Ignorant Response to Good Reporting on Climate/Family Size Connection

Today we have a mixed bag. I have an example of outstanding media coverage of a growth issue, but – because of that excellent reporting, we also were treated to a phalanx of snotty responses. Rush Limbaugh tops the list of ugly and ignorant critics of this news, and we’ll get to him. But first, the good news:

Want To Slow Global Warming? Researchers Look To Family Planning

That’s the headline of a story on NPR’s Morning Edition on July 19. Host Steve Inskeep interviewed Kimberly Nicholas of Sweden’s University of Lund – about a research study I’m glad to report has gotten a fair share of media coverage. The study can be found here.

From that NPR story:

KIMBERLY NICHOLAS: The single biggest impact that we found was from having a child. The reason for that is because that measure accounts for all the choices that that child would make in their life – and their descendants.

INSKEEP: What did you think and feel when you reached that conclusion? NICHOLAS: Well, I think – I knew this would be a sensitive topic to bring up. Certainly, it’s not my place, as a scientist, to dictate choices for other people. But it is my place to do the analysis and report it fairly. You know, something really important we found is that most government recommendations weren’t really talking about what made the biggest difference. And they weren’t quantifying how big of a difference it made.

I’m not entirely impressed with Inskeep’s approach here.

INSKEEP: I’m thinking about the implications here, though, because if a few individuals make a choice to have no children or fewer children than they otherwise would, that’s going to make no effective difference. This is something that millions or billions of people would have to decide, I would think, in order to make a significant difference. Do you think that some governments somewhere should be pressing their citizens in some way?

He seems to head straight for the reasons this kind of information generates controversy, assuming the natural progression from this information is for governments to establish legal limits to family size. Shades of the dystopian 1972 sci-fi flick, Z.P.G.

That film obviously didn’t do anything to help public perception about making responsible family size decisions in the face of overpopulation. Nor does the assumption that we should take information from Nicholas’ study and start legislating family size. Can’t prospective parents worldwide just take this information into account and make more informed decisions?

Longtime conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh would have none of that. I know he’s, largely irrelevant, but for the sake of scientific study, here are a few of his choice remarks about the NPR story and Nicholas’ study:

“She is saying that human beings present the greatest challenge to saving the planet. This is insane!…way back in the eighties and early nineties the militant environmentalists back then got this crusade going, that human beings were the greatest problem to the environment. Human beings were the biggest polluters. Human beings were the greatest destroyers of the environment and of the planet. And all the way back 25 years ago, militant environmentalists — and we laughed at ’em then, and we said, ‘Nobody’s gonna buy this. These people are so wacko and extreme, nobody’s gonna buy this.”

“In other words, you have a kid and your kid’s gonna do stupid things like eat Big Macs and other forms of meat. Your kid is gonna drive a car. Your kid is gonna do all the things destroying the planet.”

Yes, that is exactly the point, Rush. Every additional person eating meat and driving a car places a huge burden on a planet already weakening under the strain of 7.6 billion people all trying to live well.

“improved standard of living has been the human being objective since Adam and Eve. Providing for your family, making a better life for them than you had. That’s been the objective. It’s human nature to improve one’s standard of living.”

“And now we have a sustainability professor who’s telling them that the biggest threat that we have is having a child. The worst thing you can do for the planet is have child. I’m telling you, you cannot believe in God and hold that belief.”

Finally, Limbaugh, with half his brain tied behind his back, comments on what Nicholas shared on NPR about what she is doing with this information.

“She’s engaged. She’s trying to decide whether to have children because of climate change! She deciding. Why even get married? What’s her name here? Kimberly. Kimberly, why get married? What is the point if you’re not gonna have kids?”

All this is so ignorant and misinformed on so many levels. And Rush wasn’t alone in this. Don’t follow these links if you want to keep your blood pressure down:

Hey, NPR, Take Your Global Warming Nonsense About Kids and Blow It Out Your F150 Tailpipe

Here talk radio host Todd Starnes declares:

“…for the sake of our great nation, I call upon my fellow countrymen to gas us their F-150’s, barbecue some burgers, grab the Mrs. and put on some Barry White baby-making music. And if the NPR chatterboxes give you any grief, just tell them to take their global warming nonsense and kindly blow it out their tailpipe.”

NPR & Bill Nye Share 2-Step Climate Change Fix: You Stop Having Kids, Then Die ASAP

Here Doug Powers opines at conservative Michelle Malkin’s website:

“Odds the above recommendations will get big thumbs-up from Hollywood eco-lefties who are eating hamburgers in their private jets after having arrived at the airport with their multiple children in SUV limos: HIGH.”

Hypocrisy is a big turn-off, for sure. But there’s an interesting point here. Precisely BECAUSE so many of us have footprints that are too big, if we decide to have fewer children, the reduction in impact is significant. That leaves a little more breathing room for other human beings, especially the ones who aren’t living privileged lives enjoying double-bacon-cheeseburgers on Lear Jets. But, yes, let’s encourage everyone to scale back their over-consumption AND their over-reproduction.


If Liberals Want To Have Fewer Children To Save The Planet, More Power To Them

Here, Bethany Mandel shows us that women and mothers, too, can be insensitive and miss the point.

“Researchers have a brilliant new idea to ward off what they believe is pending catastrophe due to global warming: Have fewer kids. Also, don’t do anything fun ever again.”

“If progressives are so concerned about the impact their family planning choices might have on the health of the Earth, they should have fewer children. And please don’t come to the local steakhouse. Please don’t go on vacation to the Caribbean or Hawaii, which requires air travel. Please don’t live in an area where a car is necessary.”

Again, how interesting that Mandel is so close to connecting the dots here. If you want to have an occasional steak or Caribbean vacation, it’s all the more imperative that you refrain from being an octomom. It’s pretty simple math.

“Individuals out there who choose to have fewer kids because of some climate change researchers should by all means proceed. Meanwhile, those of us breeders shall inherit the future.”

Now, I confess that when critics of sustainable living are snotty like this, it’s tempting to be hypercritical of them. I’m exercising super-human strength here today in an attempt to, instead, UNDERSTAND them. Is it possible we can be less combative and more empathetic in publicly discussing our future? I don’t see any evidence that we can, unfortunately. But I’m going to give it a try. How can we overcome their fear of collective agreement to exercise caution about the future?

One thing I’m going to do is have an adult conversation about this issue at the next GrowthBusters webinar on August 9.

Free Webinar: Fewer Children - A Moral Responsibility

Get information and register here for this free webinar. I’ll talk with Travis Rieder and Madeleine Somerville about the hateful responses to this kind of information, and explore how we might get past this.

Also, two weeks ago I shared on the Wall of Fame here a new GrowthBusters video in which we took to the streets to see if people are ready to consider the family-size aspect of our responsibility to leave a healthy planet for future generations. We got surprisingly little resistance to the idea. Clearly we didn’t interview any ultra-conservative pundits or their loyal followers. So, again a mixed bag, and we still have miles to go before we sleep.

In summary:
There’s room for improvement in Inskeep’s handling of this subject, but overall I give high marks to him and the NPR Morning Edition team for doing the story. Thanks also to Forbes, Popular Science, and Science Magazine (all honored on the Wall of Fame here), for covering the important study. I’ll see you at our August 9 webinar.
couple smiles in front of their "stopped at one" auto decal

You can help:We’re scratching the surface of making small families cool and large families out out of style. No judgments being cast, but having lots of kids just has to go the way of driving a Hummer, leaving the engine running while you visit with a neighbor, using plastic disposable grocery bags, and living in a house big enough for Goldilocks, the three bears, and your soccer team. Help us speed this cultural evolution by taking pride in your own small-family decision. Display one of our Small-Family stick figure window decals (Childfree, Stopped at Zero, Stopped at One or Stopped at Two.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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