The Corner

Energy & Environment

Mike Lee Says Kids Are Good for the Planet; Washington Post Pounces

Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill in 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

In a speech mostly dedicated to lightheartedly mocking the Green New Deal, Senator Mike Lee said the following, as reported by CNN:

“The solution to climate change is not this un-serious resolution that we’re considering this week in the Senate, but rather the serious business of human flourishing,” Lee said. “The solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places, is to fall in love, get married and have some kids.”

Lee argued that, because climate change is an engineering challenge, it will be best solved through American families and increasing the US population.

“Problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws, they’re solved by more humans,” he said. “More people mean bigger markets for more innovation. More babies mean forward-looking adults, the sort we need to tackle long-term, large-scale problems.”

Cue the outrage.

Now, this would not be at the top of my own list of climate-change solutions, and for that matter I have no idea how one would even test Lee’s theory in a rigorous way. Doing so would require us to predict how things will develop under the status quo and then somehow estimate what would happen if more people were around — both causing more emissions and developing new technology to reduce emissions. In theory, any new baby might grow up to be the person who solves this whole thing, but most people just go through life chowing down on red meat and flying on airplanes. I majored in journalism and this is beyond my pay grade.

I do know, however, that if a journalist is going to claim that “science says” Lee is wrong, he or she should have better evidence than the Washington Post is able to marshal in a piece with the obnoxious title “Sen. Mike Lee says we can solve climate change with more babies. Science says otherwise.

The piece contends:

This recommendation, to add more people to the planet, doesn’t track with science or reason. A 2017 research article determined that one way an individual could contribute to eliminating greenhouse gases is to have one fewer child.

“A U.S. family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives,” the researchers wrote in an article published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Slight problem: That article relied on a single study for its estimate of the impact of a new child on climate change — and said study did not even attempt to take into account the effect Lee was talking about, which is that more people means more technological advancement and thus new ways to reduce emissions. The study just estimated how much carbon a child (and in turn the child’s own children and so on) will emit over the course of his life, based on various assumptions about how overall per capita emissions will change, without considering that children could themselves alter the trajectory of those emissions.

If you’re going to claim a hypothesis “doesn’t track with science” and provide a study as proof, perhaps you should first check to make sure the study tests the hypothesis at issue.

See here for a more moderate take on fertility and climate change from Lyman Stone.


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