Genetics, Science / Tech
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If You’re Reading This Essay, You Should Probably Have (More) Children

The 20th century saw explosive population growth, fueled by a combination of declining infant mortality, decreasing violence and steady growth in agricultural productivity. These trends resulted in large part from technological advances  —  like chemical fertilizers, genetically modified food, antibiotics, and vaccines  —  which acted as a tremendous boon to human welfare. By the 1970s, some were convinced that population growth would soon lead us back to a dark age of famine, disease and war.

But they were wrong.

Instead of the downward spiral forecasted by Thomas Malthus, a somewhat unexpected trend emerged. Citizens of industrialized countries in the late 20th century began having fewer children. So few, in fact, that current fertility rates in Europe, Australia, East Asia and other developed regions are well below replacement levels. The result has been an aging population that faces workforce shortages and empty nests. Despite these facts, some journalists and pundits have renewed the call to have fewer kids. Why? Their main worry is climate change.

A number of popular articles (and books) have implored people to have fewer children as a way of minimizing anthropogenic global warming. One reason they give is that the average child in developed countries will have a large carbon footprint. And they’re right: People born in the United States or United Kingdom, for example, will consume quite a few resources. This consumption will also produce pollution — not just carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, but also air and water pollution from the energy that powers our cars and houses, and the trash we create that ends up in landfills.

Creative Destruction

Pessimists argue that new children are an easily avoidable burden to the planet. But this chain of reasoning is incomplete, mainly because it only emphasizes the cost side of the calculus that we should use to assess whether kids are a net benefit or a net cost.

Economists have long argued that more people means more minds productively working on the kinds of problems that plague us. Although we often pollute as a consequence of using carbon-based energy sources, these energy sources also fuel a wide array of industry, including the invention of new kinds of energy that cost less and reduce pollution. Of course, a carbon tax would likely nudge this along a bit more quickly. But that’s just another way of saying that human ingenuity can often be tapped to solve challenges created by living together on a common planet.

Keep in mind too that pollution is not just a cost. Pollution almost invariably accompanies processes that produce valuable goods like food, medicine, shelter and transportation. More developed countries pollute more, but they also produce far more (and far better) goods than less developed countries. And these goods make everyone’s lives better, especially people who live in countries with low carbon footprints, who would otherwise lack cell phones, vaccines, chemicals that preserve food and a cornucopia of new forms of technology, scientific insights and art forms. Reduce the already shrinking number of polluters in developed countries, and you multiply misery in poorer countries.

Opponents may argue that below some threshold population growth can improve social welfare by increasing the number of people we trade with. But, they may think, we are past the optimum or sustainable point of population growth, and coming dangerously close to a point of no return.

People have been arguing this for centuries, though, and the debate reached a climax in the 1970s when Paul Ehrlich predicted widespread starvation in poor countries, along with dramatic increases in pollution and the price of commodities in rich countries. Ehrlich’s fiercest critic, Julian Simon, countered with an argument similar to the one developed above. In fact, Simon decided to put his money where his mouth was by betting Ehrlich that the price of a handful of common commodities would fall rather than rise, as new resources were discovered and invented in response to short-term scarcities created by a growing population.

Simon won the bet, and history has not been kind to Ehrlich.

What the debate illustrates is that the relationship between population growth, resource use and pollution is complex. Contrary to our initial intuitions, we do not live in a zero-sum world where the existence of more people must result in more pollution and fewer resources. Under favorable political institutions, there simply is no particular point at which population growth is bad (there is no such thing as a specific number above which more people are a threat to the planet, or to each other). This is because although resources are finite, they are not fixed. Human minds transform old resources into new products, including products that clean up pollution, increase food production, and yield new medicines.

Whether you end up accepting or rejecting our argument, any attempt to show that we should have fewer kids should include the social benefits of children as well as any social costs they create. Reasonably intelligent people born in developed countries have access to education and opportunities that can transform them into idea machines.

When more is less

Having said that, it must be acknowledged that the benefits of children are uneven. Children born to parents who have the kinds of traits that predict success in the modern world  —  including intelligence, compassion and impulse control  —  are likely to thrive. But children born into poverty are very likely to suffer. This is true in part because children resemble their parents, not just in appearance, but also in the suite of traits that helped to make their parents either successful or unsuccessful.

Children who are born in countries with repressive political institutions are  —  for myriad reasons  —  less likely to bring the sorts of benefits that those born in the developed world can offer. And because of the increasingly negative correlation between income and fertility, most population growth is occurring among impoverished people in countries with poorly functioning political institutions.

Those who urge educated and compassionate citizens in developed countries to have fewer children are missing their target. If their call were heeded, people around the world would be considerably worse off. Imploring people in Spain or Norway to restrict their reproduction does nothing to solve the problem of precipitous population growth in Africa and the Middle East. And it does a lot to impede the development of new ideas, and the creation of value.

By the end of the current century, the population of sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to triple. The problems this creates may eventually be mitigated by important efforts to supply contraception to poor women. But telling people in developed countries who are well-placed to have children to refrain from doing so is misguided. If anything, they should reproduce more, not less.

Carter Dillard, a prominent supporter of the view that we should have fewer children (to minimize our carbon footprint), says, “For too long, parenting models focused on the choices of the parents without putting them in the context of a larger community.” Broadly speaking, we agree. But we think that when the math is done, it will imply that social welfare will increase rather than decrease with educated people in developed countries having more kids.

In fact, we’re willing to bet that if you’re reading this essay, you should probably have (more) children.

 

Jonathan Anomaly is a Lecturer at Duke University and Research Assistant Professor at UNC Chapel Hill in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Program. His website is here.

Brian Boutwell is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Saint Louis University. Follow him on Twitter @fsnole1

64 Comments

  1. Simon says

    As health care and standards of living improves so do death rates generally. This means that instead of having 7 kids, in the knowledge that most will die, today, in developed countries, parents can have 1-2 and know that they will most likely live to adulthiid.

    This is why birth rates are declining and why the UN isn’t talking/worried about population growth. In this context, the UN expects the global population to never exceed 12 billion (from memory).

    It is also noted that birth rates are currently declining more rapidly in developing counties than they did within developed countries because the spread of technology is occurring very quickly.

    • I would love to have more children, but it would require me finding 1 or 2 younger wives.

      Sadly, and I don’t know why, the current wife objects to that plan.

  2. Aldo Matteucci says

    Taking the main line of argument to the logical conclusion: if we had an infinite number of educated children, we would have infinite technological progress and we’ll repeal the second law of thermodynamics as well as Malthus.

    As the current predicament of the US shows, hasty technological change breeds ignorance by an overload of facts – in other words, the law of declining returns applies in the cultural realm as well.

    The first information revolution (the penny press) led to two hundred years of opinionated (religious) violence. The second one (internet) may be more deadly than the first by orders of magnitude.

    Answering categorical questions like this one is a misleading exercise in illusion.

    • Simon says

      Yes, and we’d be living in something akin to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

  3. tl;dr with less PC-pussyfooting-
    (1) IQ is heritable
    (2) IQ is critical for both personal and social success (substituting education for IQ just serves to confuse)
    (3) High IQ people should breed more
    All pretty obvious to those who can see – the main question should be how to encourage it.

    • Simon says

      (1) heritable and inherited are not the same thing.
      (2) iq tests were designed to ensure that they correlated with educational outcomes
      (3) therefore the rest of your argument falls over
      (4) regardless most people dont test/know their iq therefore its not possible to know who should breed more.
      (5) therefore this falls back to racist steroyping as a proxy for iq *so essentially you’re arguing that rich white people should breed more.

      • Wealthy or at least successful people, white or otherwise should be having more kids. The lazy, career criminal, perpetually on the dole class should be paid lavishly to not breed excessively. $100,000 per female under 30 and say $25,000 per male not to pro-create. The first child NOT born would be a savings to the government and taxpayers of at least $500,000. Less money needed to feed and clothe the usually illegitimate offspring, less money needed for education in a few years and possibly less spent on law enforcement and incarceration in the decades to come. The UN needs to strongly encourage sterilization and other forms of contraception in Africa and parts of middle east.

        • brian says

          i hear you, but that sounds oddly familiar to that really creepy book i read in highschool. what was it called….. MEIN KAMPF!

          • Melissa says

            It isn’t creepy if it’s a CHOICE. I suspect many people would be open to the offer of cash payments in lieu of having a child.

        • Ah yes, the pillars of black population control – abortion and welfare and maintenance of the urban plantation. Such wonderful liberal creations that mean well but end up as genocide. Now we have another “solution” to the above noted “lazy career criminal”: criminal justice reform, which means rapidly returning criminals to their homes and neighborhoods to help auto-correct the very environment that created them.

          I can see how the abortion argument is so tantalizing – “save $500K on every aborted baby.” To bad it ends up being so much like racial cleansing.

        • Simon says

          Some problems with this line of thinking.

          1) how do you ensure that they don’t breed (only way to do this would be to pay out after menopause, which would reduce the salience of the reward)?
          2) How do you apply this to men?
          3). How do you determine lazy (we are all lazy at various times), and how do you differentiate laziness from mental health issues such as depression/apathy etc.
          4) What do you define as wealthy, and at what age, do you control for inter-generational wealthy (wealth is relative and the meaning of wealth changes depending on context, such as where people live)?

      • brian says

        High IQ individuals promote other high IQers. they do business with them, they play golf with them, and their children have playdates with them. no one wants to hang out with low intelligence people. so, simply… high IQ people will ALWAYS benefit over the balance because their path to merit-based success is quicker and easier gained. Governments and PC police of the world have tried all they can do redistribute wealth/control, and the only way to remove power from a cohort is to do it with the point of a gun. and even that is temporary.

      • Melissa says

        Uhm, Asians seem to be pretty “rich”, so why the anti-white race baiting?

      • Intelligence is not a race. Encouraging high IQ people to reproduce is not racism. You’re projecting because down deep you believe there are racial differences in IQ. Which there are, and since it’s an honest and objective published fact backed up by science, that’s not racist either.

        • Simon says

          ” You’re projecting because down deep you believe there are racial differences in IQ. Which there are, and since it’s an honest and objective published fact backed up by science, that’s not racist either.”

          It’s not deep down, everyone knows that there are racial diff’s in IQ. The disagreement lies in the cause of this difference. Some people (racists) attribute this to innate racial differences, others attribute it to social/cultural factors and/or the tests themselves.

          It is not racist to say that differences exist, it is racist to say that those differences are causes by some form of race based deficiency.

      • 1. Play the odds. Read Darwin. If you and your sexual partner are brilliant, then have kids. If you and your partner are both D.A.’s, then get sterilized for the sake of you and the world.
        2. IQ is just a proxy for intelligence. Don’t get hung up over it.
        3. Nope.
        4. Again, IQ is a proxy. The real trait is intelligence. If you make a lot of money through your brain (as opposed to your looks, brawn, or voice), you are probably intelligent. If you live in section 8 or public housing, or are getting SNAP, you are probably dumb. You don’t have draw the line exactly.
        5. … and rich Asian people, and rich black people, and rich Hispanic people.

    • brian says

      smart people read, and are willing to read very boring material, ie… the tax code. complex tax codes benefit ONLY smart people. make an incentive that smart people respond to… money.

  4. I am sick of the idea that we should breed like rabbits because technology will always magically solve everything and we will magically avoid famine and suffering because reasons

    It is magical, religious thinking.

      • Way to feign ignorance, Mike. The religious are less educated, their faiths instruct them to “be fruitful & multiply and they often defer to the miracles in their books for answers to these pressing issues. I know you know that, but chose disengenuousness instead. Good one.

        • Hmm, I am statistically always going to be the most intelligent person in a discussion, and I am religious. I am thinking your doctorate degree in Gender Studies isn’t serving you well.

      • “Magical and religious thinking” is a kind of thinking, not just restricted to political promotion of a religion.

    • Let’s look at the evidence. There are fewer people dying in famine today than decades ago, even though there are a whole lot more people. How can that be? Technology.

      So far, this magic of technology is working pretty well to solve the problems of life that has plagued humans since one first made a fire.

  5. “Imploring people in Spain or Norway to restrict their reproduction does nothing to solve the problem of precipitous population growth in Africa and the Middle East.”

    Of course it does, if it works, because it opens up job opportunities and living space in Norway and Spain to people from Africa and the Middle East who are prepared to move there.

    The entire history of the human race up till 1500 or so is largely the story of people moving from places with large populations and limited resources to places with more resources and smaller populations. And it’s still going on. It doesn’t involve quite as much chaos and destruction as it used to, because we have stronger rules on sovereignty and control, and better weapons to enforce them with, but people are going to go on moving from A to B as long as they can foresee a better life for themselves and their children there.

    What the pro-reproduction people in, say, Norway are saying in effect is: “You should have more children, because I like Norwegians more than Turks and Zambians.” But that’s not a particularly good reason to inflict a child on people who don’t want one, or burden a child with indifferent or resentful parents.

    It’s far, far better to give living space and work to a loving family from somewhere else who need it than to pointlessly reproduce people like you, just so there will always be a dog in that particular manger.

    • @Jon – You aren’t addressing the actual argument. The thrust of the argument is that we are currently discouraging people who would like to have children and would raise them well from having children. In the quote you show above the key words are “imploring” to “restrict”. The argument is not about encouraging people who don’t want children to have them.

    • Exactly! Nor does pointing out “there are still problems in Africa” invalidate solutions in Norway.

      In an arms race, the only winners are the arms dealers. In this case, “have more children or you are going to lose and be overwhelmed by Africans and Middle Easterners” is an old threat born of Euro-Christian systems.

  6. andrew097 says

    It’s a very modest asperation for young people in Europe to have a stable partnership, a couple of kids living in the communities they grew up in. It seems at times education, economy and government policy is working against them

    • Melissa says

      Of course it is, socialism has seen to that. A restrictive labor market where no one can be fired, huge benefits and long vacations make it harder for the young to get a foot on the ladder. This same phenomenon was seen during the Obama Administration. European countries can’t provide jobs for their own people, but their Oikaphobe “leaders” import millions of unemployable refugees.

      • Simon says

        I love it when right wing folk argue for the virtues of market forces at the same time as arguing against the free of movement of labour. So nice and contradictory!

  7. DiscoveredJoys says

    That we *can* breed more and more people is a fact (right up to the point where it becomes or became untrue). Whether we *should* breed more and more people is a philosophical question – one that is inadequately addressed in the article, in my opinion.

  8. It is much costlier to have kid in a rich country than in a poor one. Children in poor countries are economic assets – they are more workers for the farm or security for parents in old age. In the developed world, children are economic burdens. They suck resources from the parents and produce nothing in return. With government providing care in old age, children are no longer needed even for this basic duty.

    Poor immigrants to rich countries eventually adopt the breeding habits of the natives. so this is not a solution.

    People make decisions according to the economic environment.

    • I’m curious whether you ever consider the Psychological and cultural implications of having children? Humans are social creatures. forming family units, having children, these are a base-level part of the human experience (every one of us was born into some kind of family).

      Regardless of your faith or lack thereof, marriage and childrearing are fundamental parts of what it means to be human. yes, some choose not to participate, but they are in a larger society in which this is still the norm.

      Can a society or culture function in an environment where a majority of participants de-value having children?

      You realize that not all cultures will adopt such a viewpoint, correct?

      So mathematically, you are assuring that your culture (western liberal culture) will be supplanted disappear in the face of migration and population growth from other cultures.

      If your OK with that, then by all means, continue.

      I think, perhaps, that you secretly feel these other cultures will become more like us as they move into our environment.

      But that is, sadly, not what history would suggest, and it ignores the basic truths of human psychology, that culture exists to provide a basis for comparison. We need contrast, and we distrust that which is different. There will always be different, and competitive cultures, in human society.

      Only western liberal culture has given rise to a mindset favoring cultural suicide in support of a blind hope that other cultures will simply choose to become more like ours.

    • Let me guess… you have not spent much time in poor countries?

      You are confusing today’s poor countries, which are poor because their governments are corrupt, with different point in time when people were in general poorer because life was based on an agricultural economy. It is not the same.

  9. Henry Miller says

    “…not just carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change…”

    I quit reading when I got to that line–it’s unlikely that anyone who still believes in the AGW-CO2 nonsense has anything worthwhile to say.

  10. Thomas Paine says

    The 20th century was less violent? Ha. The 20th Century had more armed conflicts than all prior historically recorded centuries combined. COMBINED. Your grasp on history is tenuous at best and your comprehension of Malthusian theory is baseline.

    • Thomas Paine: you couldn’t be more wrong. Read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature. Violent as the 20th century was, it pales in comparison to historical levels of violence.

      • Sorry, atheism has killed more people than any religion. USSR, Mao, communist in general, Nazi, weer all atheist. You’re delusional if you think religion even comes close to matching the numbers of the 20th century.

  11. scott says

    This only makes sense if humans stop eating animal products. If they continue to do so, it is essential to cut the birthrate significantly.

  12. Man Made Climate Change is a fraud. Moreover, even if it did exist, the U.S. can nothing to stop it. Only China, India, etc. can. They have huge populations too and China has dropped its “one child max” rule. The birth rate in the U.S. anemic, but we lead the world in abortions, despite adoption by others being an easy option.

    • brian says

      i love how all the comments on this feed have an answer. what if the answer was: humans think they can control everything, but they really have no control of anything. all the wonderful decisions that individuals and massive governments have made that were perceived as amazing, seem to always have insane unintended cancers. Ethanol, plastics, pharmaceuticals, fission, government (haha)

    • Grumpy Pedant says

      Exactly. Those who are arguing against this article are arguing in favor of the world depicted in the movie “Idiocracy”.

      • Demonstrating your point by citing a Hollywood movie is not convincing. Democrats depend on the votes of the least educated among us to gain power. Only 20% of Detroit adults have a HS diploma. Don’t let facts get in the way of your fantasy.

    • I’m with you here. “have more children or you are going to lose and be overwhelmed by THE OTHER” is nothing more than an arms race threat. It isn’t a solution.

  13. billions of people are too many. soon all large animals will be destroyed followed by large fish. rats and cockroaches with the mobs eating weeds. 100 million is more than enough

    • Not true: in developed countries like Britain and the US, more people are packing into cities and re-forestration is occurring. More people + wise land use has led to better environmental conditions, including fewer problems with species extinction.

  14. This article support my proposal on immigration. If you are an environmentalist you should support Trump on immigration. Getting rid of 30 Million Illegals and stopping or seriously restricting legal immigration will do more to help the planet than any proposal you are planning to implement. From an environmental perspective, why do you favor increasing the population of this country?

  15. This ridiculous theory that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are causing global warming and severe weather is a fraud that needs to be abandoned to the same trash heap where eugenics and phrenology were thrown long ago.

  16. Jimbino says

    While some like to explain that accommodating the growing mass of earth’s people in gummint-supported high-rises would be most efficient, there are some people who wouldn’t like to live that way. A big problem is that those of us who do not breed or who would prefer to pay extra to live around green stuff are taxed heavily to support the breeders.

    Breeders like to think they are providing a benefit to society, but I say: let them breed and rear kids at their own expense and then offer for sale (in high wages, etc) their products to willing buyers, just like farmers do (or did, before socialist price-supports).

  17. Pingback: Why You Should Probably Have More Children - Big Sky Headlines

  18. Samuel says

    I have 6 kids. But only because my wife had uncomplicated pregnancies. Having more children is rarely decided on social factors, but on personal sacrifice. In other words, in developed countries where women have the liberty to choose when they have kids, they put it off or avoid it altogether because pregnancy carried tremendous personal risk, financially and physically. If you want women to have more kids, you have to make it less risky. I doubt it has much to do with pollution.

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  20. Michael says

    Five kids here. My wife and I are still in our early 30s so we might have more. We’re homeschooling the oldest three and attend our Catholic Church every week. I’ve lost track of how many random strangers have come up to us at church, the grocery store, or other public locations to compliment us on our children, share how they had a lot of kids, or that they wish they had more. I’ve yet to have someone come up and tell us they wish they had fewer children. It’s hard work and we’ve had to sacrifice some material goods to live on my single income. However, I wouldn’t trade it for the normal lifestyle of two working parents with our kids raised by other people in daycare and state-run schools just so we can afford more stuff.

  21. This is a deceptively oversimplified economic model for a complicated issue. Your examples are cherry-picked and declare past similar debates “over” or similar opposing views “were wrong” is an exercise in historical revisionism.

    We could include historic negative effects of population: starvation, city planning, economic extremes as events which may have been avoided. We could explore any of the reasons used by people in economically prosperous societies to have “fewer children than is traditional” as arguments for their choices. Yet you dismiss these counterarguments as some kind of nebulous natural ‘market forces’ instead of addressing them.

    You conflate reproduction with population. You conflate under-reproduction with underpopulation. You conflate “having no children” with “having fewer children than older generations”.

    I want to get to the heart of your argument, though: “higher population provides more idea machines.” Ideas rarely die (except when there is a concerted effort to bury them as people present their own version of history), so idea machines only accelerate the progress of science and human knowledge. They only speed up the inevitable. They are a nice benefit but not required. There is no reason to think there is a linear positive trend here, either. How do you know that after so much population growth, you still get the same bang for your buck (idea/baby)?

    Using the benefits of “idea machines” to solve the problems they created is not a compelling argument, any more than the window washer who first throws mud on your car.

    • pro-natalist says

      Reply to Michael S:
      Read Matt Ridley, who summarizes insights from Smith, Darwin, and Hayek on how trade produces innovations at an exponential rate in the same way sex can do so relative to asexual creatures. Here’s Ridley’s TED talk, When Ideas Have Sex:
      http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex

      Of course, the argument above makes it clear that the quality of people matter too, as do the quality of political institutions. The argument is sufficiently hedged and nuanced that your criticisms simply don’t apply

  22. Arthur Noll says

    I agree with the people saying there is a belief in magic, religion, with expecting a larger population to contain the people who will find needed things. But lets take a closer look at why. The belief that things will be found, I would say, is based on the fact that this has happened in the past. But does looking make things spring into existence? No, they have to exist before they can be found. New technology has to be possible before it can be figured out. And if you have to look, how can you know these things exist to be found? You can only have blind faith. The basic problem here is confusing correlation with causation. Finding things in the past combined with looking is the correlation, but looking doesn’t cause finding, not with imaginary things. If you have an expectation that has no cause and effect basis, you have superstition, or possibly beliefs in mystical forces or entities. In any case, you don’t have science behind the expectation.

    And another observation. We are a social species, live by teamwork, die without it. We all have the naked body to experiment with our independence of the teamwork of a society. Societies can be energy efficient in how they function to have enough food and shelter and reproduction for its members, with rational expectations for the future, or they can be inefficient and have irrational expectations. The latter characteristics would mean poor fitness, the former would be good fitness. The fit can be expected to survive things that destroy the unfit. The social structure given by money market values, has rather serious problems with efficiency and expectations. People are behaving as independent players with their money, and this leads to large inequities, which tends to lead to quarrels and revolts of various magnitude. That isn’t an efficient way to operate. Second, people can win market competitions by ignoring conservation of resources, and paying employees less than the competition. The latter also stirs up social friction. The lack of conservation needs a reason to avoid disasters, and if that reason is confusing correlation with causation, it isn’t a real reason. And people who win market competitions by ignoring conservation and stressing employees, and pile up a lot of money, get more influence on laws and law enforcement, and they don’t usually make their behavior illegal. But there is more- abundant resources at the beginning means prices are cheap, and the rest of the population doesn’t conserve cheap things, and they are also very likely to increase population. That can put everyone in a trap, as resources get scarcer, and replacements aren’t found as expected. It is the basic nature of traps that they look harmless, or look good, but aren’t…

    Money markets don’t look like a particularly intelligent method of measuring value. If someone is intelligent enough to win competitions in a unintelligent system of value, are they really intelligent?

    Animal populations that overpopulate, have a dieoff. They may go extinct in local areas, like the reindeer introduced to St. Matthew’s Island in WWII. And the planet is an island in space, as well, so total extinction is not out of the question. If some survive a dieoff, it is likely that they were the stronger, more efficient members of the population. As a social species, that means the strongest and most efficient groups at solving all problems, survive. And with regard to reproduction, one significant way to be stronger and more efficient for a time of stress, is to put less energy into reproduction, as it is an energy expensive thing to do, and resume reproduction when life is easier again. Obviously as someone who respects science, I’d also think that stopping with blind faith about finding things, or expecting some mystical being to help, would be a good idea. Measuring the efficiency of society with scientific measures of energy would be a good idea. We have a food energy budget, and that gets used to get more food, and shelter and reproduction as needed, and everything used needs to be used with regard to how fast things regrow or replace. Since such estimates of the future cannot be made precisely, what engineers use in such situations is to have a factor of safety. You use less than the estimated number. That gives a buffer for emergencies.

    An easy way to visualize this matter of saving the energy of reproduction for more immediate needs, is to notice that the young women of the Kurds who have been helping to fight ISIS, are not pregnant or nursing when they are doing this. That would not work out well.
    Another thing that can be noticed about the war in that region, is that it’s roots look to be found in this matter of false expectations. Syria was a grain exporting country and also sold some oil. The drought turned them into a grain importing country about the same time as their oil supply was going past peak. Nobody there or anywhere had wonderful new ways to put fresh water on their dry fields, or something they could sell on the world market to make up for the lost oil revenue. The economic stress ended up in war. Of course, the fact that they have different groups with different religious beliefs, is part of that. Just add another unscientific belief of expecting science to find things, mix well with differing religious beliefs of other kinds, and voila, a giant mess.
    And the rest of the world is in a similar position with divisions of religious belief, and has made the same bet on finding things. It hasn’t gone as far everywhere, obviously, but if it isn’t going to do that, the blind faith people have had in their gods and in science, will need some justification really quickly.

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