One of the very common and very annoying arguments against gay marriage/parenting or voluntary non-parenthood is that, without children, our society will be doomed. (Western) culture will crumble and our society will fall into disaster, just as the Romans once did. While I agree with the idea that children are a necessary part of the propagation of the human species (hard to get past biological fact and all), I question the idea that without constant growth, we will all perish.
There are almost seven billion people in the world today. An immense population explosion has occurred within the past one hundred years and there are more people on this planet then there ever have been before. And yet certain people are decrying the sudden decline in birth rates (for Caucasians that is). What would happen if populations were to decline worldwide? Would it really signify the end of all humanity? Must we always be growing?
As generational gaps increase and there are fewer younger people around capable of supporting the older generations, problems are arising over the ability of countries to maintain their current standards of living, their social programmes and their economies. However, is one of the most cherished human traits not our ability to innovate and think? Why should a shrinking population doom us all to devastation and the end of the human race as we know it? Furthermore, are we really talking about a future of doom and gloom? Or are we looking at the need to re-think Western levels of consumption and standards of living? Is my ability to vacation abroad, my perceived need for quick, cheap products mass produced with the labour of the Global South, and the Western dream of comfortable, “middle-class” living what perpetuates this need for growth, growth and more growth? Is forced population growth really just forced economic growth?
The idea of a constantly growing population to fuel a constantly growing economy seems like a suicidal mission on the part of humanity. The Earth is a planet of finite resources which will run out if subjected to too much pressure. Eventually, we will not be able to feed all of the people on this planet, let alone supply them all with a smartphone. Some believe that when this happens, we will all take to spaceships and spread out across the universe. As much as I love sci-fi, I think that getting to the point of needing to leave Earth will be precipitated by scarcity, starvation, and death. Can we not avoid this fate?
I have read a bit on the idea of slow growth or even no growth economies. The idea that we do not need to constantly strive for “new and better” items that we do not necessarily need in order to sustain a false road of development is at the foundation of these theories. These ideas support the reduction of Global North consumption, they encourage a simpler state of living and one in which we can reach for equality for the entire world. Yes, for the most privileged, it means a reduction in one’s life style. It means de-powering corporations and radically changing business models. It necessitates that we completely refigure national and global economies, class structures and the capitalist system itself.
None of these changes will be an easy sell, at least to the Global North. Particularly with the fear of the dreaded demographic winter threat which is bandied about so often lately and the worry that most European nationalities will die out within the next few hundred years. Humans are a resilient species and I highly doubt that we will forget or refuse to have babies to the point of extinction. However, we may very well grow our way into destruction with our attitude of constant, never-ending economic development and consumption.