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Planting the Seeds of a Demographic Winter

Did you know that planting a tree won't save the earth?


You've got to plant 483 trees just to offset your household's carbon footprint. And that's just for two people.


We know this because the Washington Post Home section on May 8 featured a cover story encouraging folks to plant trees while sternly warning them that this won't help much because people are a cancer on the planet. 


Okay, they didn't quite put it that way, but it would be hard to miss the message. A graphic with 483 little green trees illustrates this stat from the EPA:


A two-person household is responsible for releasing 41,500 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. To offset that, each household would have to plant 483 trees and let them grow for 10 years.


If a two-person household is that bad, what does that make families with children? Environmental criminals, at the least, and maybe earth wreckers.


Before giving us tips on tree planting, Post writer Adrian Higgins exudes the fumes of global warming hysteria:


Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased by a third since the start of the industrial revolution, due mostly to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, and that buildup has been linked to global warming.


Think about this for a minute. The industrial revolution revved up around 1850 or so, and with all the population growth and industrial production over the last 158 years, carbon dioxide has increased by only a third? He does not mention that this constitutes only a microscopic percentage of the entire atmosphere encircling the earth.


Could this mean that people are not really a threat to the planet after all? That we can get on with planting trees because… they're pretty?


We ought to be focusing on a much scarier, and likelier, picture of the near future than the specter of too many people breathing, eating burgers and committing other random, senseless environmental atrocities.  The really frightening future is a human race that is quickly depopulating.


A new documentary, Demographic Winter, provides the grim facts behind the worldwide trend away from having children.


    70 countries, including virtually all of Europe, are now below replacement birth-rate levels. Russia's current population of 140 million will decline to 70 million by 2045 if current trends continue. The economic and political consequences would be staggering. The money boom triggered by the Baby Boom is about to run its course in the United States, as the Boomers make less, spend less and retire, drawing on the taxed earnings of a shrinking population of economic producers. In Germany, in 2006, in one province alone, 220 schools were padlocked for lack of pupils. Japan's population reduction is so severe that the country is virtually shutting itself down, with labor shortages and plants closing.

Now, if you buy into the global warming theory, this may seem all to the good, since each human is a detriment. As the Manhattan Institute's Kay Hymowitz notes in Demographic Winter:


A lot of people I've talked to about this say, “Isn't it great if the birthrate is going down, because, after all, that's fewer carbon footprints and less stress on Mother Earth.” They're not thinking about how much their own care is going to cost when they get older.


And it will be costly. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are speeding toward a crash against a fiscal roadblock:  the number of workers to pay for it is shrinking. Not only are we creating fewer kids, but more of the ones we do create are being born out of wedlock, which increases the likelihood that they will themselves be less self-sufficient.


The scientists, economists, sociologists, psychologists and other experts featured in Demographic Winter, which include Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker, Rutgers marriage expert David Popenoe, Harvard's Nicholas Eberstadt, New America Foundation's Phil Longman, Family Research Council's Patrick Fagan, Norval Glenn of the University of Texas, and many others, provide data that show the decline of the two-parent family is at the heart of human decline—globally. And it won't necessarily help the environment.


Dr. Jianguo Liu, director of sustainability at Michigan State University, notes that “global households are increasing more than the number of people” and thus using more resources. Because of divorce and the rise in single-person households, in 2005 alone in the United States, people used an extra 600 billion gallons of water and 73 billion kilowatts of electricity.


It turns out that the nuclear family is the most environmentally friendly way to house people. Yet the family is under assault by a constant media drumbeat about alternative lifestyles, the illusory “benefits” of the sexual revolution, and the costs of having children. A wire story the other day crowed about a study that says people are happiest in marriage when there are no kids around (it lets the adults be the kids instead).


On top of all that are the scare stories fueled by environmental groups. Stop reproducing! Heck, stop marrying! (Unless you're gay!) Fewer marriages mean fewer children using fewer resources. We get not only a greener earth, but the end of any pesky sexual “norm.”


It's hard to escape the propaganda. Even when you turn to a paper's Home section for gardening tips, you find a screed against the impact of people (read: children) on the planet.


You might be happier if you skip the media altogether and go out and plant a tree, preferably with your kids, your dog and any other carbon-exuding criminals you can throw in.


Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.