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The Baby Bust

Global Warming

Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists.

Today, fertility correlates strongly with a wide range of political, cultural and religious attitudes. This correlation between secularism, individualism and low fertility portends a vast change in modern societies…

What’s the difference between Seattle and Salt Lake City? There are many differences, of course, but here’s one you might not know. In Seattle, there are nearly 45% more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19% more kids than dogs. This curious fact might at first seem trivial, but it reflects a much broader and little-noticed demographic trend that has deep implications for the future of global culture and politics… Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families. Today, fertility correlates strongly with a wide range of political, cultural and religious attitudes. In the USA, for example, 47% of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children.

By contrast, only 27% of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.

In Utah, where more than two-thirds of residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 92 children are born each year for every 1,000 women, the highest fertility rate in the nation. By contrast Vermont – the first to embrace gay unions – has the nation’s lowest rate, producing 51 children per 1,000 women.

Similarly, in Europe today, the people least likely to have children are those most likely to hold progressive views of the world. For instance, do you distrust the army and other institutions and are you prone to demonstrate against them? Then, according to polling data assembled by demographers Ron Lesthaeghe and Johan Surkyn, you are less likely to be married and have kids or ever to get married and have kids. Do you find soft drugs, homosexuality and euthanasia acceptable? Do you seldom, if ever, attend church? Europeans who answer affirmatively to such questions are far more likely to live alone or be in childless, cohabiting unions than are those who answer negatively.

This correlation between secularism, individualism and low fertility portends a vast change in modern societies.

In the USA, for example, nearly 20% of women born in the late 1950s are reaching the end of their reproductive lives without having children.

The greatly expanded childless segment of contemporary society, whose members are drawn disproportionately from the feminist and counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and ’70s, will leave no genetic legacy.

Nor will their emotional or psychological influence on the next generation compare with that of people who did raise children. Meanwhile, single-child families are prone to extinction. A single child replaces one of his or her parents, but not both.

Consequently, a segment of society in which single-child families are the norm will decline in population by at least 50% per generation and quite quickly disappear.

In the USA, the 17.4% of baby boomer women who had one child account for a mere 9.2% of kids produced by their generation. But among children of the baby boom, nearly a quarter descend from the mere 10% of baby boomer women who had four or more kids. This dynamic helps explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism.

Among states that voted for President Bush in 2004, the average fertility rate is more than 11% higher than the rate of states for Sen. John Kerry.

It might also help to explain the popular resistance among rank-and-file Europeans to such crown jewels of secular liberalism as the European Union. It turns out that Europeans who are most likely to identify themselves as “world citizens” are also less likely to have children. [Phillip Longman is a fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It. This essay is adapted from his cover story in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine. 14Mar06;_ylt=Asq8zpkVI47ww3H1YNajEems0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTA3YWFzYnA2BHNlYwM3NDI

[Phillip Longman, writing on “The Return of Patriarchy,” March/April 05;, N Valko RN, 28Feb06]


GLOBAL WARMING. …George Will had a thoughtful column [recently] on new efforts to gin up the panic about global warming. He notes that Time magazine has this big issue declaring, “Be worried. Be very worried.” Will is amused by the piquant presumption that the nation will panic on command from Time.

Mr. Will notes that neither the science nor the economics surrounding the global warming debate is very convincing.

“That is one reason why the Clinton administration never submitted the Kyoto accord on global warming for Senate ratification. In 1997 the Senate voted 95 to 0 that the accord would disproportionately burden America while being too permissive toward major polluters that are America’s trade competitors.”

It was not very long ago that we were told about the impending catastrophe of global cooling. Citing various alleged authorities, Mr. Will writes:

While worrying about Montana’s receding glaciers, Prof. Schweitzer, who is 50, should also worry about the fact that when he was 20 he was told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling. Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.” Science Digest (February 1973) reported that “the world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age.” The Christian Science Monitor (”Warning: Earth’s Climate is Changing Faster Than Even Experts Expect,” Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers “have begun to advance,” “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” and “the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool.” Newsweek agreed (”The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975) that meteorologists “are almost unanimous” that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that the New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said “may mark the return to another ice age.” The Times (May 21, 1975) also said “a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable” now that it is “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950.”

Following the money, which is usually a wise thing to do, Mr. Will opines that today’s global warming panic is driven in large part by the interests of coal and oil interests that want massive federal funding for new technologies that will putatively reduce the emissions that are putatively guilty of hotting up the world. Others say it is driven also by a strategy to prepare the public for a major reinvestment in nuclear power. I don’t know, but it sounds plausible.

Geologist Bob Carter, writing on Monday in the UK’s Telegraph, has further reflections on the basis of his work as an expert on paleoclimate:

The essence of the issue is this. Climate changes naturally all the time, partly in predictable cycles, and partly in unpredictable shorter rhythms and rapid episo
c shifts, some of the causes of which remain unknown.

We are fortunate that our modern societies have developed during the last 10,000 years of benignly warm, interglacial climate. But for more than 90 per cent of the last two million years, the climate has been colder, and generally much colder, than today. The reality of the climate record is that a sudden natural cooling is far more to be feared, and will do infinitely more social and economic damage, than the late 20th century phase of gentle warming.

Professor Carter notes that more recent studies suggest that the gentle warming phase has already ended, and that since 1998 temperatures have leveled off, if they have not dropped just slightly.

As I say, I am no expert on the science of these matters. But I have over the years paid more than a little attention to the ways in which science, religion, and everything else is exploited for dubious purposes by presumed experts.

So whom do you trust? Among those I trust is Thomas Derr of Smith College. He is [an] ethicist who has for decades assiduously followed the arguments and counterarguments and how they are used to various political and ideological ends. His article “Strange Science” was published in the November 2004 issue of FIRST THINGS. Herewith his conclusion:

It is clear, then, given the deep roots of the scare, that it is likely to be pretty durable. It has the added advantage of not being readily falsifiable in our lifetimes; only future humans, who will have the perspective of centuries, will know for certain whether the current warming trend is abnormal. In the meantime, the sanest course for us would be to gain what limited perspective we can (remembering the global cooling alarm of a generation ago) and to proceed cautiously. We are going through a scare with many causes, and we need to step back from it, take a long second look at the scientific evidence, and not do anything rash.

Though the alarmists claim otherwise, the science concerning global warming is certainly not settled. It is probable that the case for anthropogenic warming will not hold up, and that the earth is behaving as it has for millennia, with natural climate swings that have little to do with human activity.

George Will, Bob Carter, and Thomas Derr are serious people. Of course, they may turn out to be wrong.

But I remember a conversation a year or so ago with a noted climatologist from a major university. He confessed that some years back he had been part of promoting the global cooling scare. “I learned my lesson,” he said. “Whenever you see a faction of the scientific establishment join hands with the mainstream media in promoting alarm about what is happening to the planet, be skeptical. The truth is we don’t know.”

So, at least for the time being, I think I will decline the directive of Time to be worried, to be very worried. Especially since there is so much else that I know we should be worried about.

[April 12, 2006, Richard John Neuhaus:]