Friday, July 27, 2012

"Saving the World" Versus "Saving the Economy"

If it seems like I spend a lot more time on this blog bashing liberals and progressives than I do reactionaries and conservatives, it's because I do. The latter I consider to be a lost cause, while liberals and progressives are supposedly open minded enough to "know better." Sadly, they rarely do, even if most of them have convinced themselves that they do.

This hit home for me again as I was reading a recent news story from USA Today entitled, "Americans put off having babies amid poor economy." Here's an excerpt:
Twenty-somethings who postponed having babies because of the poor economy are still hesitant to jump in to parenthood — an unexpected consequence that has dropped the USA's birthrate to its lowest point in 25 years.

The fertility rate is not expected to rebound for at least two years and could affect birthrates for years to come, according to Demographic Intelligence, a Charlottesville, Va., company that produces quarterly birth forecasts for consumer products and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

Marketers track fertility trends closely because they affect sales of thousands of products from diapers, cribs and minivans to baby bottles, toys and children's pain relievers.

As the economy tanked, the average number of births per woman fell 12% from a peak of 2.12 in 2007. Demographic Intelligence projects the rate to hit 1.87 this year and 1.86 next year — the lowest since 1987.

The less-educated and Hispanics have experienced the biggest birthrate decline while the share of U.S. births to college-educated, non-Hispanic whites and Asian Americans has grown.

"What that tells you is that births have clearly been affected by the economy," says Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence. "And like any recession, it doesn't hit all people equally, and it hit some people much harder than others."

The effect of this economic slump on birthrates has been more rapid and long-lasting than any downturn since the Great Depression.

"Usually consumer sentiment bounces back a little quicker," Sturgeon says. "People are a bit in a wait-and-see pattern. … There's a sense of hesitancy, of 'What does better look like? How will we know?' — especially for those of prime child-bearing age. … The key word would be uncertainty, a lot of uncertainty. "

Many young adults are unemployed, carrying big student loan debt and often forced to move back in with their parents — factors that may make them think twice about starting a family.

"The more you delay it, the more you delay the possibility of a second or third child," says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. "This is probably a long-term trend that is exacerbated by the recession but also by the general hollowing out of middle-class jobs. There's a growing sense that college is prohibitively expensive, and yet your kids can't make it without a college degree," so many women may decide to have just one child.
I know that I have put my history as a former progressive well behind me because my immediate reaction was that this was the first good news I've heard in quite some time. Overpopulation is one of those issues that every thinking person realizes is a major crisis facing humanity, yet few ever want to discuss in polite company. More to the point, however, is that the raw number of human beings on the planet is only part of the problem. Author Mark Herstgaard, in his book, Earth Odyssey, observed that from a resource consumption standpoint, a child born into an American family will on average during the course of its lifetime consume approximately ten times as many resources and cause about ten times as much environmental destruction as a child born into a third world, subsistence level existence. Ergo, the effect of any decline in population in the U.S. is multiplied by ten times as far as a beneficial effect on the environment compared to the same reduction in poor third world countries.

Therefore, if you are a liberal or progressive who is supposedly concerned about environmental destruction, climate change and resource depletion, you should welcome this news. But no, instead what we get from many of those from my former political tribe, especially those who call themselves economists such as Paul Krugman, is a lot of Keynesian-on-steroids nonsense about how the U.S. should double down on its insane levels of deficit spending in order to jump start our economy.

Assuming for a moment that we are not approaching the natural limits to economic growth, what would a return to a robust economy really look like? That's easy: more mindless consumption, more idiots trampling themselves at Walmart on Thanksgiving evening to save 20% on a loss-leader toaster oven, more SUVs on the road burning precious fossil fuels and expelling carbon into the atmosphere, more exurban McMansions and strip malls blighting the landscape, more garbage, more pollution, more poisons in the water and in the air, more species driven into extinction, and faster consumption of our remaining nonrenewable resources. In short, supporting a return to economic growth while claiming to be concerned about the environment is an insane position. Yet, I'll bet if you were to poll liberals and progressives as to whether they agree with the public policy positions of Bill McKibben and Paul Krugman an overwhelming majority would say yes to both.

My position, which I've stated here many times before, is that our society needs to start powering down voluntarily based upon the idea of shared sacrifice. That means giving up cars in favor of public transportation, giving up the American Dream of a single family home with a white picket fence in the yard, giving up on countless trips to the mall to buy more shit you don't need and giving up on taking a fancy vacations every year while still having money to save for retirement and also send the kids to college. In short, it means lowering the expectations of ever greater material comfort in exchange for a slower, simpler more personally enriching life based upon family, friends and community instead of continually buying the latest electronic gadget or running out like a lemming to the Multipleplex at midnight to see the latest stupid Batman movie.

But feel free to ignore my opinion on this subject because the sad fact is IT AIN'T EVER GONNA HAPPEN. As proof, I offer up the very next sentence from the USA Today article:
"We have to think through our policies," she says. "We've got to provide better support systems for working mothers as well as fathers."
Because we CAN'T POSSIBLY give up on the idea of growing our population, growing our economy and the growing destruction wrought upon the planet's environment. Perish the thought.

Bonus: From my You Tube channel: Sorry, liberals and progressives, but you can't always get what you want, and you probably won't get what you need, either


  1. I can never mention this topic without "eugenics" being thrown in my direction; on the outside - I can congratulate a friend on a new baby - while thinking, "do you understand what kind of a world you've brought them into?"

    1. Another tired old line is the, "Well, why don't YOU leave then?" comeback. I did my part, choosing not to have children. Not much else I can really do.

  2. Save the World?

    Save the world? Naw, might as well quit:
    It’s over, we ain’t savin’ shit;
    Instead, let’s reflect
    On the places we’ve trekked,
    And start writing up our obit.

  3. I was a big fan of Chris Hedges. I read that he and his wife recently had their FOURTH child (like me, he's in is mid-50s). So, for all his soaring rhetoric (a lot of which I agree with), it seems he thinks we can just keep on GROWING (like a cancer on the planet)if we just share the wealth more equitably. What a huge disappointment. We're doomed. No doubt about it.

    1. Hedges occasionally hints that he understands that continued economic growth is not possible, but usually only dances around the edge of the subject. Perhaps it's his decision to keep having babies that is keeping him from fully seeing the truth.

  4. It is always upsetting when I find out a guy I think is on the ball has a lot of children. Paul Gilding (author of "The Earth is Full") has 5 children.

    A basic problem we face is our basic biological drives. Besides survival, we all have the urge (sometimes successfully repressed) to reproduce. Involved in this is the need to find a mate, and to do so, we need to be attractive.

    Our culture places high emphasis on material wealth in that equation. The system we operate in has a high resource use, but many of us feel the need not to cut back, but to push the bounds of that system.

    Simply put, the guy that has the second-hand Corolla and mends his own pants is less attractive, in general, than the guy with the Porsche and the Italian suit.

    One thing you're missing in the above is that the poor ONLY are decreasing their birth rates. The educated and the wealthy are not, and frankly they won't until they are forced to do so by their own economic decline.

    1. You are absolutely right about the attractiveness of a male in particular who chooses not to play the materialism game. That is particularly true among the upper middle class. Of course, they are also the people whose lifestyles are the worst for the environment even though many of them are NPR-listening, Daily Show-watching, brie-eating, wine-sipping, Obama-supporting liberals. They buy products advertised by corporate America as "green" but would look down their noses at anyone who was even by choice truly living a powered down lifestyle.

  5. Bill:

    Can you write a post explaining your decision not to have children? It would be very nice to have a carefully thought out post with pros/cons. Do you feel "biologically" unsatisfied without kids? What about considering adoption (one can raise kids as well as a great act of kindness)?

    It is a question I've been grappling with for sometime. Intellectually it is a no brainer, but you look around, and wonder if you are insane.

    1. I'm not sure such a post would be terribly enlightening. I'd like to say I made the decision because I carefully thought it out ad recognized the implications for the planet. But I'd be lying.

      The truth is that as a 20-something and still largely unaware of the issues I write about here, I decided that children would tie me down and prevent me from doing a lot of things I wanted to do in life (travel, in particular). It was only as I got into my 30s and then when I became Peak Oil aware in my 40s that I recognized that I had inadvertently made the right choice for larger reasons. Fortunately, I had met and then married a woman whose goals of what she wanted to do in life were also dependent on not having children. That was key. I wonder if I would have had the conviction to walk away from our relationship had she been insistent on having babies.

      As for feeling "biologically unsatisfied," not in the slightest. I used to occasionally worry about dying old, helpless and alone. Now, I figure that the chances that I will live long enough to get truly old and helpless are slim.

  6. I when so far as to have myself "fixed"
    - what surprised me was the number of people who thought it was illegal for a single person to do so...
    Also - my answer to the question "what if you change your mind?" : this world will never run out of children who need homes.

  7. I've often thought that those most open to being 'peak oil aware' are likely to be those who have few to no children. There are exceptions, of course.

    But look at Heinberg, Kunstler, Matt Simmons, Matt Savinar (I know, astrology), Michael Ruppert, and so on. I think that having children can create a mental block in accepting that the future might be very, very dark.

    A lot of the brie-eaters you mentioned are liberal for other reasons. Most have no concept of the peak events and its implications. They think we'll all just be driving hydrogen cars.

  8. "Now, I figure that the chances that I will live long enough to get truly old and helpless are slim."

    Woah! You're in your 40s. So you think the chances for you to live 20 or 30 more years are slim?

    1. I figure we have between 10 to 20 years left before things really start to fall apart, meaning I will only be in my early to mid 60s. Not old and decrepit by any means, but too old to last long in a rapidly unravelling industrialized society.

      Of course, I wouldn't really mind being wrong about that.

  9. Regarding Hedges fourth child, he was recently asked exactly that question by Bill Moyers. Clearly dumbfounded by that question, he had no good reply, and just mumbled something irrelevant. Here is that part of the transcript:

    BILL MOYERS: But here's another paradox then, you present us with a lot of paradoxes. You just-- you and your wife a year and a half ago had your fourth child. How can you introduce another life into so forlorn a future?

    CHRIS HEDGES: That’s not an easy question to answer. I look at my youngest son, and his favorite book is “Out of the Blue,” which are pictures of narwhales and porpoises and dolphins. And I think, "It is most probable that within your lifetime, every single one of those sea creatures will be dead." And in so many ways, I feel that I have to fight for them.

    That even if I fail, they'll say, "You know, at least my dad tried." We've deeply betrayed this next generation on so many levels. And I can't argue finally, you know, given the empirical facts in front of us that hope is rational. And I retreat, like so many people in my book, into faith. And a belief that resistance and fighting for life is meaningful even if all of the outward signs around us deny that possibility.

  10. I'll think about shared sacrifice when the rich are ready to give up an their 10K square foot mansions and excessive consumption. It's easy to tell a pauper to live less than a pauper.

    1. Rest assured, when I say "shared sacrifice" I mean for it to start with the rich. When they use their media lapdogs to denigrate anyone who advocates for "class warfare," it really means that they are afraid that the rest of us will at some point start fighting bak.

    2. They'll never be willing to give it up. Which is why some of us will likely have to take it from them