Liberal Overpopulation Alarmists are Exactly Wrong

COMMENTARY Civil Society

Liberal Overpopulation Alarmists are Exactly Wrong

Aug 2, 2011 2 min read

Former Senior Research Fellow

Chuck is a former Senior Research Fellow.

People around the world admire the footprints of David Beckham. The super-talented British soccer star's maneuvers around and over flummoxed defenders populate many a YouTube video.

But for years, Beckham and his family have been targeted by what the British charmingly call "campaigners" against global warming. They charge that the globe-traveling Beckhams' carbon footprint is a bane of human existence. Now they have fresh fuel for furor: the birth of David and Victoria Beckham's fourth child.

News of the Beckham baby sent Simon Ross, of Britain's Optimum Population Trust, into a tizzy. "The Beckhams and others . . . are very bad role models with their large families," he huffed. "There's no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100 percent by having another child."

Setting aside Ross' appallingly bad math (one more child in the Beckham household would increase its carbon footprint by one-fifth at most), his boorish intrusion into the private lives of public figures is enough to make a paparazzo blush.

But Ross has plenty of sympathizers among elite political figures in the United Kingdom and around the world. They're deadly serious in proposing to rein in what they see as teeming overpopulation.

These elites are quick to worry about the draconian policies of China, with its one-child mandate. But they embrace domestic proposals such as limiting tax breaks for children beyond a family's first or second.

The global-warming pinch is just the latest rationale for such proposals. Since the 1950s, concerns about population growth, water shortages, and imminent famine have driven Western nations to adopt policies promoting abortion, sterilization, and other reproductive interventions.

Last month, Al Gore championed the "ubiquitous availability of fertility management" as a solution to population-driven pollution. Like Beckham, Gore is a father of four. Unlike him, he is proselytizing for more access to contraceptives and abortion.

Truth is, there hardly could be more access to these "management" tools. U.S. spending on international population projects has soared. But the sharpest impacts of this ethos often are felt in developed nations.

Today, astonishingly low birthrates prevail across Europe. Greece, a nation struggling to maintain its welfare state, has an estimated fertility rate of 1.38 children per woman. Scan the CIA World Factbook's list of nations with fertility rates below the level needed to prevent population loss, and nearly 85 percent are in Europe.

Embracing the dark vision of the "population bomb" movement, many Western nations saw their proposed solutions detonate on their own shores. The role of declining population in making their social contracts unaffordable gets too little attention in the deficit debates. Borrowing from our children while we refuse to have many would be a delicious irony if it were not such bitter fruit.

Even the United States has seen its fertility sag below replacement level. American optimism has long kept us from following the rest of the developed world into one-child-per-couple territory. But the "optimum population" people are relentless.

They want "free" contraceptives in every U.S. insurance plan, nonnegotiable federal dollars for Planned Parenthood, and more support for abortion globally. And they're willing to slander the Beckhams of the world for loving and wanting to have children.

The irony is that the population curve they so deplore is in fact bending toward zero. It takes a brave set of parents to defy the crowd and - like the Beckhams - bend it back.

Charles A. Donovan is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation's DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.

First appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer