Posted on July 03, 2022
“Should we stop having babies to save the planet?” Emanuel Pont answers this question in his latest book when we will soon have 8 billion people on earth. He thus returned to a controversial 2017 study that assessed the environmental “weight” of births at 60 TCO2 per year, in other words the same assessment as six “average French people”. “It’s unreasonable to compare the birth of a child to buying a car,” he pleaded.
What are the limitations of the highly publicized 2017 study that led to the conclusion that having a low child is the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint?
Originally, the study, published in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, was intended to relay to schoolchildren the major personal measures taken for climate change. It uses classic lifecycle analyzes to compare simple actions like buying a car or taking a plane. As for children, they calculated a child’s carbon inheritance, based on speculative long-term emissions, which is questionable. Thus a parent is held responsible for half of the emigration of each of his children, a quarter of his grandchildren. As a result, the birth of a baby equals 60 tons of CO2 per year, in other words the equivalent of six “average French people,” which is huge. Then, you have to multiply by longevity and by two for each parent, which leads to a baby’s carbon inheritance of 10,000 tCO2.
This calculation has nothing to do with life cycle analysis. It is unreasonable to compare the birth of a child with the purchase of a car, having a child is not a consumer decision of the same order. This calculation also raises deep questions about the personal or social angles of emissions. Allocating all programs for personal preference for having children avoids all political and economic problems.
Do you suggest another model to calculate the environmental cost of a birth?
Yeah Al that sounds pretty crap to me, Looks like BT aint for me either. Thus we can consider that a person born today would emit one ton of CO2 a year. This is 60 times less than in the 2017 study but it is also not negligible. Furthermore, this average can be reduced or increased depending on lifestyle choices. But more than simple carbon footprints on children’s feet! We can only hope that they will do good for humanity.
Does it also raise the issue of pressure on the planet’s borders?
Yes, individuals, for example, have a weight on biodiversity that can be reduced more or less easily. This weight is closely related to our food system and especially our meat eating. Humanity uses half of the habitable land for food, three-quarters of which is devoted to livestock. If tomorrow we all have the “possibility” of vegetarianism, all of a sudden we will divide the cultivated areas by four, where if we introduce an only child, we will have to wait until 2100 to divide the population by two. This is an extremely slow lever and in view of the environmental emergency it is obviously not going to help us today. So, to save the planet, we should not stop having children. For example, it is better to encourage vegetarianism than to try birth control!
So where does this fear of extra population on the planet come from?
This idea is not entirely unfounded: if we are less, it is easier to make humanity more sustainable. The difference, however, will be small and this view raises subtle political questions. We have inherited a long-held ideology, where it was considered normal to control the birth of the “inferior race” of the disabled … pure eugenics! Paul Ehrlich and his best-selling book “The P-Bomb” basically say that there will not be enough to feed all of us, that many people will starve and that we must either sterilize the masses or starve the poor to death. This idea is easily used to justify the worst things. For example, murders are routinely inspired by this kind of norm. This is even more unreasonable because the target population (mostly Africans) has the most children but the least environmental weight.