Overpopulation Chic: Stubborn Americans Averse to Controls on 'Right to Bear Arms Or Children'

New York Times reporter Mireya Navarro in Tuesday's edition wrote sympathetically about the struggle of an environmental group 'breaking the taboo' of discussing overpopulation in 'Breaking a Long Silence On Population Control.' Such groups had it easier in the 1970s, Navarro wrote, before the rise of 'social conservatism' and America's 'aversion to anything perceived as restricting individual freedoms, be it the right to bear arms or children.' Unfortunately, "the notion that curbing births is an effective way to control emissions is not an easy sell."

Navarro is disturbed by the lack of population control in movies as well; she actually criticized the comedy 'Knocked Up' in June 2007 for failing to hail abortion as an option in the plot and included this telling sentence: "Many conservative bloggers have claimed 'Knocked Up' as an anti-choice movie, in part because the movie never presents abortion as a serious option." Pro-life conservatives generally don't go around using liberal lingo like 'anti-choice.'

From her Tuesday story:

Major American environmental groups have dodged the subject of population control for decades, wary of getting caught up in the bruising politics of reproductive health.

Yet, virtually alone, the Center for Biological Diversity is breaking the taboo by directly tying population growth to environmental problems through efforts like giving away condoms in colorful packages depicting endangered animals. The idea is to start a debate about how overpopulation crowds out species and hastens climate change - just when the world is welcoming Baby No. 7 Billion.


In the United States, the birth rate has fallen steadily since the baby boom, from 3.6 births per woman in 1960 to 2.0 today, or just under the replacement level, at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next. Yet even at that rate, demographers estimate, the country will grow from 311 million people now to 478 million by the end of the century, because of both births and immigration.


As recently as the 1970s, the subject of population control was less controversial, partly because the baby boom years had given rise to concerns about scarcity of resources, some population experts and environmentalists said. Then came China's coercive one-child policy and a rise in social conservatism in the United States, combined with the country's aversion to anything perceived as restricting individual freedoms, be it the right to bear arms or children.

Some groups also fear whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment and opposition to family planning. Immigration now accounts for about one-third of the growth rate in the United States.


A study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed how slowing the country's population growth rate to 1.5 births per woman from 2.0 could result in a 10 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury and a 33 percent drop by the end of the century.

But the notion that curbing births is an effective way to control emissions is not an easy sell.

When Oregon State University released a study two years ago calculating the extra carbon dioxide emissions a person helps generate by choosing to have children, the researchers received hate mail labeling them 'eugenicists' and 'Nazis.'

Navarro concluded:

Dr. Bongaarts described the inaction by environmental groups as a missed opportunity. 'The global warming community is staying away from anything having to do with population,' he said, 'and that's frustrating.'