26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a fine book that gives a measured, objective (as much as possible) analysis on the decision of whether to add another human being to the surface of the earth. I'm constantly amazed how often population is neglected entirely (or casually brushed off) when discussing policies from urban sprawl to species loss to global warming. Of course population isn't the only factor (wealth and lifestyle are obviously key as well), but who can seriously question that our environmental impact on the earth would be more manageable if we had fewer people? Think about your average day....waking up and showering, eating breakfast, driving to work, etc. Go out and surf the Internet and start calculating your individual environmental impact (there are a host of useful sites out there). The coal burned to light your house, your office and all of the places you visit during the day. The metals, woods and plastics harvested, processed, stored and shipped to build your home, the appliances within it, your automobile, your consumer electronics, books, dishes and your clothes. The water, herbicides and fuel used to produce the food you consume. And don't forget waste. Start adding up your sewer impact, the amount of garbage you generate week after week, month after month. And don't forget the garbage you contribute to at work, the park and the restaurant. And so on.... The final toll is staggering. Simply in terms of home electricity use, for example, the average American household will easily burn more than 300 pounds of coal and generate more than 600 pounds of atmospheric CO2 per month. Then start multiplying these numbers by 280 million (Americans), and (although using different and lower multipliers) 6 billion+ human beings.
The inescapable truth glaring through this sort of calculation is that unless you manage a SuperFund site, you are not likely to make a more environmentally important decision in your life than whether to add another human being to the earth (and if so, how many). Perhaps McKibben's book will help reduce the ridiculous spectacles I see where a bountiful family of multiple children scamper from a monstrous SUV (with Earth Day bumper sticker) at a recycle site, offering some newspapers and crushed cans and then hulking home (after gassing up, of course), beaming and self-congratulatory at what they are doing for the earth compared to their wasteful brethren in, say, India. You can reuse and recycle to your little heart's content and not come close to having a fraction of the environmental impact of not having had one of those children-particularly American children.
Now at this point someone will usually ask "but what if that child not born had grown up to be another Ed Begley, Jr or John Muir???" Of course it's just as likely (that is, unknowable) that the child will be another Rush Limbaugh Julian Simon, arguing that ultimately human ingenuity will always find a way out of our problems (since it always has in the past). The fact is I fear Simon may be right (at least on this point). Humans probably will find a way around most if not all of the limitations on human growth and continued happiness. Unfortunately many of those "limitations" will be much of the rest of the ecosystem. If you live comfortably in a human-centered worldview where humans properly exercise dominion over birds and the fishes, then stay tuned, you're going to love the next few hundred years. If, however, you value other components of the ecosystem other than humans (or acknowledge their right to exist whether we value them or not), Simon won't have much to tell you. You can't get something out of nothing. Each of the 240,000 new humans added to the earth each day aren't eating nothing or building their homes from nothing or fueling their fires and cars and machines from nothing. They will get these things from something, and that something is the rest of our ecosystem. The plain fact of the matter is that as human population expands, other components of our ecosystem contract. Humans are rapidly converting earth biomass to human biomass. If you like that state of affairs, keep on truckin'. Otherwise read McKibben's book and take some meaningful action to work to an alternative...