The reproduction conundrum

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Look at that little face. How could you not fall in love with it? Growing up, I always imagined that someday I would have a family, complete with children. As I got older I discovered that I really liked children, and they indeed seemed to like me. As more time passed, and the more I interacted with children–relatives, friends’ kids, etc–the more I could see myself having some of my own someday. And then I took an interest in science.

How many people can this little blue marble we call earth support? Previously I’ve posted that in order for everyone on the planet to live the lifestyle that the average American is used to, we would need 4 earth’s worth of resources. Obviously that isn’t feasible. So either the world population is continually divided into classes, have’s and have-not’s, or at some point everything is equalized and we all live at the same level. I don’t foresee the latter happening any time soon for a variety of reasons, and I have severe ethical and moral problems with the former option. So, at the moment, it looks like nothing will change: everyone around the world will continue to consume resources at an increasing rate in order to catch up to America and Europe, despite the fact that there literally aren’t enough resources on the planet for that.

This thought spurred me to think, well, what is the upper limit of the population that the earth is able to sustain? That concept is known in biology as carrying capacity–the ability of a given environment to provide enough resources to support a population. Given current conditions, scientists at Harvard estimate that the carrying capacity of the earth is roughly around 10 billion people. And that’s if we want to live relatively humble lives…as vegetarians. That 10 billion number grows if everyone is willing to live on basically a minimal subsistence level (which may be a reality given our propensity to consume and destroy our environment). Here’s a lovely picture of population projections.

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The number reached by the Harvard biologists is based on the amounts of fresh water and arable land available. And that 10 billion number is only realistic if we devote 100% of it to growing grains and vegetables–not raising livestock. And I seriously doubt that we’re all about to forget meat anytime soon. These estimates also don’t factor things like climate change, pollution, and the ability of science to keep us alive longer and to save people who would have otherwise died. The bottom line is that the 10 billion estimate is very optimistic, and the real number is probably much lower. And, as the graph suggests, we’re not far away from hitting that upper limit.

So what does this have to do with me having children? Well, basically, I feel like having children would be irresponsible at this point. And that’s not necessarily an indictment of people who do have children (more on that later); reproduction is a natural part of life, and if you only have enough children to replace you and your partner then you’re doing it responsibly. I just feel that for me, personally, it would be unethical. And I think that for two reasons. One, I’d just be contributing to the problem. Another consumer and another polluter on the planet. But second, it seems like a terrible thing to do to the child. “Hey kids, I love you. Now here’s a toxic, dying planet incapable of supporting your existence.” Seems kind of shitty.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Ryan, you seem like a very socially responsible person, reasonably intelligent and forward thinking. You could instill your values in your children and create more positive forces in the world!” I agree with this in theory, but the reality is that it won’t make a difference because the number of lazy, greedy, narrow-minded, and uneducated people vastly outnumbers the amount of reasonable people in the world. Again, I know what you’re thinking. “Well then why don’t you just have one child! Or better yet, adopt! That won’t contribute to overall growth.” While I technically agree with those sentiments, unfortunately, other people do not.

Like this moron.

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Or these two jackasses.

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And not to be outdone, these two fucking assholes and their 20 goddamn spawn.

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So yes, while I can be a socially responsible person and take one step back by only having one child, idiots like the Duggar family can go ahead and undo that by taking 19 fucking steps forward again. And for every one person out there who recycles and conserves, there are probably fifty people who love disposable plastic crap, leave the water running and the lights on, and drive a tank of an SUV that gets 8 MPG. Who knows how many more kids the Duggars can pump out, and who knows how many children their kids will have and so forth.

All of this to say, I think I would make an excellent father. I’m certainly not a genius, but I think I’m an intelligent person, and I think that my genes would make an excellent contribution to the gene pool. Except they probably won’t be passed on precisely because of my intelligence. And this brings me to my overall point. Well-educated, intelligent people are more likely to have fewer children or no children at all, while lower income, poorly educated people will have more. So while the intelligent people on the planet will look at the state of affairs and realize the steps they need to take to correct it, the other ignorant people we share this earth with will not. So you have a situation where intelligent people, realizing the effects of population and pollution, will decrease or stop reproducing, which means fewer smart genes in the ol’ gene pool. Meanwhile, the stupid or ignorant people who can’t or won’t see and understand the effects of population and pollution will continue along their merry way, and research indicates that they’ll be pumping out a lot of children as they go forth, increasing the amount of stupidity in the gene pool. Eventually, the decreasing number of intelligent ideas and voices will be completely drowned out by the exponentially increasing number of ignoramuses infesting the planet, and we’ll have essentially phased intelligence out of the gene pool.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I won’t have kids. Because it’s too late. The tables have already turned. Everything is already lopsided, and it’s in favor of the morons of the planet. Me having kids won’t make a goddamn difference, no matter what I teach them or instill in them, so long as the amount of people willing and able to change is smaller than the number of people who are not.

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13 thoughts on “The reproduction conundrum

  1. I hear what you are saying, but… you simply can’t shoulder the burden of all of the excesses done by others. All we can do is, do our best to be as effecient as we can. As responsible as we can, and at the same time meet our own personal desires as unobtrusively, and efficiently as possible.

    As a parent, I can tell you one of the joys of this life is raising your children, instilling in them the values you hold important, assuring they are loved, and recieving love in return. While there are many other distractions to keep one busy in life, having your offspring give you a big meaningful hug and say “I love you” may be the best experience we can achieve in this life.

    Don’t let the idiot masses and their idiotic ways deprive you of perhaps the best gift one can recieve. If it wasn’t for family and the bonds we make with them…what exactly is the damn point?

    Sometimes despite the fact that this planet is quickly being flushed down the crapper, you just have to try and see the cup half full. Yes the morons have out bred us. Yes we will probably be the cause of our own extinction. Yes we have lived to see the fall of skilled labor and now live in a disposable plastic society full of holier than thou fuckwads that ain’t got a clue. But in all of that, at the end of the day, the hugs from my kids at home, the phone calls from those that aren’t, the bond shared with my wife, and the sunset in the evening and the sunrise tomorrow are what keep me sane.

    Do not deprive yourself of that which should be held dear.

  2. There is still an option… in 30 years, the smart ones that did not live on fast food crap etc. will be dying off. The tables will turn. Monsanto is trying to limit population growth all by itself though that might take another 50 years.

  3. I understand where you are coming from Ryan. I do think it is quite likely that there will be a “things are going to get worse before they get better phase” in human history, but I don’t think humanity is about to die off, and if there is some horror awaiting our species, then it will be intelligence that allows humanity to rise out of the ashes again, and so there is need for the type of human you are capable of raising. The seeds of change are often planted by a small group of individuals at crucial moments, meaning that even one person can bring about great change, even if it’s not in their lifetime. Humanity also has shown to be resilient in a crisis. While I agree that it is disappointing that we don’t act preventatively as much as we should, when the shit hits the fan there is a remarkable amount of courage, conviction, and ingenuity in our species. In addition there is even more reason to be hopeful. By a percentage of world population, so many things are less than they were in our past. Murder, people dying in wars, slavery, racism, etc. The world has become more secular, more educated, and morality has in general evolved. In this age of global communication, where a child in Africa with a computer can access lectures from professors at Harvard or MIT we at least have a better ability than ever to give everyone access to an education. It’s not happening all at once, but there is certainly a greater global awareness today than every before and it does bring problems to light, and issues to light that nobody even ever tried to fight for. In the end you might be right, but your existence is both precious and temporary. Pursue what makes you happy while trying to cause the least harm to others and hope for a lot of love along the way. 🙂 You are intelligent and you have a good heart. Just plant that seed and hope it grows into something better in the future. And that doesn’t mean having children, there are plenty of ways to sow hope for the future. 🙂

  4. idea for potential related post: do you think we would ever find a way to colonize another planet (or something else)? from what little i know, even the simplest of things here on this earth are a NIGHTMARE of a feat to be pulled off on the moon… how beautiful it looks from here yet how harsh living on it will be!

    1. I do believe that we’re definitely capable of traveling to and reaching other planets. And there’s actually a company, I believe it’s called Planetary Resources, created by the guys who started Google that aims to start mining asteroids. I think that’s a highly feasible (if not expensive) venture, and in the future we may need to start harvesting ice from comets and other planetary bodies for water.

      But in a nutshell, I believe that we have the capacity right now to spread out to other planets in our solar system, today if we had out act together. We just don’t want to spend the money. The technology is there, we’d just rather spend our money on wars and tax breaks for the wealthy. Two technologies that are particularly important are nuclear pulse propulsion and solar sails: both of those ideas could actually be implemented now with no other barrier than cost. Plus, nuclear pulse propulsion would be a good use of all the nuclear weapons on the planet.

  5. It sounds like I may just need to be a bit more optimistic lol. I suppose that sometimes my objectivity precludes any sort of optimism or hope. It’s something I should work on. Anyway, I appreciate the words of encouragement, and I shall take them to heart. 🙂

  6. As you can imagine I disagree with you on this. I admire the Dugger family, and would like to see more families follow their lead.

    I just don’t buy into the doom-and-gloom mentality. I’ve heard all this since I was in college over 20 years ago, and I’ve yet to see any of those predictions come to pass. Nobody really knows or understands how robust this planet is, or how God made this planet to provide for all the people he intended to live on it. Of course we need to act responsibly and not pollute the planet, but aside from that, the earth is quite capable of providing for the needs of far more humans than what scientists predict. They just don’t understand all the dynamics and variables that God introduced to this planet.

    On a more personal note, my parents aren’t morons for having six children, and my sister isn’t an asshole for having nine children, and none of my other brothers or sisters are jackasses for having two to four children. We just don’t see the world the way you want us to, and that’s ok. I just hope science doesn’t revert to the ages where it was responsible for the extermination of the undesirable.

      1. No worries lol. And on a side note, I’m glad to see that you’re still around. I hadn’t seen much activity from you as of late, and I’d started to worry 😛

    1. Wow, that’s a very interesting graphic. I’ve seen similar ones applied to human trash output, but never human beings themselves. Thank you for sharing!

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