Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the last taboo

MotherJones | What unites the Vatican, lefties, conservatives, environmentalists, and scientists in a conspiracy of silence? Population.

"Using United Nations projections of fertility, and projecting statistically through the lifespan of the mother's line—some lineages being short-lived, others indefinitely long—an American child born today adds an average 10,407 tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of her mother. That's almost six times more CO2 than the mother's own lifetime emissions. Furthermore, the ecological costs of that child and her children far outweigh even the combined energy-saving choices from all a mother's other good decisions, like buying a fuel-efficient car, recycling, using energy-saving appliances and lightbulbs. The carbon legacy of one American child and her offspring is 20 times greater than all those other sustainable maternal choices combined." (See chart ["Little Bundle of Carbon"].)

Murtaugh's research shows that even though India has a much larger population and a higher rate of population growth than the US, its overall carbon legacy is vastly reduced, due to its population's drastically lower levels of consumption combined with shorter lifespans (63.8 years on average for India, versus 80.2 years for the US). At current rates, an American child has 55 times the carbon legacy of a child born to a family in India. While India is conservatively predicted to grow by 400 million people by 2050, the US is projected to grow by 86 million. But take those additional Americans and factor in their 55-times-higher carbon legacy (at current national consumption rates), and they will equal the legacy of 4.7 billion Indians.

"The irony," says Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women, "is that just as some Americans are starting to learn to live more like traditional Indians—becoming vegetarian, buying locally, eating organic—aspiring middle-class Indians are trying to live more like over consuming Americans. The question really is, which kind of people do we want less of?"