Are they doing something like this already? Do they quantify how much of a burden in food and environmental terms terms a person will be (providing water, housing, health services, food, energy, etc. to that person, minus the economic benefit that person will be (how much of those things he will contribute back towards to) and what the ultimate cost will be?
If the environmental cost of each additional child is quantified, then given societal acceptance, we could start incentivising people to have fewer children by applying those costs.
It is a tricky issue, because people highly value their right to have children and to not have this area of their lives imposed upon. In any case, if it was workable and done in such a way as to incentivise and not penalise, perhaps any children produced above the replacement rate would have to be ‘paid for’ in terms of the parents carrying the cost of extra infrastructure, investment in how to use resources more efficiently, and paying for the extra ecological burden. Perhaps this could be done by giving tax breaks to those people that do not have children, or those with one child or those that adopt – but if that was the case, how would one approach couples that have more than two children?
Governments tend not to place a cost on the things they do now, our system of accounting is not geared to incorporating the costs on future society, costs that will have to be recuperated in the future. Whether one has no children or five children, we all have to pay tax (given we work) to pay for the infrastructure that will service a growing population. Somehow, that seems at odds with the idea of capitalism, of each paying our own way in the world and being responsible for our own decisions.
I think part of the issue is presuming that a growing population has no costs, or that we work off the costs by increasing the size of the labour pool, that each person essentially pays for his or herself through their own labour and economic contribution, or even that an increased population would result in economies of scale. There is little acknowledgement of the idea that a growing population burdens the environment and drives environmental problems. There might be this idea that environmental problems are distinct from social problems, economic problems, policy problems, that the environment is not the base from which we sustain ourselves, somehow, and that all problems we experience fall outside of this…that somehow the environment is forests and farmland and wild animals roaming, and that there are enough wild spaces to sustain them already (isn’t that what nature reserves are for?). There isn’t wide enough understanding of the multiple threats to biodiversity and to ecosystems functioning, of how separating wild spaces through the imposition of cities and farmland, cuts off migration routes and closes genetic pools.
Most detrimental to humans, they do not en masse gauge the rising prices of food and consumer goods, employment, the erosion of how much their wage can buy, the increasing health threats, and other threats to their safety from terrorists, with a degraded environment and spiraling scarcity of resources. I will concede there are a multitude of factors, some political, but to miss the base on which all the others sit is a failure of our imaginations.
While consumption is the great driver of ecological collapse, I believe governments should be tactfully negotiating with cultural forces to start justifying incentives for reduced population sizes. It is a very Western mindset – there are too many people (as opposed to ‘I consume too much’) – but at the least deserves one blog entry.