Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What should be the pro-life position on climate change?

I won't leave you hanging: the answer is that pro-lifers must follow the scientific evidence wherever it leads.

Recently, Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute wrote an article for, rightfully denouncing Ted Turner's call for a global one-child policy. (Turner, he writes, fathered five kids but "has often publicly regretted having so many children." Boy, that must make the younger Turners feel fantastic.) Mosher pointed out that China's approach is not the carrots-only, rights-respecting policy of Turner's imagination: it is a coercive violation of the rights of unborn children and their parents.

He could have left it at that. Instead, he took a detour:
Turner justifies his proposed war on people by claiming that we are in the midst of an environmental crisis of the first order—and that we can stop global warming by reducing the number of people.

He spoke in conjunction with economist Brian O’Neill, who claimed that promoting access to “family planning” could be a major boon to those seeking to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Now, I personally find it hard to get worked up about rising levels of carbon dioxide, since increased amounts of this atmospheric “fertilizer” will lead to increased food production. Ditto for global warming— if indeed it is happening at all. But these are subjects for another day.

As for Turner, long before he or anyone else began hyping “global warming,” he was an outspoken population controller.
I soon got an email from a supporter, angry that global warming doubt is being associated with the pro-life cause. This, he said, plays into the "unscientific pro-lifer" stereotype propogated by the opposition. Would I please write about it?

When the pro-choice movement frequently makes bogus medical claims like these, it ought to lose all scientific credibility. But that doesn't give us pro-lifers a free pass. We don't get to be the scientific ones just by default. We have a responsibility to do research, cite our sources, and be willing to say "I don't know."

In the case of global warming, I am admittedly not an expert. I defer to the scientific consensus, which is that climate change is taking place and poses a threat. It's possible that rising levels of carbon dioxide could benefit some regions of the earth. But in other regions, we may see changing temperatures and water patterns that disrupt farming.

Climate research is, of course, ongoing. If strong evidence surfaces showing no threat from global warming or greenhouse gases, we should adapt our positions to the new evidence. And we can always say: "I don't know enough about global warming to make a judgment. If it is happening, we should address it by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, breeding or engineering better crops, etc. But environmental concerns can never justify killing people or robbing them of their fertility." That's a position that all pro-lifers can get behind.


Unknown said...

I feel like this post implies that it's okay to say "I am convinced Global Warming is happening" or "I don't know enough about Global Warming to make a judgment" but that it's not okay to say "I am not convinced Global Warming is happening." This seems problematic to me. It seems like the last two statements should either both be acceptable or neither be acceptable. said...

If a person is not convinced, of course I think they're free to say so. I don't censor anyone here. But, since that's a minority position, the onus is on them to put forward some evidence. If the evidence is good, I'm willing to change my mind. What this is about is being scientific and maintaining our credibility.

Simon said...

While I enjoy science I don't feel I know enough to debate people on this no more than I feel I'm up to dealing with a Creationist on evolution, so I take a position similar to your own Kelsey. Notwithstanding the Fallacy from Authority most of us don't know enough in many fields so going with the experts is generally a good position. & given that is as about as good as it gets with the top scientists being vetted by the world’s premier scientific institutions- the ones asked by governments for advice on things that affect national security- if they are wrong you might as well start questioning all science.

Simon said...

Ok now the ethics of climate change and resource allocation is also something I’m very interested in and understand the stance asking us to only have replacement or less children. You have to look at the big picture and thinking outside the box.

First it isn’t just about population but it is a big factor.

Yes some places have populations especially in developing countries have what can be considered high populations but you also have to look at resource use and people in the developed world even if having smaller populations have greater resource use both fossil fuels and other natural resources. So talking about these countries and their high populations but low resource use misses the point, while still being relevant in an overall global sense, especially since they want to increase their resource use to those in the developed world.

If we were all to live like Americans it would take something like 4-5 Earths to do that and we obviously don’t have that choice.

Simon said...

So we have natural constraints on finite planet but act like we have unlimited resources to consume. Now I think many how have problems with fertility restrictions would have no problem thinking in terms of food/water rationing or limitations if circumstances found it necessary say on a life boat.

Or for that matter that there is only so many that can fit on that lifeboat. This is strongly analogous to population reduction/restrictions either you restrict or reduce how many are on the boat, or you have a strong chance that all the people on the lifeboat will die.

Now unlike having to throw people overboard on a lifeboat we could restrict both our resource use and population so the people now on lifeboat planet Earth can survive.

There are more issue that I can go into but from my perspective -& Kelsey knows I’ve raised this before- if we are to say we value all human life then we should do all we can to help those that are alive today, –born or unborn- then everyone in the developed world should use less resources so that those in the developing world can raise their living standards and have at least one knock-on effect of reducing their populations.

As well as having less children -replacement or less- so we get to a safe number of people on this planetary lifeboat.

Jumping up and down about right to reproduce is like saying we should have the right to cram as many people we want on the lifeboat and damn the consequences.

M said...

The trend seems to be that first world countries are barely even sustaining their populations, much less overpopulating. It seems if the goal is to reduce the world population, it would be better served by finding ways to bring other countries to a first world status than by discouraging individual couples/mothers from having children.

Simon said...

Yes that is a big problem in itself but you also have to look at the countrys current ecological footprint and if it is excessive it really doesn't matter if the country is already declining it is still beyond its limit at that current consumption level.

Also the development model used by the first world often used colonial exploitation, early protectionism, and the use of cheap dirty fuels, so its not something they can do now. Not to forget we just don't have the global resources to get them to where we are now and grow our economies.

Marysia said...

The expansion of voluntary family planning services as well as of educational and job opportunities for girls and women have helped to create an amazing drop in average family size worldwide.

Over 200 million women globally want family planning but lack access.

Improve the status of and choices open to women, and any issues of fertility take care of themselves, w/o violating anyone's human right to use or not use any specific family planning method(s) as they see fit.

Overconsumption in wealthier nations damages the Earth far more than larger families in the twothirds world.

Coercive limitation of fertility tends anyway to target and scapegoat women of color, the global poor, people with disabilities, minority populations.