Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Is Fertility in the Public Interest? Population and the Tragedy of the Commons

While reading yet another article about the rising teen STD rate, and the abject failure of abstinence-only programs to deal with it, I noted this odd comment:

"Because some sexually transmitted infections can cause infertility and cancer, U.S. health officials called for better screening, vaccination and prevention...for sexually active women. [It is] among our highest public health priorities."

I have been talking a lot about The Tragedy of the Commons lately, and here is a prime example of a key component of it: the divergence of private and public interest. In this case, it diverges on the subject of fertility.

For someone who desires children, fertility is obviously a very important, personal issue. But when we look at the issue from a public health point of view, that changes. The advantages that would come with a smaller population are obvious to all but the most ardent libertarian. The planet and its resources are limited, certainly in the short term, and likely in the long term as well. And whe we have limited resources, private and public priorities conflict.

And they conflict here. The speaker above is wrong: fertility is not a public health priority. If anything, INfertility is. Consider for example a disease descending on us which magically made 50% of the population infertile. Consider the impact this would have on global warming, world hunger, even crime (due to less congestion). We'd have reduced carbon emissions, less highways to build, less waste to dispose of, fewer prisons, and on and on. We would be far better off than we are now.

This is the sort of distinction that is practically nonexistent in American politics today, and is part of why so much of our public policy is poor. It's time we stopped pretending what is good for one person is good for all of us.


Anonymous said...

I completely disagree that decreasing fertility improves the outlook for global warming, take a like at my posting to find out why:

I completely disagree that decreasing fertility improves the outlook for global warming, take a like at my posting to find out why:


ScienceAvenger said...

Having a child doesn’t necessarily increase the strain on global resources. Pol Pot the former leader of the Khmer rouge order 750,000 people to their death during his leadership of Cambodia. Therefore his parents actually managed to decrease substantially the strain on natural resources, particularly in Cambodia.

OK, and some guy right now is betting on the roulette wheel and winning 35x his wager. Do we therefore conclude that gambling on the roulette wheel is a good investment with a 3500% expected return?

Of course not. We make public policy based on what the expectation is for the group, not on what the best case scenario is. And the expectation from the group of earthlings is that more of us means more strain on the planet

If we consider that to be a genius your IQ has to be in the 99.994th percentile, then that means there are currently 36000 geniuses in the world. If there are 10 billion people we'd have 60000 geniuses. That means we could solve the problem of global warming through technical advances twice as fast.

This is non sequitor on top of nonsequitor. Technological process is not a function of the proportion of geniuses among us. Further, what makes you think technology is the answer to the problem of global warming? It is our fossil-fuel driven technology that got us in this mess in the first place.

We don't need a bunch of geniuses to figure out how to fix the problem of global warming. We already know WHAT to do. The challenge is getting the political will to do it. And sad to say, geniuses tend to do poorly in politics.

Your arguments are based on libertarian ideology, not sound science.

The theory that C02 will increase in 50 years is floored in the same way the theory in the 1950s that the smog in London would be twice as bad in 50 years; because it assumes all of the variables are going to remain the same.

Really? Who's assuming that, and how do you know? Have you looked at the studies in question in detail? Or are you just making ideological assumptions again?

Do you really think that climate scientists are such idiots that they would make an error so basic that an untrained individual such as you or I could glance over their shoulder and dismiss their work?

To refute science you have to do science. Sitting on the sidelines and tossing potshots at the scientists doesn't cut it. That's the same thing the anti-evolutionists do, and it isn't persuasive then either.