge of having your first child, you will want very much to have a reason to put aside environmental worries. As a philosophical prospective parent, you will want a good reason, not just an excuse.

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