Pregnant woman's belly --- Image by © Heide Benser/Corbis

Two Australian legal academics have mooted the idea that, as emissions trading schemes are so in vogue, one way to reduce population growth is to include family planning in carbon markets.

Basically this would involve the government setting a cap on the total allowable number of children (who would be equated with emissions). They suggest that the scheme could work as follows:

Families (or a female individual) would be offered carbon credits if they (or she) elected to have one child (which is less than the replacement fertility rate of roughly 2.1 births per woman for developed countries).

For each additional child, credits must be purchased from the relevant carbon market that may be a local, national or international one depending on the scope of implementation of the scheme. If a family or an individual chooses not to have children, they (or she) can sell those credits on the market.

To work at all this would have to be a mandatory scheme that all people within a country must operate within.  In effect it would be a one child policy similar to China’s which allows you to have more than one child only under certain circumstances.  We would all be forced to trade in children, likely allowing the rich (who are probably already creating the most waste with bigger cars and houses) to effectively have the best chance of ‘buying’ the right to more children, while others may have to go without. 

It also raises the serious question of how you stop people having more than their allotted number of children. A policy such as this effectively takes away the dignity each couple has to decide their family size and hands that decision over to the government.  Practically, it would mandate that people be on contraception at all times unless they are ‘eligible’ to have a child under the scheme at the time – and even then there is always the chance of having a child unless couples completely abstain from sex altogether. 

What would we do when people had children they are not allowed?  Force abortions like China? Or just charge a big fine.  At the very least if such a scheme caught on, one would imagine such couples would be vilified as irresponsible.  Would some people want to  ‘sex select’ as we have also seen overseas, resulting in a major sex imbalance and high levels of baby abandonment or abortion?  Would a teen pregnancy mean a girl has no chance of having a baby within a loving relationship later on if she has the child, because she has used up her credits (meaning abortion in such circumstances would be made more likely)? It’s all sounding more and more repulsive the more I consider the details of such a policy.

Of course the need for the policy at all assumes the premise that everyone agrees that population needs to be limited to the equivalent of one child per person for environmental reasons.  It is apparent from the article that the authors look at the world through highly materialistic lenses to in part justify this need.  The article comments that one of the reasons it deems it necessary is that:

Another way of looking at the population problem is to ask the question posed by University of California Los Angeles’s Laurence Smith:

What if you could play God and do the ethically fair thing by converting the entire developing world’s level of material consumption to that now carried out by North Americans, Western Europeans, Japanese, and Australians today?

That world, for Smith, would be frightening. Consumption globally would rise elevenfold. Where would all that meat, fish, water, energy, plastic, metal, and wood come from in a carbon/climate-constrained world?… Such a world is completely unsustainable — yet it is, as Smith points out, the “end goal implicit in nearly all prevailing policy”.

So, instead of us distributing food and resources more equally and cutting all the unnecessary waste, we accept that we must ‘fairly’ encourage the countries who don’t currently use or waste as much as us to do so, and then limit the amount of children to way below replacement level to cater for it all?  Not the most logical of ideas. 

I can’t imagine governments rushing to sign up to such schemes at the moment.  But it must not be forgotten that countries around the world have seriously mooted, and even actually implemented, family limiting policies which have resulted in grave human rights abuses.  To have such ideas mooted in Australia is scary, and society must be mindful and clear about the serious ramifications for human dignity involved when firmly rejecting them.  

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...