What amateur logicians call "guilt by association" might be bad logic, but it is an excellent rhetorical strategy. The endless public calls by X for Y to disavow Z after Z is discovered to have endorsed A in order to prove that Y is not a proponent of A prove this. Still, I would prefer not to judge the Green New Deal and its proponents on the basis of their evident comfort with what sounds like the environmentalist fear-mongering about overpopulation that has and will always be fundamentally eugenicist.
Which is why I have to assume that when Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told some of her followers recently that "young people" are asking themselves whether it is "okay to still have children," she was speaking off the cuff as a non-parent politician rather than endorsing a popular '70s conspiracy theory. But it's still worth addressing.
When Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb in 1968, he was reviving an argument that is at least as old as the Rev. Thomas Malthus. In its essentials the brief for population control has always been the same: People are having too many children, which is going to lead to some kind of unprecedented ecological and logistical crisis; in order to prevent this from happening, we must prevent them from having children. Often the "people" in question turn to be racial minorities or immigrants or the poor. In recent years this kind of talk has largely been driven underground, though one Democrat who has been an open and enthusiastic advocate of population control did come close to winning a House seat last year. Meanwhile, people continue having children, and the crisis never quite pans out.
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But the same basic logic undergirds mainstream environmental rhetoric today. In an essay entitled "I'm an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here's why," David Roberts essentially admits this after a lot of throat-clearing about the historical ugliness of population control talk:
See how neat that is? You can still think the same thing, but you have to use different words.
The conclusion that because "the lives of children are going to be very difficult" at some unspecified point in the future, people should consider not having them is daft. It is also, on its own terms anyway, inexplicable. To think this way you would at the very least I think have to be bringing some fairly serious prior anti-natal commitments to the table. Otherwise, what difference could it possibly make? To live in a world where it's half a degree warmer or where the oceans are filled with garbage and the rivers are overrun with toxic plastic is better than never being born, surely.
I have my problems with so-called "climate change," a vague phrase that should never have displaced "global warming." I can only laugh at the equivocations committed almost daily by pundits who insist that everything from a hurricane to a snowstorm to heat waves to cold winters is evidence of the same discrete phenomenon.
Nevertheless, I hold what many would consider very radical views on the subject of the environment. I think it would be a good thing if we vastly reduced the use of consumer automobiles and banned most private air travel. I endorse many of the ideas of the "degrowth" movement. Production, distribution, and consumption of what we think of consumer goods should be vastly curtailed. We should do more with less for our good and the good of creation. But I would advocate all of these things even if I did not think that we might be making the world warmer. All I need are my eyes to recognize that our greed is making it ugly to the point of uninhabitability in many places — usually ones far away from where the wealthy live.
But even if I believed the most lurid predictions about climate change, it would not alter my views about child-rearing in the slightest. There is no necessary connection between birth and spoliation. The world's poorest have more babies than the rest of us and are still the least responsible for our present ecological woes. Regardless of the country in which they happen to be born children are not to blame for the crimes of adults. The Earth is here for them, awaiting their good stewardship after our own failures pass into history.
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