- Rather than asking pro-natalists and environmentalists to abandon their long-held biases, what if we made common cause by proposing a suite of policies that give each side something they desperately want? Tweet This
- Not only is it politically savvy to link pro-natal policies with environmental policies, it’s the morally right thing to do. Tweet This
It’s no secret that the U.S. fertility rate is slumping, with serious consequences for entitlement programs, economic growth, and social vitality. The total fertility rate currently stands at 1.73 children per woman, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 and well below the number of children that American women say they want. Many policymakers and commentators—mostly on the right—have sounded the alarm about the fertility slump and have proposed various pro-natalist policies to reverse it.
It’s also no secret that atmospheric CO2 levels are rising dramatically due to human activity, with serious consequences for ecosystem health and climate stability. CO2 levels currently stand at more than 400 parts per million, roughly 25% higher than 1950 levels and far higher than any time in the known past. Many policymakers and commentators—mostly on the left and center-left—have sounded the alarm about the rise in CO2 emissions and have proposed various environmental policies to reverse it.
Unfortunately, the pro-natalist right and the environmentalist left have a deep skepticism toward each other, which makes each likely to resist the policies of the other. Environmentalists fear that increasing the number of humans via pro-natal policies will only make the climate crisis worse, given that those additional humans will necessarily consume energy and resources. For their part, pro-natalists fear that the modern environmental movement is fundamentally anti-human, and that combating the climate crisis will further harm family formation by raising household energy costs and stunting economic growth.
The result is a depressing, nobody-wins stalemate. When environmentalists propose serious governmental action to combat the climate crisis, pro-natalists on the right raise their voices (and their votes) in protest. For example, in response to the landmark 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris, Anne Schlafly Cori of the pro-natalist Eagle Forum declared that “[t]he ‘climate change’ agenda pushed by the United Nations is clearly an attack on American workers and jobs and our American standard of living.”
On the other side of the coin, left-leaning publications such as The Guardian have published articles positing that the best way to reduce climate change is to forego having children—the starkest repudiation of pro-natalism imaginable. Left-leaning politicians, such as Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, have also suggested that the existence of climate change makes it potentially irresponsible to have children in the first place.
However, strong carbon regulations are perfectly compatible with strong economic growth, and a growing population can actually have positive effects in spurring the innovation necessary to de-carbonize our energy systems. But good luck telling that to your average right-leaning pro-natalist who’s been listening to years of conservative media railing that carbon regulations are job-killers. Good luck telling that to your average left-leaning environmentalist who’s cut their teeth on Malthusian publications warning that population growth is the root cause of all environmental harms.
Rather than asking pro-natalists and environmentalists to abandon their long-held biases, what if we made common cause by proposing a suite of policies that give each side something they desperately want?
As just one concrete example, consider generous child subsidies funded dollar-for-dollar by strong carbon taxes. Pro-natalists have long viewed direct cash subsidies as an ideal policy, given that it minimizes government micro-managing and does not discriminate against families with a stay-at-home parent. Environmentalists have long viewed carbon taxes or other carbon pricing as the ideal way to reduce carbon emissions, but worry that these policies are politically daunting to enact. By linking child subsidies and carbon taxes to each other, perhaps we could overcome these political hurdles by making common cause between the pro-natalist right and the environmental left. (It’s probably no coincidence that—to my knowledge—the idea of linking child subsidies to carbon taxes was first proposed by IFS research fellow Lyman Stone, a pro-natalist economist who also has strong environmental leanings).
While a policy alliance between pro-natalists and environmentalists might begin as a marriage of convenience, the two sides might also start to overcome their biases. Pro-natalists might begin to appreciate how strong environmental protections are beneficial for strong families, while environmentalists might begin to appreciate how growing families provide the growing markets that help spur innovation and investments in clean energy. The result could be a virtuous cycle in which the policy alliance between pro-natalists and environmentalists grows deeper and more powerful over time.
Not only is it politically savvy to link pro-natal policies with environmental policies, it’s the morally right thing to do. When bringing children into the world, we have a duty to give them a planet with thriving ecosystems, wondrous biodiversity, and a livable climate. By the same token, our appreciation of nature’s glory is all the sweeter if we have growing, thriving families to share and enjoy it.
Joshua L. Sohn is a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice. He received his J.D. from Harvard Law School and his A.B. from Stanford University. He is the author of eight legal publications, which have been cited in Supreme Court briefs, Federal court decisions, and several legal treatises. *The opinions expressed herein are his own and should not be taken to represent those of the U.S. Department of Justice.