Acton Institute Powerblog

Mothers, Earth

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With many developed nations around the world facing demographic crises, Dr. Kevin Schmiesing challenges the radical environmentalist and population control lobbies that view motherhood as a problem. Schmiesing advocates a more positive form of environmental stewardship, arguing that children, far from being an omen of impending catastrophe, have the potential to “generate prosperity, and leave the natural environment better than they found it.”

Read the complete commentary here.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Maureen Ellen Roth

    Simple mathmatics show that the Earth simply cannot support the present increase in human population. Would it be such a big sacrifice to have a one child family if it be for the well being of our planet. After all we are not threatened with extinction as are some many other species.

  • Maureen, you’re right simply mathematics does show that we cannot continually increase the population ad infinium. Malthus observed as much forever ago.

    What we need is not child birth laws, etc, imo. We need to restructure our society such that we live sustainably given our natural resources. If we did this, people would find that their wasteful lifestyles would be more than they could afford and they may start thinking about eating less meat, driving less, and (possibly) having fewer kids.

    I think it’s important though that we leave these decision (decisions about “were” to cut back) up to the families. Some families may choose to have fewer kids but others may choose to cut resources in other areas.

    What we need is structures like gas and land taxes to internalize all the environmental externalities that lead to unsustainable living patterns.

  • Kevin

    The reason that we are not threatened with extinction by population increase is that we are rational, and therefore adaptable, creatures in a way that other animals are not. As Trevor implies, arguments that “simple mathematics show” that overpopulation will bring imminent ruin have been around at least since Malthus, and they have never panned out. It is time to abandon them.

  • Kevin, do you know the simple argument Malthus came up with?

  • Vivienne Of Heidelberg

    There are many people who contribute to the value of the lives of others, both human and non-human. However, the very numbers of people that our planet can support if finite due to the carrying capacity of our environment. We can only take so much from natural resources and physical space before the ecology will crumble and grind to a halt. Humans are species-centric and often forget that we share this planet with many non-humans, and they ultimately suffer due to human greed and destruction. Mothers are not to be blamed – it is natual to want to reproduce. However, reducing the number of off-spring would help in sustaining population numbers, bar wars and disease. A plant based diet would dramaticlly reduce our foot-prints on the planet.

  • John McKeown

    Kevin > nations … facing populations crises—of the under- rather than the over- variety >

    But the global picture is still 1.1%% per year which (if continued) would mean doubling in 60 years. And even locally, states with low birth rates (eg Italy) still have higher population than sustainable levels (except in Scandanavia). I agree that (I=PAT) more population (P) can fit if affluence (A) declines, or technology (T) improves, but when impact (I) is already 120%% of maximum sustainable I think it optimistic to expect technology alone to balance the equation.

  • Kevin Schmiesing

    In simplified terms: that population growth naturally outstrips food supply growth and therefore food shortages are inevitable without efforts to restrict population growth.

  • Christopher Manes

    So 6 billion people isn’t an environmental problem, according to the author. How about 10 billion? 20 billion? Is there any number that the naive apologists for unrestricted industrial growth and environmental destruction will agree is too many people.

    Apparently not. Apparently ideology drives their refusal to respect God’s creation and accept the fact that even at current population levels, habit and species are being destroyed at an alarming rate, for the most part only for the purpose of increased profits for the wealthy.

    Stewardship is a buzzword that puts no restrictions on the Christian Right and their disrespect for God’s other creations. Only by putting our desires second to the needs of others can the we put respect for God’s creation into practice. It’s what Jesus and the apostle Paul urge Christians to do:

    Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.

  • Fred Stovel

    The theories of population crises of the 70s have not materialized. Carrying capacity is a mathematical construct, a model. "Sustainable" is a concept that neglects the ability of future generations to make discoveries and decisions. Only 5%% of the US is paved. Growth rates are tapering off and are below replacement levels in most developed countries. Food production in most countries continue to rise. Species extinction fears cannot be substantiated. I opt to trust that the only species on earth that has a conscience will continue to deal with our living space if given the freedom to do so. And I already see the improvements happening without the doctrine of population control.

  • Christopher Manes

    Translated: since the plane is still flying despite the fact that a guy is removing the rivets one by one, we have nothing to worry about.

  • I’d say the proper translation is that the people that have been clamoring about the guy removing the rivets haven’t actually shown evidence that the rivet-removing guy is actually there, so let’s give our attention to real problems instead.