“Stop Having Babies!!” versus “Start Saving!!”

This post is in response to an NPR story I saw today called “The Big Squeeze: Can Cities Save the Earth?

In that story it shared two amazing graphics. The first graphic is about concentrating the world’s population into one city… how big would that city be? The second graphic is based on how much land is needed for everyone on the planet to live certain lifestyles.

The World's Population, Concentrated

This first graphic shows density but does not account for all the things people would still need to survive even if they never left their city. As the NPR story explained, “People in the Enormous City still need food, furniture, clothing, water, electricity, building materials, still need a place to store their waste. They still need water systems, farms, ranches, electricity grids, dumps, lakes, even if they never leave their city.”

Ecological Footprint By Country

This second image shows how much land is needed for the current earth’s population to live, depending on what kind of lifestyle is chosen to live. It looks scary, I admit. When people see this their first response is normally stop having babies! Especially the poor countries need to stop having babies. If the poorest countries would simply stop having babies then we wouldn’t have such a problem. Many aid packages to foreign countries include a family planning/population control agenda.

But look at the graph… and realize that if everyone on the planet lived like people in the United States, we would need 4.1 earths to make that lifestyle happen. You know… the TV, cell phone, computer, laptop, second TV, cellphone(s) for the kid(s), two cars per family lifestyle. The obesity epidemic which impacts many Americans is part of that lifestyle. The lifestyle where people consume fresh water to grow grass for their lawns in the desert. The lifestyle where millionaires own homes in Aspen Colorado that they only use for a few weekends out of the year. What am I getting at? My wife owns an iPhone. Yes, I know. Many people own an iPhone. My wife owns the iPhone 1. Some of the programs are starting to make her phone dated, but there is currently on the market an iPhone 5. So, the counter-argument to population control (stop having babies) is stop overconsumption (start saving).

The stop having babies argument is a good one because it focuses attention on poor countries who do not have the resources to support children. The more education a woman has, the fewer children she tends to have… so if population control is a real concern, then invest in schools. The start saving argument is generally frowned upon because it makes people feel guilty for being overweight, owning two cars, or having just purchased an iPhone 5.

What are your thoughts? Is the planet headed toward a population bomb or an overconsumption meltdown?

5 thoughts on ““Stop Having Babies!!” versus “Start Saving!!”

  1. I feel guilty already! I don’t think we’re headed for a disaster. I do NOT think your post is unreasonably alarmist. I do think that action is required.

    I saw something that the entire US power needs could be met by a 10 mile by 10 mile array of solar panels. Don’t hold me to the details but the scale is about right. It’s that kind of thing that gives me hope.

  2. There is something called Jevon’s Paradox which is interesting. I should have included it in this post. Anyway, it relates to your comment about solar panels. Basically, the more people “save,” the more they use. If someone drives 30 miles a day in a car that gets 30 mpg, and then buys a 60 mpg Prius to save gas… guess what happens? According to Jevon’s Paradox, people start driving 60 miles instead of 30 miles. When people get energy savings, their first impulse is to use it… not save it. (also called Jevon’s contradiction)

    1. it is not 1 to 1… for Jevons Paradox I’m not entirely sure if demand is even a conscious response. That is a great question though. After doing a quick google search, it looks more like 1 to greater than 1. So, for my example to be more accurate… people who once drove a 30 mpg car 30 miles a day now drive a 60 mpg car 60 or more miles per day because energy consumption actually increases

      1. So efficiency and price have to go up simultaneously to achieve benefits? That certainly sounds paradoxical, but then I remembered how easy it is to save $40/month in expense and spend the savings three times a month.

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