“Two’s company, three’s a crowd … and four’s an environmental disaster!”

Bioethics, Family Facts, Family Issues, General Bioethics — By on July 25, 2011 at 8:24 am

One would think that if anyone’s genes need reproducing, David and Victoria Beckham would have approval. But even in our success-obsessed culture today, the achievement and beauty of Mr. and Mrs. Beckham is not enough to get them off the hook among those who believe that one’s family size should be a debate for the whole world to weigh in on.

Recently, an article in the UK Guardian criticized the Beckhams after the birth of their fourth child, Harper Seven, calling them “environmentally irresponsible.”  Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK based Optimum Population Trust was critical of the couple: “We need to change the incentives to make the environmental case that one or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish . . . The Beckhams, and others like London mayor Boris Johnson [who also has four children], are very bad role models with their large families.” He went on to argue, as do many who are concerned with the world’s population, that with 7 billion people in the world and counting,  “there cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed.”

Mr. Ross, like others with concerns about overpopulation and the world’s food supply, fail to take a few things into account.  When Thomas Malthus predicted in the 1800’s that the population would overtake the food supply, he failed to also predict the impact of the Industrial Revolution, along with many subsequent technological innovations that allow crops to be grown faster and in harsher climates than he could have possibly imagined.

The concern about resource depletion isn’t a proven science, and studies show that human capital and labor productivity are what actually drive the increases and reductions of resources.  What’s more, worries about overpopulation disregard the principle that life is inherently good. Even if humans and the environment existed adversarially (though I believe that they don’t), human life is still an unqualified good. The choice for life shouldn’t be made on the basis of environmental concerns, though all our decisions about consumption should certainly be with prudence. And empirically speaking, if there’s a crisis in our world today, it’s underpopulation. Most countries in Europe, for example, are seeing birth rates drop below replacement levels (looked at Russia lately?), though immigration will contribute some stability to these nations’ numbers.

While we must certainly care for the environment, the answer is not that families or developed nations are to blame. Even if developed nations use a larger proportion of the earth’s natural resources, the technology coming out of these countries allows many people in the developing world to be fed, and affords a greater quality of life to everyone around the globe. The earth’s resources are not a pie whose portion for everyone at the party shrinks as new guests arrive. Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, argues that because each person has unique value, “more people means more for all of us — more economic production, more potential for artistic and scientific achievement, more innovation.” And speaking of innovation, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we are still not running out of food.

What is more unsustainable than the current rate of population growth is the increasing numbers of people who do not grow up in stable, married families. Dr. Henry Potrykus, of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, recently released “Our Fiscal Crisis” detailing the relationship between the future of America’s economy and the proportion of intact, married families. It is impossible for a country to remain strong when fewer than half of its citizens grow up in homes that do not offer the stability that marriage provides.  This holds true for any nation, not just the U.S., and the negative effects of broken homes are well-documented.

David and Victoria Beckham have remained committed to one another in marriage, thus demonstrating what is right about families in Britain. To the Beckhams I say, Congratulations! The begetting and raising of human life in the context of marriage is one of the greatest adventures in the world. You are setting a good example for the world to follow.


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  • Becky

    The Beckhams instinctively get that “people are our most important, valuable and precious resource” even if they don’t understand it.  This principle is the most important of the environmental principles that should guide us all.

  • Naomi

    “And empirically speaking, if there’s a crisis in our world today, it’s
    underpopulation. Most countries in Europe, for example, are seeing birth
    rates drop below replacement levels (looked at Russia lately?), though immigration will contribute some stability to these nations’ numbers.”

    Julia, so far as I can tell from the numbers, which appear to be fairly unambiguous, the WORLD is not facing an underpopulation problem… certain countries are experiencing a population depletion while others are facing a population explosion.  As such, the “crisis” to which you refer would be a specific one related to a failure of the “right” countries to achieve replacement levels, which is a much more loaded and morally ambiguous debate.  Might I suggest removing or revising that portion of your argument?

  • Benjamin

    One would think that the principle that life is inherently good would drive people to take steps to preserve it, rather than actively destroy it and pave it over.  You seem to be defining life in very narrow terms, namely, as the concentration of humans and the few crops and livestock species that they depend upon to survive.  Nobody’s saying we CAN’T turn quite a bit more of the globe’s life into a suburban wasteland before we have to start tightening our belts… people ARE saying that we shouldn’t, that life is worth preserving in more forms than one.  You, citing the principle that life is inherently good, are making excuses not to allow it to continue.  It’s a little funny, but mostly sad.