Death, Taxes and Population

By David L. Brown

In that innermost part of our rational brains we all know that over-population is a root cause of most or perhaps all of the environmental trouble in the world, including climate change and global warming. But, like Oliver Hardy stridently declaring to Stan Laurel, “Now look at the mess you’ve gotten us into,” we aren’t sure what has happened or whose fault it is. People are genetically programmed to reproduce, and ovaries and testes generally win out over logically thinking brains.

Now, in order to protect the environment, an Australian doctor has come out four-square in favor of limiting the numbers of offspring that Aussie parents should be allowed to bring into the world, through the simple expedient of taxation. Writing in today’s Medical Journal of Australia, Dr. Barry Walters proposes that families be levied a $5000 “baby tax” at birth for each additional child over two, plus an annual carbon tax of $800 per child. He also calls for the elimination of government tax breaks or grants for parents of children.

According to a report on news.com.au (read it here):

[Walters] said every couple with more than two children should be taxed to pay for enough trees to offset the carbon emissions generated over each child’s lifetime.

[He] called for condoms and “greenhouse-friendly” services such as sterilisation procedures to earn carbon credits.

And he implied the Federal Government should ditch the $4133 baby bonus and consider population controls like those in China and India.

Professor Walters said the average annual carbon dioxide emission by an Australian individual was about 17 metric tons, including energy use.

“Every newborn baby in Australia represents a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions for an average of 80 years, not simply by breathing but by the profligate consumption of resources typical of our society,” he wrote.

Walters is clinical associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia and the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth. Another “high-profile” Australian physician, Dr. Garry Egger, praised the proposal, writing in a response article in the MJA, “One must wonder why population control is spoken of today only in whispers.”

Not everyone agrees with the idea (including me, as you will read further down). The article quotes Angela Conway, a spokesperson for the Australian Family Association, who declared that it was ridiculous to blame babies for global warming. She added:

“I think self-important professors with silly ideas should have to pay carbon tax for all the hot air they create,” she said. “There’s masses of evidence to say that child-rich families have much lower resource consumption per head than other styles of households.”

Each side has a point, but the trouble with all of this is that population is not a problem just in Australia, or the United States, or even faraway places like India, China and Africa. It is a worldwide phenomenon. If a single nation such as Australia should seek to limit its population growth it will merely make more resources available for further expansion elsewhere until the world population limit is reached.

There you have the enormous Catch 22 of the population question — it cannot be acted upon locally because only a total multi-national program to limit growth in human numbers could possibly be effective. Otherwise, any nation or group that chose to voluntarily reduce their numbers would eventually be overrun by others who chose not to.

And, of course, the likelihood of any such unanimous multi-national effort coming to pass would be on the order of a snowball merrily making its way unharmed into the deepest and hottest circle of Hell. Accompanied by flying pigs.

What Dr. Walters says about the threat of population to the global environment is absolutely valid and true, and it is only the practicality of his proposed response to which I take issue. But let’s examine it more closely to make sure there are no flaws in my objections to his idea. First, though, let us accept my point that only a unanimous global program could possibly be accepted or effective. How could we proceed?

Obviously, it would require an immense degree of cooperation by every political unit on the planet, and the place to start is where those usual suspects convene: the United Nations. Because no rational nation would agree to cut its own population growth while others continued to breed unchecked, a unanimous agreement would be required for such a program to be done voluntarily. Likelihood: snowballs and aerial pigs again.

That possibility being eliminated for being extremely unlikely, the next stage would be to put into place an involuntary program through which each nation on the planet would be required to limit population growth as a matter of international law. That would require the efforts of a massive military program, backed up by extensive civilian monitors to assure that population growth limits were not being exceeded. Such a program would probably require the existence of a single totalitarian ruler with control of the entire surface of the Earth. Such an undertaking would be far beyond anything history has ever served up, and would likely meet with resistance (note British understatement).

In fact, even now organizations such as Planned Parenthood are accused of being genocidal monsters just for handing out advice and condoms to prospective parents, and their representatives dare not to show their heads in places where bloody jihad and other religious activities are in force, lest those heads become separated from their bodies. And it is not just Muslims who object, for conservative Christians take quite literally the Biblical exhortation to “go forth and multiply.”

In Europe, indigenous French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish and British peoples are slowly but surely losing the population race against immigrant populations that produce four or five children per family. The book “America Alone” by Mark Steyn describes the trend and its likely outcome: A Europe with a majority Muslim population living under Sharia law. Muslim leaders speak quite openly about this, looking forward to the eventual conversion of the Great Cathedrals to Great Mosques. Infidels will not have easy lives in this model of future Europe, if they live at all. The problem, in part, is that in that region there has not been enough breeding to maintain the status quo. Immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa have moved in to fill the gap. As Ipso, so Facto (warning: faux Latin).

Returning to the subject at hand, Australians are not very fertile to start with. This year, according to figures from the Central Intelligence Agency, there were 12.02 births per 1000 people in the Land Down Under. That ranks the nation number 165 in the world. And where are the highest birth rates to be found? I am glad you asked, because here are the Top Ten contributors to world population:

  • 1. Niger — 50.16 (births/1000)
  • 2. Mali — 49.61
  • 3. Uganda — 48.12
  • 4. Afghanistan — 46.21
  • 5. Sierra Leone — 45.41
  • 6. Burkina Faso — 45.28
  • 7. Somalia — 44.6
  • 8. Angola — 44.51
  • 9. Liberia — 43.75
  • 10. Democratic Republic of the Congo — 42.96

Hmm, do we see any kind of a pattern here? Well, yes we do. These are nations that are poor, politically unstable, and unlikely to cooperate with any program such as proposed by Dr. Walters for Australia. And, even if they should agree, or be forced, to participate in such a plan — where would the good citizens of these marvelous wonderlands find the $5000 to pay for the pleasure of adding another straw to the groaning camel’s back that is the population of the Earth? Many of the residents of these places earn a dollar a day or less, so how could they come up with the $800 annual levy to offset greenhouse gas emissions for each of their children? Definitely a problem there.

Incidentally, you might be interested in knowing some of the nations that have the lowest birth rates in the world. It is instructive. Starting with Australia, which as mentioned above ranks number 165, here are some of the nations that have even lower birth rates than the Aussies: Norway; Russia; Denmark; Canada; Netherlands; United Kingdom; Portugal; Finland; Belgium; Sweden; Spain; Poland; Switzerland; Greece; Austria; and Italy.

And which nations are at the very bottom of the list: Glad you asked: Third from the bottom at number 215 and a birth rate of 8.2/1000 is Germany. Number 216, with a fertility rate of 8.1, is Japan. (Hong Kong is listed as number 217 with the lowest rate of all, but it is not a sovereign nation.)

[Note: It is perhaps something to be considered for another time, but it just jumps out at me that among the five countries with the lowest birthrates on Earth are Italy, Germany and Japan, the three nations that made up the Axis Powers against which the West fought World War II. The other two at the bottom of the CIA list are, as mentioned, the Chinese vassal “city state” of Hong Kong and the mini-“nation” of Andorra. I have no idea whether these facts are correlated in any way, although it is intriguing to suppose that the defeat and subsequent postwar rebuilding of the former Axis nations might have something to do with it. Could the loss of millions of young men more than half a century ago still be depressing Italian, German and Japanese demographics today?]

I know you’re dying to ask, so here is the rank of the United States: Number 149, just a bit higher than Australia, with a rate of 14.16 births per 1000. All the birthrate figures quoted here are from the Central Intelligence Agency “World Factbook,” as of January 1, 2007, as found here on the Index Mundi web site.

The growth or decline of human numbers is something that is beyond human control. It lies in the realm of Nature, of which humankind is an integral part. And as history has amply demonstrated, it is only Nature that can (and will in due time, perhaps soon) reverse population growth. It can be surmised that as problems continue to grow — problems such as drought with resulting famine; unrest with resulting war; unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, and crowding with resulting plagues — Nature will have its way. We have previously discussed what happens to populations that outgrow the ability of their environment to support them (see for example my article “Overshoot-and Collapse: A Model for Our Future,” posted August 6, 2006).

Humankind may think that it controls Nature, but this is false. We are a part of Nature, as surely as the polar bear, the Asian tiger, the fish in the sea, and even the germs that cause great pandemics. When Nature can no longer tolerate our growing numbers, adjustments will be made. That eventual outcome is as sure as Death, which is perhaps the only certainty there is.

There is another word often associated with the phrase I quoted in the last sentence. The full text is “as sure as Death and taxes.” Well, taxes just don’t cut it, and Dr. Walters’s idea of taxing babies is, well, it’s just another snowball in Hell. Like it or not, there is no way to tax our way out of this problem.

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