Fourth Child Furor

This article was originally published in my column at the Colson Center. It is republished here with permission. For a complete directory of all my Colson Center articles, click here.

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

The news of David and Victoria Beckham’s fourth child was met with anger from campaigners who felt that the Beckham’s family size is now environmentally irresponsible.

At least that is what the Guardian recently reported in their article “Beckhams a ‘bad example’ for families.” The article quotes the UK-based Optimum Population Trust, whose chief executive, Simon Ross, linked family size to carbon emissions:

“The Beckhams, and others like London mayor Boris Johnson, are very bad role models with their large families. There’s no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100% by having another child.”

Mr. Ross’s comments were echoed by Sir David Attenborough, who called for an end to the “absurd taboo” in discussing family size in the UK.

In reality, no such taboo exists. As I showed last year in my Salvo feature, “Baby Freeze: Is Population Control the New Solution to Global Warming?“, environmentalists in both the UK and America have a long history of paranoia about population and have been using climate change as a reason to scare people into having less babies.

Also in “Baby Freeze” I drew attention to the fact that seventy-three members of the US House of Representatives sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to add one billion dollars in funding for international family planning to his 2011 budget. While advocates of family planning are hardly a new phenomenon, what was significant about this letter is that it cited “climate change” as a reason to advocate lower birth rates. “Family planning,” the Representatives said, “should be part of larger strategies for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Slower population growth will make reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions easier to achieve.”

The ruthless utilitarian logic is actually very simple: less people = less polluters.

But short of implementing totalitarian policies like China, what can anyone actually do about the supposed problem of population growth? Dr. Barry Walters, a professor of obstetrics at the University of Western Australia, came up with an idea a few years ago. He suggested that those who refuse to use contraception should be levied with a climate-change tax. In a 2007 article in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr. Walters proposed that such a tax be assessed on all couples having more than two children. He suggested an initial fine of $5,000 for each “extra” child when born, with another $800 assessed every year thereafter. However, parents could redeem themselves by using contraceptives or undergoing sterilization procedures, for which they would receive carbon credits.

Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK-based Optimum Population Trust, floated a similar idea in the furor over the Beckham’s fourth child. He suggested that the UK government might want to consider only giving tax benefits for the first two children in a family. “That would send a clear signal that the government will support sustainable families,” Ross said, “but after that you are on your own.”

Population control is hardly a new idea. In his book Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, Jonah Goldberg showed that in the early twentieth century it was politically correct for liberal thinkers to advocate both population control and eugenics selection. (Eugenics is the practice of using selective breeding, often based on race, to improve the human gene pool.) Such thinkers followed men like Sir Francis Galton (1822 –1911) who had combined the biological theories of Charles Darwin (1809 –1882) with the social theories of Thomas Malthus (1766 –1834). The basic premise behind this movement was that the more educated among us had a responsibility to give evolution a helping hand by either improving the gene pool, reducing the “surplus population”, or both.

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After Hitler tried to put some of these ideas in practice, population control stopped being a fashionable topic. However, it didn’t take long for the scepter of Fascism to wear off and by the close of the 20th century population control had again returned to the limelight. But this time, instead of being linked to theories like eugenics and social Darwinism, it was propelled by the emerging ideology of environmentalism.

The result has been that groups concerned ostensibly with protecting the earth (such as the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation) have now jumped on the population control bandwagon. For many such groups, global warming is a reason for increasing the availability of contraception, abortion, family planning services and sex education. For example, when the National Wildlife Federation put out a Population and Global Warming Fact Sheet, they suggested that “family planning and related health care and education” could help to “reduce the danger of climate change and other environmental stressors.”

Should this heightened interest in population control concern us? I think so. As I pointed out in my “Baby Freeze” article, if history shows us anything, it is that when a civilization begins to feel guilty for existing, the results are usually unpleasant. Moreover, it is by no means certain that the problem of pollution can be tied so directly to human growth, as E. Calvin Beisner argued in his book Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future.

The larger issue at stake is that the mind of the radical environmentalist will stop at nothing when following through the implications of his most cherished presuppositions. This even includes an attempt to impose guilt on those who, like the Beckham’s, decide to have more children than the Western average.

If this teaches us anything it is that ideas have consequences. As Christians it is important that we do not be naïve to the consequences that follow from the agenda of radical environmentalism.


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