Earlier today, Allahpundit wrote about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s musings about whether or not it’s still a good idea for people to have children given the possibility that climate change will destroy the planet. I’m not sure what AOC was referencing but today the New Republic published a piece about this topic titled “Is It Cruel to Have Kids in the Era of Climate Change?” As the piece explains, this question is the focus of a spreading idea called anti-natalism which argues that the answer is at least arguably yes if you assume we’re headed for a fall as a species:
The basic antinatalist argument is simple, albeit easily misunderstood. As philosopher David Benatar argued in a 2006 antinatalist treatise, life is full of suffering and strife, the moments of pleasure and happiness few, transitory, and elusive, and ultimately it all ends in death. This is not the same as saying that life is not worth living, if you happen to be alive—for one thing, living and then facing death can involve its own physical and emotional pain. The argument is rather that it would have been better never to have been born in the first place. Some lives can indeed be rather satisfactory, even rewarding. But as a potential future parent, you are taking a risk on your child’s behalf, because, Benatar kindly reminds us, “there is a wide range of appalling fates that can befall any child that is brought into existence: starvation, rape, abuse, assault, serious mental illness, infectious disease, malignancy, paralysis.”
And the argument continues by assuming all of the possible bad outcomes are much more likely as a global economic meltdown creates wars over scarce resources, disease, violence, starvation, etc. The important point here is not that you have to agree with anti-natalism but to understand where it’s coming from. It’s people who see the future as the zombie apocalypse without the zombies. To be fair, if you’ve ever watched shows like The Walking Dead the greatest threat always comes from other humans. The zombies are really just background noise most of the time. So a zombie apocalypse without the zombies is still a pretty terrifying future.
The saving grace of the TNR article is that it has some self-awareness that we’ve heard this gloom-and-doom story before:
During the Cold War, there was an existential fear about a possible nuclear war between America and the USSR, which would have brought about mass death and suffering. Instead, political history and fortune took a turn that made nuclear annihilation less likely—even though the risk of a nuclear war may since have risen. Going further back, around the turn of the nineteenth century, the English economist Thomas Malthus was warning that the pending overpopulation of the planet would lead to inevitable food shortages. That didn’t happen either. Technological advances have allowed the planet to feed a population many times its nineteenth-century tally of one billion. So, even if we can’t see it from our current vantage point, there is hope that politics, technology, or a combination of the two might retrospectively render our current anxieties exaggerated. But, of course, there is no guarantee of that—hope comes with its own risks.
These aren’t the only examples one could offer. In the mid-1950s a geologist named Marion King Hubbert presented a theory about “Peak oil” which predicted that at some point in the near future oil production would peak and begin a downward slide which, when graphed would look like a bell curve. Here’s Hubert himself explaining his theory in 1976:
You’ll notice that Hubbert placed the peak of his graph around the year 2000. In fact, there have been many predictions about Peak Oil over the decades. Last year, Forbes published a piece about this which points out that Peak Oil speculation was renewed in 1997 when the Oil & Gas Journal published competing articles on the topic. Here’s a bit of the article presenting the contrary view of Peak Oil:
The contrary view was put forth in the same journal in an article by M. A. Adelman and this author, noting past pessimism: “For many years now, nearly every forecast has been: an early peak, then in 3-5 years decline in virtually every place but the Persian Gulf.” And “The oil industry has always been in a tug-of-war between depletion and knowledge. It takes endless effort and investment to renew and expand reserves. But resource limits are a phantom….Repeatedly, the forecasts are revised with a higher and later peak….These estimates of declining reserves and production are incurably wrong because they treat as a quantity what is really a dynamic process driven by growing knowledge.”
This is a dynamic process. What actually happened with peak oil is that it became irrelevant because of fracking. Technology changed and the predictions of our imminent lack of fossil fuels suddenly seem unnecessarily gloomy in retrospect. We aren’t doomed to a future zombie apocalypse (without the zombies) and because the process is dynamic AOC’s Green New Deal isn’t the only possible solution.
Now it’s true that this hope that man will be a match for the challenges he creates for himself isn’t guaranteed. We could fail. And that’s where you can divide the present world into two kinds of people. There are those who demand a war footing now because anything else means catastrophe. They don’t really believe in us as a species. They are presuming we are going to fail and burn in a hell of our own making. Oh, I know they’re pushing for action, but it’s action premised on the idea that we’re doomed unless we give them extraordinary power now.
And then there are people who think whatever crisis we face in the next 30 years, we’ll come up with solutions. What are those solutions? I don’t know. Maybe it’s better, cheaper solar. Maybe it’s fusion. Maybe it’s carbon capture. Maybe better batteries or something only a few people have heard of at this point. I don’t know what it will be but I’m betting humankind is going to succeed. And that’s one reason I have no regrets about having kids. I think they’re going to thrive. I think they’re going to have it better in many ways than my generation, not worse.
What I suspect will happen in the long-term is that humanity will continue to thrive with some combination of improved technology and new technology. And when we finally arrive at the green future where we don’t even need oil and gas anymore because we’ve come up with something much better, the gloomy pessimists who spent years selling humanity short will claim credit. ‘We told you we needed to get here and now we’re here!’ they’ll say. Look at what we did!
But it’s not going to be their doing. It’ll be the people who had faith. The people who had kids. The people who weren’t afraid of the future. They’ll be the ones who make it happen and they’ll be the ones who deserve the credit. The anti-natalists will have chosen not to be part of the bright future the rest of our kids make for themselves.