When I was writing recently about ‘generations’ and ‘Baby-boomers’, I came across an interesting article talking about why the Baby Boom happened. It wasn’t just those soldiers coming back from the Second World War and making up for lost time, because it started in the 1930s. Interesting reading. Part of the motivation for the article, though, is that if we could understand why sudden changes in fertility rates happened, it might help reverse the current decline in birth rates.
This is something I have never understood.
Surely, the best thing we can do for the planet, and for the generations who will follow us, is to encourage declining birth rates wherever possible. Nobody likes to talk about it — it’s certainly not a vote-winner for politicians — but the single best way for a couple to reduce their carbon footprint is to have fewer children. If they can instil that tendency in any children they do have, too, their decision could have an exponential long-term impact through time. Forget installing solar panels or buying an EV! Spend the money on contraceptives if you really care about climate change. A world with less congestion, less competition for resources, less overcrowding, less pollution, less demand for housing, less intensive farming… can only be a better world, it seems to me?
We should institute tax benefits right now for people with fewer children, rather than continuing child-support for those who breed excessively. Those who install solar panels, drive Teslas and, most of all, are voluntarily childless, should of course be publicly honoured and cheered in the streets. (I may have a slight personal agenda here!)
Seriously, though… I know there are issues with an ageing population. Declining birth rates mean more old people hanging around for younger people to support. (Though in a country with a good social security scheme, that larger elderly population should at least have paid for most of their care up front during their working lives.) A declining birth rate also tends to lead to reduced economic growth and a few other challenges.
But it’s always seemed to me that these are short term problems, and somewhat selfish arguments. Yes, our modest numbers of children, grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren may not appreciate the demographic change until we’re well out of the way. But for those with a longer-term view, won’t the denizens of the 23rd Century be exceedingly grateful for anything we can do now to encourage population decline? And isn’t that the best way to ensure there will actually still be people around to enjoy the 24th Century?