A Christmas Thought on Population and Climate
Have you heard the retort that the solution to climate change is more babies? Search and you’ll find many people, generally US conservatives, repeating it.
Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, said:
Climate change is an engineering problem â€” not social engineering, but the real kind. Itâ€™s a challenge of creativity, ingenuity, and technological invention. And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, but by more humans!
He apparently learned this solution from a columnist Tyler Cohen, who wrote:
To put those worries out of mind, ask yourself a simple question: Is the remedy for climate change, to the extent we find one, more likely to come from North America or New Zealand? Obviously, the wealthier and more populous America is a more likely source of technological innovation, even though it is also a more significant source of greenhouse gases. So if you think progress in this fight is possible at all, you ought to be betting on the more populous nations. By having more children, you are making your nation more populous â€” thus boosting its capacity to solve the problem.
More People Equals Success?
I present to you the winners of the World Cup in soccer, which their “logic” suggests should be dominated by the United States, China, and Russia.
Would you look at that? Brazil is the 6th most populous and hardly the wealthiest, Germany the 16th, Italy the 23rd, Argentina 32nd. You get the idea.
Where are the countries with the biggest population?
The US appeared once—reaching third place—dwarfed by Holland, with a population less than Manhattan.
Something seems wrong with his “logic.”
Christmas and Problem-Solvers
It’s Christmas, Jesus’s birthday. Let’s put it in the terms of many on the American right. If they value Jesus’s views, what population was necessary to bring him about?
Here’s the world population over time:
In AD 1, the population uses a few pixels. Numerically, about 200 million people lived then—more than enough also to bring Plato, Aristotle, Laozi, Confucius, and Buddha.
Under 1 billion brought us, considering one tradition, Bach, Mozart, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton, and the US Constitution.
As Mike Lee is Mormon, I’ll point out Joseph Smith lived at a population about 1.2 billion.
Einstein’s miracle year came with a touch over 1.5 billion. He seemed pretty capable at solving problems.
Have we seen their superiors today? Donald Trump?
Evidence suggests that more people doesn’t necessarily win in head-to-head competition, nor solve harder problems, nor create greater cultural works. For that matter, the populous, wealthy US is lagging the world in climate solutions.
What matters? I propose culture, education, and being humble to science.
Our population is enough to create the creative problem-solvers necessary to solve this problem and they’ve told us the solution: fewer people.
We’ve seen solutions implemented in Thailand and elsewhere—based not in coercion but voluntary, resulting not in forced abortion but greater prosperity.
Great problem-solvers can find the solution. They can’t make people understand it who don’t want to.
Put your money where your mouth is
Recalling Cowen’s statement, “if you think progress in this fight is possible at all, you ought to be betting on the more populous nations,” if he and Mike Lee believe themselves, I offer them a bet. On the next World Cup, I’ll give them the top five most populous nations: China, India, US, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
Will they put their money where their mouths are and take the bet Cowen says to take?
Or, given that it’s Christmas, with the world population 40 times what it was in AD 1, will they tell me 40 living people they admire more than Jesus?
Cowen mentioned wealth too. The Gross World Product in AD 1 was $18.5 billion. Today it’s $78 trillion, over 4,000 times greater.
Will they tell me the 4,000 living people they consider peers to Jesus?
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees