Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Children: Presents or Polluters?

I ran across an article recently that appeared on the Adelaide (Australia) Adverstiser website on Dec. 10, concerning a proposal by a supposed "medical expert" to impose a hefty tax on parents for each baby they add to their family after the first two. The proposal was presented as a means of fighting climate change (that is, global warming) through "population control." Anyone who has followed the radical neo-Marxist faction of the environmental movement or the population control movement for any length of time will not be surprised to see further evidence of the link between the two, but it is not every day we see it on such public display, for all the world to see.

The proposal was made in a letter to the editor of the Dec. 10 Medical Journal of Australia by Barry Walters, a physician and associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia and the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth.

Dr. Walters states that every new baby in Australia is "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 suggests that the "environmentally responsible" thing to do, then, is to charge parents for having more children than "experts" like Walters think they should have. He cites a limit of two children per couple suggested by Sustainable Population Australia, an organization described on its website as "dedicated to preserving species' habitats globally and in Australia from the degradation caused by human population growth."

In addition to an initial upfront tax of $5000 AU (approximately $4,390 USD) for each "excess" child born, parents would be assessed an annual tax of up to $800 AD ($700 USD). This would cover the expense of planting enough trees to offset the carbon emissions supposedly created by each human being over his lifetime.

The original article that prompted his comments was published in the Aug. 6, 2007 issue of the Journal and entitled, "Personal Carbon Trading: a Potential 'Stealth Intervention' for Obesity Reduction?" The author is Garry Egger, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of health sciences at Southern Cross University in Lismore, New South Wales and founder of the Gutbusters program, which fights male obesity. Dr. Egger suggests that a potential side effect of so-called "personal carbon offsets" can as a means of "reducing obesity by increasing personal energy use."

Under such a "personal carbon trading" scheme, each person would be allocated a given number of "tradeable energy units" per year. Those who end up with an excess of units could trade them in; those who go over their limit would pay a premium for their profligacy. Egger, whose expertise is obesity and weight control, suggests that, in addition to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, such a system would also encourage lifestyles that contribute to lowered obesity rates.

The good Dr. Egger sees growth of any sort – in the economy or the population – as the engine driving climate change and therefore an evil to be opposed at all costs. Government policies that discourage consumption of modern conveniences, like the internal combustion engine, for instance, in favor of, say, bicycles, are to be encouraged. Certainly he is correct in a sense. Government policies that make it prohibitively expensive to purchase or maintain an automobile will force citizens to get more exercise. Whether it will actually improve the overall quality of life is doubtful. In any case, few people would choose to live under such a regime. Of course, it is a scheme only a U.N. technocrat could love, and it is impractical in the extreme. Not to mention that it is based on still-unproven theories about global climate change – 1) whether it is unprecedented, and 2) whether it is man-made.

But this is beside the point. The truly insidious aspect of such a proposal is not it's unworkability but rather the notion that we are morally obligated to control the number of consumers, not just the level of consumption. By Walters' and Egger's reasoning, human beings don't just contribute to the problem, we are the problem. Population control, therefore, is seen as an unalloyed good, to be accomplished by whatever means possible.

Egger's article mentions that population control is essential to the success of such a scheme. But in his follow-up letter Walters gives us an undisguised look into the kind of thinking that leads even obstetrics professors to view children not as a gift from God but as a threat to our quality of life. In addition to his baby tax scheme, Walters suggests awarding "carbon credits" to Australians who provide or use such "greenhouse-friendly services" as "contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms and sterilisation procedures."

He doesn't mention abortion, of course, but can anyone be in any doubt that it would be ruled out under such a Utopian project? After all, abortion is aimed at the same result - the elimination of "excess" children. Moreover, even if his proposal were limited to the use of contraceptives, oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices are morally problematic precisely because they often work by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. That is, they induce abortion. Not to mention that all forms of artificial contraception are morally problematic (to say the least) for Catholics and for a growing number of pro-life protestants. (But that's a discussion for another day.)

Mr. Walters suggests that doctors have a duty, "as citizens of this world" to advocate for such programs. And he even goes so far as to say that "we deserve no more population concessions than those in India and China." Whew! It isn't often that even the most hardened zero population growth advocate holds up India or China as a standard for family planning programs, given the results of such programs there. India, where the traditional preference for boys has led to the widespread practice of aborting girls. China's one-child-per-family policy and the resulting government-enforced abortions are well known by now. Normal male/female population ratios have become so distorted by such policies that young men in both countries outnumber their female contemporaries to such an extent that they are hard-pressed to find women to marry.

Dr. Eggers, for his part, doesn't back down one inch from Dr. Walters' challenge. In fact, in his reply to Walters' letter he wonders where all of the population control advocates have gone who made such a splash in the 1970s. He suggests they have been drowned out either by politicians and economists who support growth (imagine that) or perhaps "the great religions, intent on outnumbering each other."

As I said before, there is nothing new under the sun here. Religious faith is often held up by self-described "progressives" as a foe of scientific progress, and family planning has long been advocated as a key to the prosperity of developing countries. (In this connection, see Dawn Eden's recent posts ("Ad nauseum" - parts 1 & 2) about marketing materials distributed by Planned Parenthood affiliates across the globe.) Still, it isn't often that we get to see such undisguised mutual cheerleading between Utopian environmentalists and population control advocates.

Perhaps the best comment on the proposal came from Angela Conway of the Australian Family Association: "Self-important professors with silly ideas should have to pay carbon tax for all the hot air they create." Well said.

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