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A Path to Sustainability: One Child Recommendation
August 31, 2021
by William P. Meyers

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Around the year 1800, when the industrial revolution was first gaining traction in Great Britain, the world's population was estimated at 1 billion people. Already ecological destruction was widespread. Whales were declining dramatically in numbers, lesser known animal species had been driven to extinction. Whole areas that had been forest were being converted to human cultivation, for instance west of the Appalachian Mountains in the United States of America. Despite the destruction of that era we might take 1 billion as a long-term, sustainable number of human beings on earth. Converting of native ecosystems to farms, mechanization and other wonders of agricultural science would gradually increase the supply of human food and human beings, but that had a cost the earth has been absorbing, decreasing its capacity for self-renewal.

By the 1960s a large number of scientists were warning that the human population had to be stabilized to prevent ecological catastrophe. The global population then was just going over 3 billion. While a few scientists had warned that the entire globe might warm due to greenhouse gas emissions, for the most part the larger concern was running out of food and petroleum. Other scientists and engineers kept finding ways to grow more food for humans.

By 1990 the warnings about global warming had become dire. At the end of the decade the global population hit 6 billion. Despite the more widespread availability of birth control, the population kept rising. Despite the warnings about carbon dioxide emissions, they kept rising.

It is 2021 and, finally, most global decision makers realize the earth is in a bad way, a way that will greatly reduce its ability to support its human population in the coming decades. The world is hotter, ice caps are melting. Species are rapidly disappearing, and even insects are noticeably declining in numbers. The food supply is fragile; there is no significant surplus. But the human population keeps rising and billions of people still aspire to use more energy (for air conditioners and refrigerators and cars). Despite admitting to the outcomes, few policy makers will admit the underlaying problem is human overpopulation. They will admit it to themselves, but not to the public, which might vote them out of office. So they offer industrial solutions to problems created by industrialization. Some of these ideas are not bad in themselves, but they will not save the planet even if the population stays at its current level, much less if it keeps growing [projections are it will keep growing].

The solution is obvious: less children. Less children per family. Preferably mainly one child per family. While many families already are happy with one child, for instance in the industrialized nations, including China, enough are having 3 or more children to keep the global population on a growth path.

People and groups, including political groups, that have recognized the population problem and its obvious solution have not been able to find a social or political path towards a sustainable population. That means an average family size that includes just one child. Advocating for a one-child rule is thought to be political suicide in the United States and in most other nations. It may not be, but no politician wants to take that chance with his or her or their career. About the best you can get from them is upholding legal access to birth control and abortion.

But what could possibly be wrong with a recommendation? There is no law involved, no punishment for not following a recommendation. There are a lot of recommendations in the world. In the United States the government recommends that people don't smoke tobacco. It is recommended that people don't drink alcohol to excess. That people save money. That people get educations. That people exercise.

What I suggest is that the government (local, state, federal, and international) state that the world is overpopulated with humans. Then the governments can make recommendations that women or families only give birth to one child. If for some reason a child dies before reaching maturity, then have another. Of course this will require better access to birth control and abortion than people have in backward areas like Somalia and Texas.

There is a lot to be said for a one-child family, even aside from the environmental impact. Children can be expensive. Families that focus attention and financial assistance on a single child are more likely to have a successful child than those who divide their resources up over two or more children.

At first the One Child Recommendation will seem strange to many people. Many people do not seem to understand the impact people have on the environment, or the limited carrying capacity of the earth. But over time people will become used to the idea. It is not ideal, just as it is not ideal that people still smoke tobacco or drink to excess or eat too much. But over time it will become the ideal, and a growing number of people are likely to say: One and Done. Stop the crying. One child brings plenty of joy.

The one child recommendation could appear in public service announcements. Doctors could have posters promoting it in their offices. Counselors of various sorts could recommend it to clients. Over time it would become part of the culture.

We already expect the global situation to get much worse over the next 50 or so years. With a global one child recommendation, the coming generation would include less mouths to feed. If successful, in three to four generations the world population should decline to roughly 1800 levels. Then, perhaps, having two children would become acceptable again.

Or we could just watch people starve. Eventually we are going to get back to 1 billion, or likely less, depending on how destroyed the world is, no matter what we do. We can do it with smart public education campaign, or we can do it with War, Pestilence, and Famine.

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