2007-11-13

A cap-and-trade system to curb population growth

I've been arguing today with the good people (some more than others) at the Reason.com blog about the merits and demerits of the Chinese population control policies. This time, I'm on the side of the commies - by agreeing to the principle that there is a need for population control, more so than supporting their totalitarian tactics. I am perplexed by the futility and uselessness of commonly stated opinions such as Rhywun's, who says:
Regardless of whatever resource limitations may or may not present themselves in the future, it is the height of fascist arrogance to tell a couple they may not have a child. Shame on you.
Well, here's what I think.

I'm not worried that the human population cannot sustain itself at the current level, or even with many more people. What I am worried about is that doing so will require an utter transformation of this planet to a form devoted exclusively to sustaining humans; there will not be a place for any species less well organized than us.

I am quite confident that the human population can grow to enormous numbers and yet survive. I have no doubt that, when faced with either death or technological progress, that progress will prevail.

What I very much doubt is that anything of value, other than humans, will survive in the process. Monkeys can't vote. Tigers can't vote. Whales can't vote. Lobster can't vote. Dolphins can't vote. Cod can't vote. The grasses can't vote, and the forrests can't vote either.

All of these entities have no say in our expansion process, and they are going to be trampled.

Earth as it is right now is luxurious. We've trampled lots of it already, but luxurious it still is. The world of 9 billion people either cannot be prosperous in the sense that you or I are prosperous today, or it won't be very luxurious.

Now, if anyone wants to live in a completely artificial world, I have no problem with anyone going off into space and forming off-world colonies and multiplying as much as they want up there. But for the world down here, I really don't see why we need to create yet more human beings that will convert this planet into an ever more artificial concoction, as if there aren't already enough of us as it is.

There is no harm done in restraining our reproduction. Creatures who aren't conceived do not suffer for it. With a global cap and trade system, anyone could have as many children as they want, as long as they pay the market price for the privilege.

If someone wants unchecked population growth for themselves, let them go launch a colony in space. Find a technological way to do that. There's nothing to trample on there. And unlike here, there's nothing valuable that they will be irreversibly destroying.

I have no problem with technological solutions that would lead to the creation of amazingly populated and rich artificial worlds in space. There's few things I'd love to see more than that.

But it will be tragic if the Earth will first need to be trampled to get there.

There's a reason why some sensitive tourist sites restrict the number of tourists despite the light impact of each individual visitor. Large numbers of people coming through and just looking, not touching anything - even if they're just breathing, that has an effect.

The Earth is one such sensitive tourist site.

That said, I do agree that China's ways of exercising their policies are fascist. But it doesn't necessarily need to be run that way.

To limit global population growth, I would propose a global system of cap-and-trade. Under such a system, every person would initially receive the right to have 1.5 or so children. However, the rights of two persons in a couple wouldn't add. A formerly childless couple together could immediately have one child, but if they wanted another one, they would each need to buy the right for 0.5 each from two other people willing to forfeit 0.5 of their right to have a child (or one person willing to forfeit 1.0, or 4 people willing to forfeit 0.25 - you get the drift). The rate for these rights would be set by the market. The higher the demand relative to supply, the higher the price; and the higher the supply relative to demand, the lower the price. These rights would need to be tradeable globally and without tax repercussions for sellers. The net effect would be that people in developed countries would continue to have about as many children as they do now, and people in less developed countries may have less as they would sell some of their rights to have children to people in developed countries. The result would be a net flow of capital towards less developed countries as compensation for them to restrain their population growth, while the levels of population in developed countries would be maintained. Benefits all around.

Of course, try selling that to people who believe that everyone should have a recognized fundamental right to make as many copies of their DNA as they wish, and have each of those copies automatically receive education, support and voting rights. A cap-and-trade system seems optimal as a way to restrict population growth, but it can be put into practice only if the majority of people put a greater value on not irreversibly destroying the planet's ecosystems, rather than on vain reproduction.

23 comments:

Kolenkišta said...

Interesting view. Heres another one. One is often required to prove his own qualification to the authority prior to engaging in various activities, such as for example driving a car. On the other hand having a child doesnt have any restrictions and doesnt require any proofs of parents competence, even though its probably one of the most responsable tasks.

denis bider said...

While I think that limiting population growth through something like a cap-and-trade system would be something genuinely sensible - just like limiting CO2 emissions in this way seems sensible, even though CO2 emissions are much harder to measure and make it much more difficult to set the cap-and-trade parameters correctly.

On the other hand, the existing requirements to gain qualification before engaging in certain activities are intrusive and not necessarily beneficial at all. The licensing of drivers in Europe serves to support an expensive auto schooling industry and test examinators who are known for flunking women seemingly mainly because they're women.

The United States enforce less bureaucracy than Europe in these respects - Texas appears to be allowing parents to teach their kids to drive and get a license without even requiring a road test. All U.S. states do however seem to require some form of a driver's license.

I think the main objective of a driver's license isn't really to teach people how to drive anyway. I think the most important reason for the driver's license is so that there is something that can be taken away. If someone proves to be an incorrigible reckless driver, their driver's license is revoked. If a cop stops them on the road and they do not have a driver's license, the cop will then know how to act.

In this sense, we already do have a kind of parenting license. It just doesn't exist in paper form. Your parents and environment are assumed to have taught you how to raise your kids well. But if you are an abusive parent, then your kids will be taken away, and if you have more kids, the state will come and take those kids away too.

Basically the change you are proposing is to require official indoctrination about parenting before anyone can have a baby, which I think is a fairly bad idea bound to be a burden and ripe for exploitation and corruption in the same way that getting a driver's license is a needlessly expensive burden in Slovenia today.

I much prefer the Texas model where the parents teach you to drive, and if you are then found to drive recklessly, your driver's license is taken away. And, as I explained above, we already have that for parents. There's just no need to issue cards, unless it's to facilitate cops regularly patroling the streets and asking people with children for their parenting licenses. I hope you don't propose that that makes sense.

denis bider said...

Worse, a parenting license would be easily exploited by people in power to prevent others that have certain political or religious beliefs from raising children. There are serious 1984 issues that way.

A cap-and-trade system for limiting population growth does not have such a disadvantage because it is impartial. Everyone can have 1 child, and they can have more if they pay others - not the government, but other people who are willing not to have as many children - to have more.

markbahner said...

"Monkeys can't vote. Tigers can't vote. Whales can't vote. Lobster can't vote. Dolphins can't vote. Cod can't vote. The grasses can't vote, and the forrests can't vote either."

Let's start with whales, dolphins, lobster, and cod. They live in the sea, so unless humans are going to be living in the sea, there's no direct competition.

Grasses and forest: forests have actually increased in the Northeast U.S. in the last 100 years. Grasses are threatened primarily by farms...as long as farm productivity grows faster than population, the amount of farmland won't increase.

That leaves monkeys and tigers. Those are problematic, with tigers being particularly problematic. But it's relatively straightforward to envision a time when tigers can receive brain implants that cause them pain when they try to attack humans or tame animals.

"With a global cap and trade system, anyone could have as many children as they want, as long as they pay the market price for the privilege."

The "market price" set by whom? What dictator of the world is going to set the "market price?"

denis bider said...

Mark: "Let's start with whales, dolphins, lobster, and cod. They live in the sea, so unless humans are going to be living in the sea, there's no direct competition."

That's fairly ignorant.

150 years ago, so much lobster was fished from the sea that you could get it canned in grocery stores. It was the cheapest food on the menu. Farmers used lobster meat as manure, and workers in factories petitioned the owners not to feed them lobster more than three times a week.

Today, lobster is a rare delicacy.

If you are willing to blurt out something as preposterous as "fish live in the sea, so there's no competition", you obviously have no idea that fish stocks such as cod are in the brink of collapse, and the only thing that might save these species from extinction is not merely reducing quotas, but immediately reducing them to zero. Search NewScientist.com if you want to find news articles to corroborate that.


Mark: The "market price" set by whom? What dictator of the world is going to set the "market price?"

Now this... is a pearl. Which dictator do you think sets the prices for bread? Movie tickets? Cookies?

Which dictator sets the prices for used cars?

What part of "prices as set by the market" do you fail to understand?

denis bider said...

Gosh, looking back, it seems my response comes across as awfully aggressive. Well, it comes across as aggressive because it was meant that way. But the reason it was meant that way is because I assumed - perhaps incorrectly - that you just came over from the Reason.com thread, where I was just recently subjected to all sorts of insults and ridicule just for having the chutzpah to challenge the notion that perhaps it's not so self-evident that everyone should be able to reproduce without limit.

I transferred the hostility gained in the Reason.com thread to your comment, even though I don't know for sure whether you might have anything to do with that thread in the first place. If you don't, then I apologize for the hostility.

Kolenkišta said...

Dont get me wrong. I wasnt proposing anything. Such debates easily cross the thin line of ethics. Personally, I am often amazed at how people almost recklessly decide for parenting without the neccessary means and sometimes I find it irresponsible. About a year ago I had a conversation with a young couple, fresh parents. They told me how strange it felt that they were actually allowed to take their baby home, when they left the clinic, no questions asked. Its the most normal thing, I know, but it led me to think of the great responsibility that comes with parenting and that in some ways it seems underestimated.

denis bider said...

I see your point. That's a noble observation. The answer to it is, I think, that you're idealizing people. Most things we're aware of in nature have children; foxes have children, fish have children, cats have children, mice have children, lions have children. Sometimes they eat some of them.

The human being is a glorified animal. As such, you can't expect much more from it. And if you don't, and see most humans for what we are, all the "tragedies" start to make sense. Alcoholism, recklessness, cluelessness, mass protests motivated of stupidity...

Don't overestimate most people. We're animals. We reproduce.

denis bider said...

It's the blind idiot god who made us that way.

denis bider said...

"Don't overestimate most people."

Actually, this is wrong. It's easier to underestimate people than to overestimate us, and it's a bigger error.

What I should have said is "don't idealize people". We're a product of evolution. Evolution has no morals. And that's us.

Hellfire said...

Dont underestimate the planet. You don't know what the planet wants, so you don't need to help it.

It is in fact an arrogant attitude - to think that something is wrong with nature and that you can fix it.

denis bider said...

You misunderstand. I'm not thinking about nature, I'm very selfishly concerned with my and my children's quality of life.

Besides, we do make decisions about what's good for nature. We already exert population control. That's what hunting seasons for deer and moose and elk and foxes and whatnot are for. They help to control sizes of animal populations so that prey/predator cycles are ameliorated to have less intense troughs and peaks.

If you feel that natural flourish and perish cycles are great for humans as our food supply waxes and wanes, then great! In that case, what you just said is that Malthusian catastrophes are fine with you, and so is subsistence living, thank you. That's what's going to happen if the human population exceeds the resources available. There's going to be troughs and peaks.

That's why my next post discusses that the critical question is whether we are about to exhaust our most critical resources or not. It depends on the answer to that question whether we need to curb population growth to avoid a Malthusian catastrophe (which you say is just fine, and I do not), or not.

Hellfire said...

So you have a solution, but don't have a problem yet? :)

I'm sure that if it can be proved that the problem does not exist, you can live with that and go on.

But finding solutions to nonexistent problems can lead to something more dangerous - to some politician finding a problem for you.

Then it will be too late to close the box.

markbahner said...

I wrote:

"The "market price" set by whom? What dictator of the world is going to set the "market” price?"

You respond:

"Now this... is a pearl. Which dictator do you think sets the prices for bread? Movie tickets? Cookies?

Which dictator sets the prices for used cars?

What part of "prices as set by the market" do you fail to understand?"

I understand market prices very well. You say, "prices as set by the market," but the "market" you are describing is completely artificial. Market prices are determined by scarcity, but the scarcity you’re describing is completely artificial.

It's a "market" created by YOUR dictate that population must be capped and traded. You obviously don't understand that the "market" price you're speaking about is determined by what the world dictator (you, of course) decides is the appropriate level of world population.

This can be seen very easily by simply positing another world dictator. Let’s choose...me! ;-) I'll dictate that I don't give a damn how many children anyone has. What is the market price in that situation (i.e., if I am the world dictator, and dictate that I don’t give a damn how many children anyone has)?

So, once again, which world dictator is going to set the “market” price? Which world dictator is going to get to decide what the entire human population is going to be (not to mention the population of each individual country, and each group within each country)? It’s you, right? Because you know best? Or do you think the governments of every country in the world are going to agree to cap the populations of their country (and every group within that country is going to accept being forced to limit their populations)?

denis bider said...

hellfire: "So you have a solution, but don't have a problem yet? :)"

Well, not quite.

We do have a problem, which is how to keep everyone from destroying a rich and diverse world. However, it looks like this is not the solution for it.

We also might have another problem, which is that we might run out of resources for ourselves. For that problem, this would be a good solution. But I'm not yet aware of a solid proof that the problem exists.


"But finding solutions to nonexistent problems can lead to something more dangerous - to some politician finding a problem for you. Then it will be too late to close the box."

As I explained in my next post, curbing population growth prematurely has its costs, and not curbing it soon enough has its costs too. The tradeoff for not curbing it soon enough is much worse.

I think we could do worse than preventively limit our population growth prematurely. The limit can always be increased if that is found to be safe. But if the number of people ever does exceed the resources available, the consequences will be dire for most.

In this case, I think an ounce of prevention actually can be worth a pound of cure.

denis bider said...

Mark: "Which world dictator is going to get to decide what the entire human population is going to be (not to mention the population of each individual country, and each group within each country)? It’s you, right? Because you know best? Or do you think the governments of every country in the world are going to agree to cap the populations of their country (and every group within that country is going to accept being forced to limit their populations)?"

Of course it's not me. Of course people would need to go along with a policy like this. Of course local leaders would need to agree.

Obviously the population cap would need to be decided based on what the resources support. If we want to avoid serious waxing and waning cycles in our lifestyles or even our population due to periodic shortages of resources, a population cap needs to be chosen such that no such cycles will occur.

Obviously you need to have firm evidence about what the limits are because you can act on that. But once you have firm evidence, I think you could get most people to agree that peaceful curbs are better than the alternatives. No dictator is needed in the process. Just understanding and everyone's access to knowledge and facts.

markbahner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
markbahner said...

Oops. I did some bad cutting/pasting. Let's try that again:

Hi Denis,

I did not read your comments or the responses to your comments on the Reason Hit and Run site. Not having done that caused me to post a bit hastily.

I see from your comments on the Reason Hit and Run site that you're a very rare Real Deal. You actually think in response to comments of others, and can change your mind when presented with sufficiently strong evidence. If I had known that, I wouldn't have commented exactly as I did.

A bit about myself. I'm an environmental engineer who deals mainly with air pollution and energy (my Bachelor's was in mechanical engineering). I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say I've read, studied, and thought more about the issues you're pondering (human population, human well-being, ecological and economic sustainability) than 99.99% of the population. Now, that does NOT mean my thoughts are correct, but it does mean that they're carefully thought out.

You write, "Of course it's not me (Dictator of the World). Of course people would need to go along with a policy like this. Of course local leaders would need to agree."

Well, then you're no longer in the realm of "let the market decide." Again, markets get price signals based on scarcity (difference between demand for something and its availability).

The markets for bread, movie tickets, cookies, and used cars that you mentioned (when you were ridiculing me ;-)) are nothing like the market you are proposing to create. The markets for bread, movie tickets, cookies, and used cars can be considered to be created by scarcities created by "God." The scarcity you propose to create is created entirely by the deliberate choice of governments to create the scarcity. There's a huge difference between the "market" you're proposing and the markets for cookies and bread.

Perhaps you already see this, but you're in effect setting a "cap and trade" for the worldwide number of cookies or loaves of bread available. If the worldwide number of cookies available is set to 100,000 (by edicts governments), cookies are going to have a lot different price than if the worldwide number of cookies is allowed to exceed 100 billion (or whatever is available strictly from the availability of ingredients such as flour and sugar, and the number of people who want to bake cookies). So it's wrong to then think that the "market" is determining the price. If the number of cookies is limited to 100,000 by government, the price of cookies is determined by government edict.

"Obviously the population cap would need to be decided based on what the resources support. If we want to avoid serious waxing and waning cycles in our lifestyles or even our population due to periodic shortages of resources, a population cap needs to be chosen such that no such cycles will occur."

You're operating on a false premise. You are assuming that human populations cause "waxing and waning of our lifestyles." But the evidence does not support such a premise. Look at the world population in the last 100 years. Now identify when "lifestyles" "waxed and waned" in the 20th century. Is there any correlation between the "waxing and waning" and the global population? Not that I can see. It looks to me that while human population grew steadily (in fact, exponentially up to approximately 1970), "lifestyles" increasingly "waxed."

Now, one could say that "lifestyles" "waned" during WWII for the losing countries (e.g., Germany and Japan), but it's not like WWII was caused by "overpopulation." (Or was it?)

Or one could say lifestyles "waned" pretty much throughout the world during the Great Depression. But again, the Great Depression wasn't caused by "overpopulation." (Or was it?)

"Obviously you need to have firm evidence about what the limits are because(sic...before?) you can act on that. But once you have firm evidence, I think you could get most people to agree that peaceful curbs are better than the alternatives."

You use the term, "you." But that's imprecise. What evidence *I* have and how *I* act is only important if *I* am the Dictator of the World.

The fact that *I* have "firm evidence" does NOT mean that I can get "most people to agree" to something. Especially if the action they're going to agree to will causes a significant restriction on their freedom(s).

For example, I have very firm evidence that the world per capita GDP is not merely going to increase at it's present rate (of 2.5 to 3.5 percent per year), but is actually going to accelerate significantly through the 21st century, reaching over 10 percent per year before the century is done.

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2004/10/3rd_thoughts_on.html

http://markbahner.typepad.com/random_thoughts/2005/11/why_economic_gr.html

But the "Long Bets" opinion is still almost 4-to-1 against me:

http://www.longbets.org/194

So I wouldn't count too heavily on evidence actually changing people's minds.

denis bider said...

Mark: "I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say I've read, studied, and thought more about the issues you're pondering (human population, human well-being, ecological and economic sustainability) than 99.99% of the population."

I understand. Your background probably means that you can contribute valuable knowledge, awareness, and data pertinent to this domain.


denis: "Of course it's not me (Dictator of the World). Of course people would need to go along with a policy like this. Of course local leaders would need to agree."

Mark: Well, then you're no longer in the realm of "let the market decide." Again, markets get price signals based on scarcity (difference between demand for something and its availability).

Scarcity can be imposed artifically, and this is done frequently in practice. For example, the housing market in Slovenia is artificially restricted. The capitol, Ljubljana, has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, and this is due to buraucratic restrictions on building. This artificial scarcity results in exorbitant real estate prices compared to the average Slovenian's income. Yet people continue to vote for political parties that support this artificial scarcity - which might have something to do with that some 80% of homes in Slovenia are owned by their occupants, who benefit from the prices going up.

There is similar artificial scarcity imposed in the real estate market in New York, and the cap-and-trade systems aimed at reducing global CO2 emissions are based on the same principle.

While the real estate examples are cases of special interests exploiting their political leverage, one would argue that the CO2 cap-and-trade systems are aimed at achieving a greater common good, which is reducing the impact of global warming, which if properly implemented should benefit most.

Which dictator imposes the cap in the CO2 cap-and-trade market?


Mark: "The markets for bread, movie tickets, cookies, and used cars can be considered to be created by scarcities created by 'God.' The scarcity you propose to create is created entirely by the deliberate choice of governments to create the scarcity. There's a huge difference between the 'market' you're proposing and the markets for cookies and bread."

The Flying Spaghetti Monster creates no scarcity of CO2 emissions either. By that logic, why should CO2 emissions be capped?

You write as though you are oblivious to the CO2 cap-and-trade systems, yet as an environmental engineer this should hardly have escaped you. How is that?


Mark: "So it's wrong to then think that the 'market' is determining the price. If the number of cookies is limited to 100,000 by government, the price of cookies is determined by government edict.

No. The price of the cookies is certainly not determined by government edict. Instead, the supply of the cookies is. The price of cookies will still adapt to market pressures. If, for example, people find out that the cookies in question are poisonous, their market price will drop to zero. If, on the other hand, people begin to believe that the cookies in question will drastically enhance a male's performance in bed, then their market price might skyrocket.

A government limiting the supply of a good does not dictate the price of that good, because the price is determined by demand relative to supply, and the government is dictating only one factor in this equation. The government is influencing the price, but is not dictating it. Arguing otherwise leads to confusion in the case when the government does in fact dictate the price, e.g. as in saying "The cost of cookies will now be $1 a piece, and everyone who is found to charge or pay anything else will go to jail." In this case the government would be dictating price, and that in turn would be influencing supply and demand.

You need to use words for what they mean. I can understand if you misphrase something by accident, but continuing to insist that the government dictates price by controlling supply is disingenious. If the government dictates supply, it dictates supply, which can influence price. If it dictates price, then it dictates price, which can influence supply.

These are fundamental distinctions.


Mark: "You are assuming that human populations cause 'waxing and waning of our lifestyles.' But the evidence does not support such a premise. Look at the world population in the last 100 years. Now identify when 'lifestyles' 'waxed and waned' in the 20th century.

Of course they do not, we haven't yet exhausted resources!

The whole argument is about preventing this from happening at all on a global scale, not about whether it happened recently. (Though it probably has happened on small scales in many places at various times.)



Mark: "but it's not like WWII was caused by 'overpopulation.' (Or was it?)"

Well, Hitler did talk about "Lebensraum" (living space), so there may have been a perceived population surplus in Germany that make the people believed that the nation needed to "expand its boundaries", but I don't know for a fact that a real population surplus existed.


Mark: "But again, the Great Depression wasn't caused by 'overpopulation.' (Or was it?)"

Only in the sense that Hoover and Roosevelt were who made the depression Great - so in this sense the Great Depression may have been caused by a small overpopulation, in the sense that there were two people too many. :)


Mark: "So I wouldn't count too heavily on evidence actually changing people's minds."

Evidence might not, but propaganda does. Perhaps all you need is some Oliver Stones, Al Gores and Michael Moores on your side. :)

markbahner said...

Hi Denis,

"Scarcity can be imposed artifically, and this is done frequently in practice. For example, the housing market in Slovenia is artificially restricted. The capitol, Ljubljana, has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, and this is due to buraucratic restrictions on building. This artificial scarcity results in exorbitant real estate prices compared to the average Slovenian's income. Yet people continue to vote for political parties that support this artificial scarcity - which might have something to do with that some 80% of homes in Slovenia are owned by their occupants, who benefit from the prices going up.

There is similar artificial scarcity imposed in the real estate market in New York, and the cap-and-trade systems aimed at reducing global CO2 emissions are based on the same principle."

Yes, artificial scarcity can be imposed by governments (e.g., the housing markets in Ljubljana and New York City). And when that scarcity is artificially imposed, it's wrong to pretend that "the market" is determining the price.

"Which dictator imposes the cap in the CO2 cap-and-trade market?"

There are many governments who have set up cap-and-trade systems for CO2 emissions. But there is nothing for CO2 that's even CLOSE to the worldwide cap-and-trade system you were proposing for world population. In fact, some of the countries with the world's largest emissions (e.g. the U.S., China, and India) have no nationwide cap-and-trade systems for CO2).

In fact the situation for CO2 very much supports my question of what "dictator" would be setting the WORLDWIDE population cap-and-trade system you're proposing. For example, why in the world would Canadians, Russians, or Australians agree to be bound by a worldwide population cap-and-trade system, since their countries are all so sparcely populated?

"You write as though you are oblivious to the CO2 cap-and-trade systems, yet as an environmental engineer this should hardly have escaped you. How is that?"

No, you are completely misunderstanding the situation. I'm WELL aware of the current situation on CO2 cap-and-trade system. See above. There is nothing even close to a WORLDWIDE cap and trade system on CO2 (and there probably never will be).

And a worldwide POPULATION cap-and-trade system would be even more difficult (absent an authoritarian world government).

"A government limiting the supply of a good does not dictate the price of that good, because the price is determined by demand relative to supply, and the government is dictating only one factor in this equation. The government is influencing the price, but is not dictating it."

But in the situation we're talking about, there is no charge absent a government-imposed scarcity. As I've already pointed out, if *I* were the world dictactor, I'd say people could have as many kids as they wanted, so the charge for kids would be zero. (This is also true for CO2 emissions. Absent government-dictated emission caps, the charge for emitting CO2 is zero.)

Mark: "You are assuming that human populations cause 'waxing and waning of our lifestyles.' But the evidence does not support such a premise. Look at the world population in the last 100 years. Now identify when 'lifestyles' 'waxed and waned' in the 20th century.

Denis: Of course they do not, we haven't yet exhausted resources!

OK, what evidence do you have that we're "exhausting resources"? You've mentioned cod and whales. The whales we depleted when we used whale oil for lighting. So even though population continues to increase, there is actually less pressure on whale populations than a century ago.

The cod we depleted for food. But for both the cod and the whales, if we'd simply set up a system of private ownership, there's no reason to think either of those resources would have been depleted. In both cases, it was a "tragedy of the commons" problem, not a human population problem.

denis bider said...

Mark: "There is nothing even close to a WORLDWIDE cap and trade system on CO2 (and there probably never will be)."

I hardly see a difference politically between a worldwide cap and a nationwide cap.

Getting a sensible policy passed nationally in the United States is very tricky and requires the support of political representatives of the various states.

Getting a sensible policy passed globally is very tricky an requires the support of political representatives of the various countries.

Both are hard. Where is a fundamental difference?


Mark: "As I've already pointed out, if *I* were the world dictactor, I'd say people could have as many kids as they wanted, so the charge for kids would be zero. (This is also true for CO2 emissions. Absent government-dictated emission caps, the charge for emitting CO2 is zero.)"

So you're one of those people who need yet more proof that global warming is taking place due to human CO2 emissions? You disbelieve that this has been shown sufficiently strongly?

Or are you one of those people who don't care and you think we'll be fine whatever the consequences? Humans will be able to adapt whatever takes place? And you think the adaptations then will be cheaper than adaptation now?

Or are you one of those people who think that not everyone will be fine, but those people who live in developed parts of the world probably will be, and so we don't need to trouble ourselves with adapting? The "let the suckers perish" strategy?


Mark: "OK, what evidence do you have that we're 'exhausting resources'?"

That's why I wrote the following post.

I don't currently necessarily believe that curbing population growth is necessary. I think that protecting the environment is necessary; I think that preserving wildlife is necessary, because its mere existence and continued prosperity has value to us that exceeds the value of a planet denuded of everything except ourselves; if we want a place where nothing lives except that which we create and help procreate, then we might as well go live on the Moon or on Mars, for everything I know, and keep the Earth's ecosystems as they are.

I don't necessarily believe that continued human population growth is at odds with achieving these goals, but it sure does call for better mechanisms to achieve them.

As for whether we have enough resources to support everyone's general prosperity at a population of 9 billion or more, I don't know. I'm open to seeing evidence for and against, now or in the future.

Natalie said...

The main thing that I wish our goverment would do, but they wont as they see it as a 'we are alright Jack' senario. Is to make the public aware.

It seems your average Jo blog is not aware of the damage that having more children will ultimatley cause the environment as well as many other factors such as the standards for the animals they eat.

People on benefits are encoraged to have my children by being given more in benefits and housing than the minimum wage ever could. This sends out the wrong message surely as these benefit family's then see this as the norm and continue the cycle.

Therefore I think looking after the people we already have and giving everyone the best in opportunities and encouragement to gain skills/work, rather than purely a numbers game is in order.

Skilled migration should be encouraged to a country like ours with lower birth rates to ease the burden on other parts of the world. The world should become a free market (within reason) and policy should look to solve the worlds problems as well as our own.

The first step would be to make people aware NOW so that a informed choice can be made, before any harsher choices/implementations have to be made like China or India. But it seems they wont as its too unpopular and difficult to tackle.

denis bider said...

I read a fairly convincing article, I believe in The Economist, which argued that women will themselves choose to have fewer than 2 children on average, if they are given education, emancipation, and birth control. The core of the argument is fairly simple, in that giving birth isn't that much fun, and women who are given a free choice will do it less frequently than they used to.

But yes, encouraging the people with the stupidest genes to have more kids is utter stupidity.