Global warming is real and getting worse. There is no more credible scientific debate on this issue. However, there is plenty of debate over how we should approach the problem. One professor has offered a provocative solution, stop having children.
Set aside all your opinions for a moment. You may believe global warming is a hoax. That’s fine. But imagine how you would choose in the following scenario.
You are responsible for a group of people on a small island. The people have lived on the island for centuries, and they have brought most of the land under cultivation. The trees and animals on this island are dwindling under the pressure of the growing populace. Leaving the island is not an option.
How would you ensure the island remains capable of sustaining your people for generations to come? Would you limit reproduction? Would you ration consumption? Would you do nothing and leave the populace to their future fate?
This is the problem we seem to face today. According to moral philosophy professor and bioethicist Travis Rieder, from Johns Hopkins University, we must either reduce our reproduction or reduce our consumption.
The problem can be expressed in an equation called the “Kaya identity.” The equation expresses the four factors that are critical to understanding the human impact on climate. The variables in this case measure:
How carbon-rich are our fuels?
How much energy do we need to produce our GDP?
What is the GDP per capita?
And what is our population?
Any increase in these four variables will drive up the Kaya identity, exacerbating our climate problem. However, a decrease can improve things.
The tragic fact is that something has to give. We either need to reduce our population or reduce our consumption. Neither possibility is especially attractive. Both options carry substantial political, moral and ethical costs.
However, the third option is to do nothing.
Four centuries ago, the people of Easter Island overpopulated their island. So many people were stuck on the island and needed to eat, they cut down every single tree on the island for food. When the trees were gone, famine resulted. Conflict and cannibalism followed. Eventually the starving survivors made easy pickings for slave traders.
If you were a chief on Easter Island, what would you do? There are no easy -or right answers.
It’s a sobering question, and one we need to answer while there’s still time.