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"The people who say otherwise are going against the majority of climatologists, climate models, and international bodies."

I think this is a bad argument for something, especially given the increasingly high reputational costs of publicly going against this consensus. What do you think based on your review of the evidence?

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Housing & education costs and inflation are much better reasons to give up on having children.

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I don't plan on having children ever, and not because of climate change, so may I go on a little tangent here?

You make an interesting point here that the 60 ton carbon cost per child is not actually calculated only for the child, but for their descendants too. I didn't know that.

So does it mean that not having children is NOT the best decision one can make, in an environmental sense? I always thought deciding not having kids had more impact than deciding to recycle, or to use public transport etc.

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My question to everyone abstaining from procreation for the purpose of saving the planet is: whom are you saving the planet FOR?

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Let the natural selection take over. Anyone who is ideologically brainwashed enough to consider kids as ' pollution ' shouldn't be having kids anyway.

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Raising children is by an overwhelming majority of opinion the most fulfilling and important thing you can do with your life. To choose to not do so on the pretext of potentially reducing the small risk of future hardship due to climate change by an immeasurably tiny amount, would be a mistake.

Besides, why save the planet if no one is around to enjoy it? If the answer is to allow other people to enjoy it, then why them and not you. The meaning of life is literally to propagate your genes. The satisfaction you might occasionally feel that hundreds of other children from poor countries who live their lives completely untroubled by any feelings of responsibility for the climate will be massively offset by your loneliness as you face solitary dotage.

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Your logic is faulty in part 2. Yes, theoretically, if it was a binary decision between kid/no kid with no other changes in your life whatsoever, then it would hold. But this is never the case. Kid sucks out, optimistically, 2-3 years of productive life outside of work, either from you or your partners or some split in between. Pessimistically, much more than that. That's a massive investment that you make in order to bring ONE voter into the world. Compare that to, for example, trying to convince your friends - who are intending to have kids regardless - to show up to votes and to vote appropriately. If you have spent several whole years doing that, as a dedicated second-job more or less, I would wager you would get more than one new voter convinced (with stacking effects on their kids, naturally). And these are, most likely, your most productive years - while you are young and full of energy and enthusiasm.

On top of that, they suck out absolutely enormous amounts of money - money you could spend much more efficiently. Sure you could spend something like 400k dollars raising a kid, OR you can donate those 400k dollars. Return on investment doing basically anything at all with that money is going to be ridiculously better than childrearing.

Have kids if that's what you are into, but from a pure cold cost/benefit standpoint, it's a terrible idea.

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In this community, I bet I am something of an outlier, as a parent to four children. Actually, I'd be curious what the demographics look like (a suggestion for a future survey). Being a parent is not easy - it affects the time you have to devote to your career; you will most likely travel a lot less; you most definitely sleep a lot less; you will have a lot of anxiety and stress and other mental health concerns. And yet, parenthood is also capable of creating some of the most unique and supernal joys. Interacting with and teaching your children provides a sense of fulfillment that is hard to match through any other endeavor.

More to the point, I have always made climate-friendly lifestyle and reasoning an integral part of our family life. Unlike virtually all of their suburban friends who get shuttled to school, my kids walk. They see me take the bike and trailer to get groceries (for 6 people, it's quite a load). While we eat some meat, we eat it pretty sparingly. We spend a lot of time cultivating our own little vegetable garden. We avoid buying new things whenever possible and basically always have the motto of seeing if we can use anything for something useful before it joins the landfill. We limit our travel, and when we do recreate, we often opt for simple outings in the nearby natural world, rather than engaging in some resource-heavy travel and recreation.

My hope (my plan, even) is that my children will each have a negative carbon net-influence (direct use + effective change) in the world through their lives. And it is about more than carbon. Access to clean water, clean air, and other important environmental resources are limited as well. Obviously they will consume some amount of resources themselves. But if they can become part of a force that helps convince society to carefully care for this absolutely miraculous planet that we live on, then I trust that they will, in all of its cliché-ness glory, make the world a better place.

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Thank you Scott. Someone needed to write this post, and I'm glad it's you.

I've always though all of this is blindingly obvious and I'm a bit shocked every time when I hear similar arguments in "polite company". Even if even 5% of people are subconsciously convinced by this, it's a demographic tragedy of planetary proportions, the impact of which will be felt throughout the future.

I always feel like if I say "hold on, that makes no sense", I might be branded a climate denying crackpot since "everyone knows" "Mother Earth" is "suffering" from "overpopulation" etc etc

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I wonder how much of this "I am not having kids because of climate change" is going on because it is not very socially acceptable to just declare "I am not having kids because I just don´t want to".

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Besides having your own children, you can also adopt. This has a much lower incremental carbon cost, and whether or not you adopt these children will still exist so the question of "bringing a child into a horrible future" doesn't need to influence your thinking. Also, if you can provide a loving and stable household, you can increase their chances of becoming a happy and functional adult who contributes a lot to society. That could be an ideal compromise.

Or would it? It's hard to say without looking at a lot of numbers.

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Why do you want people to have kids so badly? Is it because you've been reading too many things about how ageing demographics hurt economies? I'm not interested in having kids for you; the economy is already screwed, climate change is already bad, and I'm not part of this demographic that will bear kids into a comfortable united states lifestyle. What do you want from me?

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Since you didn't mention you might not be aware: although it wasn't about climate change, there actually was a very similar movement against having children 50 years ago. There is an All of the Family episode about it. I think Ehrlich's "Population Bomb" and Club of Rome calculations and such were behind it. If there hadn't been, would Trump have won in 2016?

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Yes, some parts of the world will suffer, but other parts like Canada and Siberia will improve. I’m not sure the we fully understand the pros and cons of this change. Finally, it is important to remember that, on whole, there is no apocalypse.

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I looked into this during a previous California drought and my (very limited) understanding is that alfalfa is an important part of crop rotation in California because it sucks salt out of the ground very effectively. CA starts with high salt content and other crops raise the salt content more, which risks “salting the land” and wrecking the soil. I’m sure there are other crop mixes and intensiveness that could work, but the issue isn’t alfalfa specifically.

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How about some skepticism re 80-year forecasts. Are there any 1940s forecasts for the 2020s that we now cite as near useful? Forecasts for 2100 presume that we know the future of technology? What are the odds?

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The more productive adults in the world, the greater the world's wealth. As we get richer, more will be spent on all kinds of technological research including research that mitigates climate change.

Low fertility rates are one of the biggest economic challenges of rich countries. Since concern about the environment is a normal good meaning you care more about it the richer you get, anything making us relatively poorer will cause us to care less on average about climate change.

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The offset argument is so obvious that I don’t even understand what the counterargument is. People must assume that it’s impossible to offset emissions.

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My sense is that the people who answer "I am choosing not to have children because of climate change" disproportionately belong to the very-liberal group of "I am a 35 year-old-woman without children yet, and am convincing myself that this was a good conscious decision."

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Thank you very much for this article. I am having a hard time lately, and worrying about climate change and how it will affect the future life of my son often made me feel bad, helpless and even irresponsible for having kids at all. I do not have the time or brain to argue with anybody of this friendly community, but I feel obliged to tell you that your thoughts on this topic helped me feel better. Thank you very much!

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I'm semi-early here, so pointing out some small text errors; in the Venus paragraph:

> but I don’t think they’d admit to being they’re not 100% sure either

And a little further:

> I think point is true more generally

(I used to not make comments like this because I thought someone else probably will, and it feels insubstantial; turns out, often, no one actually does, and I noticed I take writing that contains simple errors less seriously.)

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I'm reminded again of C.S. Lewis's "how will the bomb find you?" essay. It was quoted a fair bit in light of coronavirus fears, but I think it applies even better to climate change: <https://www.crossroads.net/media/articles/how-will-the-bomb-find-you>

> In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year [...]; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

> In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

> [...]

> If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.

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Gosh darn it, I lived through the 70s once already, it would be nice if - like impoverished inspiration in fashion trends - it didn't keep getting recycled.

I am of the generation that had scare stories fed to us that by the time we were all grown up in the year 1980-1990, we'd all be eating rats (or each other) while we froze in our hovels in an overcrowded, resource-denuded planet.

Well, tell me people, when was *your* last meal of frozen rat?

This is just one of the best-sellers of the time (between these, disaster movies, and the fashion sense of the decade, it was sure some experience):


I felt at the time, and I still feel, that a lot of the "it would be terribly irresponsible to have children" rhetoric was based on selfishness. Some of it was based on principle and ideals, certainly, but the people going on about the shrinking resources certainly didn't want to stop having sex, or living comfortable First World Western lives, whereas if they had really meant it they should all have emulated the Desert Fathers.

"Climate change" is just the new "overpopulation", "oil will run out", and the rest of the scary stories of my childhood.

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Thanks for this article, Scott - I have a few friends who want kids themselves, but who have found themselves being talked down to by joyless scolds who will denounce them (to their faces, in public) for wanting to have kids, and insisting they would be deeply wrong to do so, for climate-related reasons. (I hope people like this are not also problems in other people's circles.)

I've shared this article with them, and I hope it'll be helpful to them. We'll see - the apocalypts might be beyond persuasion, but still, this should add a little more sanity to the conversation. So, thank you once again.

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This is part of the “argument” about getting climate change predictions right where the result of underestimating the damage and not being willing to incur ANY cost at all and overestimating the damage and taking counterproductive steps – measure that cost more than the damage they prevent. So far this has not happened on any big scale that I know of, but it could and “not having children” would fall into that category.

Within this argument however, there is a sub argument in which overestimating the damage leads to rejecting the least cost way of avoiding the damage – a net tax on CO2 emissions (and use of that parameter in guiding public investments that affect CO2 emissions) because, paradoxically, a tax as seen as “too little” and a sure sign that the proposer does not take climate change "seriously."

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Having a hard time writing replies here that aren’t full of snark and anger. Thank you, Scott, for being a good example of writing positive, earnest arguments against our atrocious intellectual leadership, and their terrible arguments.

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The Founders Pledge, which is extremely committed to fighting climate change, produced a report that effectively reaches the same conclusion. Seems very relevant to share here.



"What we are not saying: [...]

3. We are not saying that you should or shouldn’t have children: We mostly discuss this example since it has been discussed heavily in prior work and we believe prior analyses have significantly overstated the impact of this choice."

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If carbon footprint is the determining factor, then why is nuclear energy so reviled? The constant marginalizing of nuclear energy by imposing unbearable burdens of costly regulations far beyond those which are reasonable forces the use of fossil fuels. The carbon impact of substituting fossil fuel with nuclear for power generation is massively beyond that of any realistic decrease in nativity. Presuming people are rational, this would point to anti-natalism being the true motivation behind the push to reduce birthrates.

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The argument my wife and I settled on was "it's bad for civilization to have a demographic crash at precisely the time it's trying to transition to a carbon-free economy". I still think this is a potent argument, but I think Scott's political one is more urgent.

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I find it completely implausible that anyone *actually* has or doesn't have children because of climate change, regardless of what they may say on the subject. People rationalize a whole lot of stuff they do in response to subterranean primitive drives or personal desires with fancy philosophical arguments, and I would assume without strong contrary evidence that's what's going on here.

If you don't want to have kids because you haven't yet grown up yourself, or you're incapable of forming the necessary sexual attachment, or your own family provides a horrifying warning example, then it would seem considerably more psychologically comfortable to assert that the reason is a noble selfless concern for the impact on the general welfare. Ego-defense bullshit seems a far more economical explanation for the data than a shocking increase in the degree to which the canonical American considers the impact on Bangladesh of his lifestyle choices.

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A related and weirder population argument is that the more people there are, the worse that climate austerity will have to be. If we have too many kids, they’ll have to live in apartments and ride bicycles. Better that they not even exist, so that their siblings can have lives worth living, i.e. giant houses in the exurbs and SUVs.

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Strongly agree with the thrust of this argument, but I think you don't go far enough in 2 places:

1. Do those maps of sea level rise assume no human acts to mitigate it? Plenty of places today are below sea level but still dry. Manhattan real estate surely must be valuable enough that we'd do more dutch-style water management, rather than give up billion-dollar skyscrapers?

2. Economic growth is continuing alongside climate change. Even if it does cost trillions of dollars, future generations are likely to be far richer, not poorer, than we are.

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For many creatures, difficult times lead to lower fecundity. Humans are no exception. The excuse of climate change gives delicious feelings of self-righteous, moral sacrifice, but I'd assume most people are actually foregoing procreation because now it is more acceptable to be childless. And the expectations for parenting are getting ridiculous. In California, rising living costs are making solidly middle-class jobs like teachers or nurses into low-class jobs. So if you want your kid to have the American dream you have to be sure he becomes an MD or a programmer.

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This is a slight tangent, but my friend AB pointed out to me that CO2 itself is poisonous even at sub-1% concentrations. And is projected to get to approximately that concentration in the next century.

So there's a question here: are we being dumb? Or on current projections will the atmosphere really become poisonous without us doing something drastic? At current-best-carbon-capture technology we'd need to spend a fair portion of the world's GDP exclusively on it, which I guess is perfectly do-able... and I guess it gets much cheaper when you increase concentrations... but...

More interestingly, the meta-question: why don't I hear about this from anywhere? It's very scary (rising sea levels just mean you move somewhere higher if you're rich -- the atmosphere being toxic means you die or we live in a dystopia where you don't go outside) but also DOESN'T REQUIRE man-made global-warming... even if man-made-global-warning doesn't exist, this effect is still there and is still even scarier than anything you get from man-made-global-warming. It's also obvious (unless the answer to the question above is "yes, you're an idiot") -- and you can't solve it WITHOUT solving man-made-global-warming... It seems like a much better argument to me than anything else that is being used. So what gives?

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I don't think you're going far enough, Scott. If the economy continues to grow at 2% a year, our grandchildren will live lives much better than ours, even while able to spend trillions on climate mitigation measures every single year.

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I hear these folks saying that choosing to not have children is a sign of moral/emotional deficiency.

Admittedly, I have chosen to not have children, and mostly because I didn't want to. It seemed to me that children were a great deal of work and the job should be left to people who had a strong desire to do it.

I consider myself very fortunate to have lived in a time and place when I was free to choose to not have children.

When I hear people say that if anyone chooses to not have children, it must be because of laziness or selfishness, I suspect they believe having children is a bad deal, a lot of work for insufficient reward, and they don't want other people to get away without suffering as much.

Please note, I'm not talking about people who are happy to have children, or even people who are happy to have children and believe it would be a good idea for everyone. I'm talking very specifically about the people who attack those who choose to not have children.

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I'm sort of one of the people you're addressing here, in that I don't want kids and the climate is *one* reason why not.

The core reason this is all "correct but not the way I think about it" is that for me, and I assume for most people, the decision to have children is almost purely an emotional one. Practical considerations weigh in - for example, I simply couldn't afford a child without substantial hardship for many years - but they could be overcome if the emotional case was there. I'm aware that's not a rationalist position, but I think it's fair to say that having a kid is a case where emotion should play a big role.

Climate is an excellent proxy for the overall "how does the future *feel*" component of this emotional decision. The emotional case just feels bad. I don't feel positive about the future, and even being a privileged resident of the first world seems tenuous and subject to change within a generation. I'm not confident that the US will be immune to deprivation and violence in the decades to come, especially for those who aren't wealthy.

You claim with the CA water example that if people are suffering from basic privation, resource allocations will change. I think this is probably true in an aggregate/stable long-term state sense, but there are already counterexamples - access to safe water is *already* a major problem for millions of Americans, and the response has been very angry but extremely inadequate in any practical terms.

California also suffers from a shortage of another basic need - housing - and their responses to that blatant crisis have ranged from tepid to actively harmful for at least 20 years. It reminds me of that quote about the stock market - "the market can remain irrational longer than you can stay solvent." Could it take CA 20 years to stop devoting its water to alfalfa while the poor suffer? Yeah... that seems extremely plausible.

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> I’d guess maybe a 1% chance that we end up like Venus.

Note that this guess massively overestimates things.

Yes, technically on scale of about 1 billion years it will happen (due to Sun increased output).

But chance of "we end up like Venus" happening within 200 years are zero.

Or basically zero if you give space for stuff like "Sun increases power by 50% for some unexpected, unpredicted and very unlikely reason" or "aliens visit and fuck with us".

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Matt Yglesias touches on this in One Billion Americans (the rest of which was also great). He argues that climate change can only be solved by technological progress. Even if America cut its population by 50%, there are billions of people in south Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa whose lives are rapidly improving, and therefore will see their emissions per capita increase. It's unethical to try and thwart this improvement in their lives, and so the only way to fix climate change is through technological innovation. And the best way to achieve innovation is with *more people* not less. Yglesias therefore encourages policies to make it easier for Americans to have children, but to increase immigration to the largest technologically innovative economy.

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> Then they divided all these generations of future carbon production by the number of years you personally would live, and said it would produce 60 tons of carbon per year.

This actually makes me really angry.

Working around GHG calculations and offsetting, it is really important to understand that emissions at different times are not perfectly inter-temporally substitutable. No matter your methodology for carbon valuation, you will price emissions at different times at different costs/values, to reflect changes in the climate, society, and technology. The emissions associated with my great-great-great-grandchild are *meaningless* in the framework we need to operate in. KN [scientist] acknowledges this - so why publish something so skewed?

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"if black, enslaved"

Are Americans incapable of thinking about slavery without thinking specifically about American slavery? Even Scott? The brainwashing goes deep.

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Good points, but I have to question the methodology on per capita emissions by state/DC. It seems likely that these numbers are based only on generation specifically within the boundary which would creating a misleading impression of standard of living attainable relative to emissions. For example Wyoming imports 14x more energy than it consumes, whereas DC imports almost all of its energy (EIA.gov). 2/3 of DC's electricity mix is fossil fuel https://www.pjm.com/~/media/library/reports-notices/special-reports/20170330-pjms-evolving-resource-mix-and-system-reliability.ashx DC is uses more electricity per capita than 89% of the country, but since it's all imported that seems to not be counted.

This holds true for all the high use states, they export coal or gas, or refine crude oil, to be used in other areas of the country. NY's numbers don't include the carbon from the millions of yards they use annually, steel from Pennsylvania, or the incineration or burial of their rubbish at out-of-state facilities.

I've also always questioned how flights play into this, even though the share of emissions is relatively small. Rural residents do drive much more, but rarely fly. Half the US never flies. Based on my anecdotal experiences in NYC and DC it seems likely that they account for an outsize share of these emissions as well, although I can't find data on this beyond broad emissions stats - https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/10/17/climate/flying-shame-emissions.html

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"I am grateful for my parents’ decisions here and so I conclude that having children in a world with a 1% risk of apocalypse is fine."

I have seen this argument in some other places, but I have never really understood it.

For me, a life has a moral value only if it already exists; that's why I think abortion at the early stages of a pregnancy is clearly more defendable than killing a newborn baby, and contraception is even more harmless.

(Obviously that view brings up the difficult question of when an organism stops being a bunch of cells and starts being a subject, but that question, Aaronson's "pretty hard problem" seems unavoidable anyway)

And on a more subjective note, although I am fortunate enough to have a pretty comfortable, sometimes pleasant life, I can't wrap my head around what it would mean for me to be thankful to my parents for my existence, because I wouldn't miss it I wasn't there.

For me, this gratefulness is as alien as the (much more rarely expressed) resentment for all the hardships that one's parents inflicted them by bringing them to the world. Perhaps even more.

As someone who is quite convinced by anti-natalist arguments, I understand that my moral views are not typical. (By the way, I agree with most of the arguments presented in the post, though I disagree with some conclusions)

But if someone can help me understand the [pro-choice][anti-murder][not anti-natalist] position, it's probably here.

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Thank you for writing this.

Having a kid is one of the most radical, beautiful, and profound acts of hope that anyone can possibly do, and I encourage anyone reading this who wants to have kids to do it.

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I definitely agree with the general thrust of your argument, that the damage caused by climate change is not going to be so terrible that you shouldn't have children, but I would quibble the point about climate change being unlikely to affect peoples lives in the west.

Climate migration, and food and water insecurity, both have potential as destabilising political forces. Add into this the political dysfunction in the US, and you could get into a situation where these problems, which are solvable to be sure, don't get dealt with in an effective way. I think that could lead to many kinds of disruption in peoples day to day lives, and I don't think that that's a scenario that is totally unrealistic.

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Not having children because of climate change hysteria just means the Earth gets inherited by people less susceptible to such maladaptive mind viruses, i.e. it is self-defeating at the most fundamental level.

Furthermore, what makes this extra ironic is that it is actually quite likely that global warming will *increases* the world's carrying capacity, not diminish it. In paleoclimatology, times of dearth, desertification, civilizational collapse, etc. were accompanied by cold spells, which create droughts. Conversely, a warmer planet is a wetter planet and a more fertile one as well, thanks to a more intensive fertilization effect. The Sahara was an edenic garden populated by rhinos and elephants when the world was 1-2C warmer. The opening up of Canada and Siberia to intensive agriculture, as well as more surprising areas like African highlands, will overwhelmingly make up for any marginal losses elsewhere.

As Scott Alexander alludes here, the impact of sea level rise is massively overstated. I will also add one more thing that might be a surprise to some: Most of the world's big coastal cities are *sinking* at a much faster rate due to the weight of all their buildings than due to sea level rise. And besides, no, 1% of SF and 10% of Manhattan will not disappear even if sea levels rise by three meters. Reminder that a third of the Netherlands is below sea level, with the deepest point being around 6 meters. They accomplished most of this during the pre-industrial era. You really believe a modern civilization (let alone a futuristic one) will have *any* problems whatsoever protecting its largest concentrations of GDP from water?

In reality, we should not be "fighting" global warming, but happily going along with it and perhaps even accelerating it.

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I'll be very cynical and propose a Darwin award for every person who advises this AND does by his advice.

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I remember a book review on Slate Star Codex about existential risk. which estimated how likely various threats were.

Does anyone remember how big of an existential risk climate change posed relative to other problems that might occur by 2100?

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I had 2 kids already for reasons having nothing to do with this argument. So I am biased.

Unfortunately my gut feeling is, if you pit this argument against Moloch, Moloch wins. Politicians have done nothing to keep us from getting to this point wrt global warming. I think the ones who are electable have gotten that way because they're mostly corrupt as hell. Whatever their party, if they even accept global warming their "solutions" will inevitably enrich their political allies and not actually solve any problems. If only one party believes global warming is a threat, this actually makes things worse, since that party will continue to be elected if people believe the problem is getting worse, but then not actually fix the problem.

Fixing global warming would also require global cooperation, and my understanding at present is most of the world doesn't really care since they're more focused on improving standards of living.

Sloppy arguments, possibly, but these are my hunches as to why global warming will play out in full no matter what we do. I make myself feel better by reading Paul Wheaton's stuff and fantasizing about getting into permaculture on a larger scale one day.

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Apropos: https://arxiv.org/abs/1505.03118 ("When causation does not imply correlation:

robust violations of the Faithfulness axiom")

The relevance being that population levels are subject to control systems, and so any policy argument premised on an individual action's impact must account for a strong form of "if I didn't, someone else would".

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Although I agree we can't justify anti-natalism as a policy on the effects of climate change, I think we can on the grounds of factory farming. That's because right now there are several farmed animals living in misery for every human in a developed nation.

But again, anyone who believes can just raise their child vegan and donate to an organisation like The Humane League. You'd think someone like that would, in expectation, raise a child who has a positive impact on non-human animal lives.

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"if you don’t think your kid is going to make the world a better place in some way, why bother?"

I think that, historically, people have mostly had kids without regard to the effect they'll have on the world.

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I think it's safe to say I've followed this advice

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> well-off, educated Americans are in the top 1% of people today in terms of how good their children’s lives are likely to be, and probably in the top 0.01% throughout history.

Nitpicking, but these numbers don't check out since >5% of all people who ever lived are alive today. (See for example https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-are-the-demographics-of-heaven/ and https://www.prb.org/articles/how-many-people-have-ever-lived-on-earth/).

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It’s a larger scope, but I’d love a post from you about the antinatalism debate in general, more than just “I am grateful for my parents’ decisions here.” I don’t know how to meaningfully say that an experience can be “better” or “worse” than nonexistence, let alone decide whether a particular existence (e.g. my putative child’s) meets that bar. A lot of philosophy depends on the question of if/when life is worth living (e.g. population ethics/the repugnant conclusion), so it’s awkward for me to be undecided on the question.

Note to other commenters: this is just a suggestion of a post topic for Scott; I don’t receive notifications of comment replies so I will not see your arguments.

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1) To add to the $30k offset point: If you're someone who lives a low-carbon lifestyle and for whom tackling climate change is very important, even aside from growing up to be a climate scientists or whatnot, *your kid will use less carbon than average*. They'll get cycled around, fly less, live in a well-insulated house with solar panels, have a vegetarian diet, etc etc.

2) I've seen a few arguments below that "people who say they are not having children for climate change are liars / self-deluded and are just rationalising a separate desire". This is a pretty unproductive statement. It's both broadly unprovable and belittling to the people involved, and presents no counter-argument. What is the purpose of making this argument?

Disclaimer: I am having children, and the climate/population impact was one of many considerations in my decision which I decided was OK based off of similar arguments to the post above.

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I usually love Scott’s writing, but this post just displays the kind of terrible reasoning usually used by effective altruism opponents. On the whole I think some people feel an irrational biological need to reproduce and try to rationalize this with bad arguments without realizing what they’re doing.

Of course people five hundred years ago were not intentionally and thoughtfully having children: this is a luxury we’ve had only relatively recently (and even today only in some parts of the world). If they had, they probably would’ve realized that having children into lives of such misery and suffering would be immoral; really the only good argument against would be that things were improving and that, generations into the future, their ancestor’s lives would become better. Applying the same reasoning today, we also need to consider far-future generations as well, just as when thinking about carbon offsets. Even though our children’s lives may be approximately the same as ours, it seems that the long-term future from climate change gets a lot worse.

“1-2% of people changing their individual decisions will do basically nothing. What we actually need is concerted government action.” This is the standard global-warming denier argument and has been countered thousands of times (including in the EA community). My broader problem with the second argument is that Scott hasn’t done a cost-benefit analysis; if you spent all the time and money and effort you spent having (and offsetting) a child, does Scott not think you would be able to change a single person’s mind about climate change? Also, I find the idea of having children so that they can be your ideological minions kind of gross. Neither does the world have some kind of shortage of climate scientists and engineers that could only be remedied by upper-middle-class people having children.

Lastly: “if you don’t think your kid is going to make the world a better place in some way, why bother?” I know literally no parents who think their children are going to somehow make the world a better place, I think most people have children for purely selfish reasons.

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When I see lists that have "ways to reduce carbon emissions" which include "not having kids", I always wonder why they don't also include "suicide". Wouldn't that also by very, very similar logic be even more effective? After all, I'd guess a good portion of parents would literally sacrifice their lives for their children (and figuratively very often do so). Why is only one of those ideas considered appalling?

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Putting aside the topic of climate change, I'm always somewhat fascinated by how little people realize just how drastically population dynamics have changed in the past 10-20 years.

We literally are in Peak Child right now - we'll never have more kids alive then when you are reading this sentence - and population will peak in the next 30 years or so, fall slowly for a couple decades then really pick up speed. The only things that could deter this would be 1) a new baby boom or 2) huge increases in longevity.

The former seems to me to be extremely unlikely - outside of Africa, there are no countries with a fertility rate above replacement and within africa it's declining more or less universally - and the latter is just kicking the can down the road.

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According to a recent poll, 56% of UK 16-25 year olds think the world is 'doomed' due to climate change: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-58549373

There were some studies on what it would actually take to destroy human civilisation (which is what I imagine when I hear 'humanity is doomed'). Can't find the source but it's something like - we burn all the remaining fossil fuel reserves, shoot the temperature up by 12 degrees in a few decades and kick the climate into a venus-like hothouse equilibrium, and then forget to move the survivors to Antarctica over the decades we have.

What's the most realistic and charitable reading of 'doomed' and the most plausible route to it, that I can imagine? If you take everything in this very doomery 80k hours podcast (https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/mark-lynas-climate-change-nuclear-energy/) as a given (despite all the good criticisms Robert Wiblin offers) you might just get 10% population loss from a super-duper ultra cascade famine that very suddenly knocks global food production down 20% in a couple of years (which we've somehow not prepared for in any way). This would look more like worse than Spanish flu better than Black Death type situation, would be an unimaginably bad disaster, but this itself is the unlikely tail risk to worry about.

And the Black Death didn't destroy civilisation or even destabilize a single region of the world!

And I'm just guessing here, but in a certain sense this 56% of young people are even wronger than e.g. creationists or Qanon believers because Qanon believers don't falsely believe most domain experts agree with them, and I bet most of that 56% think 'doomed' is what the scientific consensus is.

What's worse is the bbc article all about avoiding climate anxiety doesn't say (Again being extremely charitable to climate doomers) 'Oh btw remember that outcomes where many hundreds of millions of people die in a short timespan are highly unlikely and require multiple independent things to go wrong at once'.

I really have trouble understanding how the consensus can be this wrong about something that could be trivially easily checked by just asking the scientists involved.

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I think we should go back a step farther and question the premise: that you not having children today has ANY impact on the future world population. That premise is entirely unfounded. I don't understand why it isn't questioned more.

If I went to NYC and sterilized 50% of the rats, how do you think that would impact the rat population of the city 3-4 years from now? I predict it would have no impact at all. (Assuming a rat lifespan ~2 years.) That's because the rat population of NYC isn't based on the reproduction rate of rats. Neither is the population of the Earth. Both have potential reproduction rates that far exceed their actual rates.

If human population levels were determined by reproduction rate, we wouldn't have seen stable populations for thousands of years, and then sudden exponential growth when crop yields improved dramatically these past few centuries. Individual decisions don't matter, because they're not part of an isolated system. Only systemic decisions matter.

Say you were planning to have a child and send them to Yale. Scott says they could become a future climate engineer and discover new ways of capturing carbon. Instead, someone who was going to go to a State school ends up at Yale and discovers the next generation of fracking technology. But why stop there? There's a slot open at the State school, after all. That gets filled by someone who ends up as a project manager, but who otherwise would have been an electrician. The electrician is replaced by someone who would have done drywall. Now we need another drywaller, who comes across the Southern border from any one of a number of nations we in the US collectively refer to as "Mexico", to the chagrin of culturally diverse heritages. We trace your decision all the way back to some tenement in Guatemala, El Salvador, or maybe Nigeria. The specific pathway doesn't matter. What matters is that someone else decides to have one more child because you decided to have one fewer.

This should be intuitive, but I don't understand why it isn't. The birth rate in the US has been well below replacement rate for generations now, yet the population continues to grow along with the global population. That's because the US imports that population growth, as we have for nearly all of our history (even before the birthrate dropped below replacement). Your decision not to have children is a decision to let someone else raise the next generation. Nothing more.

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Hmm, I found myself nodding along with the arguments and feeling smug that my desire to have children is validated. So, you know, alarm bells going off for me.

Uh, I can't remember what the next step is after you notice yourself feeling smug after reading something you agree with - can anyone remind me?

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There are enough idiots out there. If you have the brains to read Scott, your kid can make the world better. Just no lawyers please!

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Some people will not have children that will contribute >$30,000 dollars of value to the world and they will not offset their children's carbon contributions. Should they be discouraged from having children?

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I do not think that global warming is central to the argument, any scenario where having a growing # of people on earth would make average life quality of people decrease would basically be the same regarding the morality of having more/less children. In fact, given how controversial global warming is (regarding severity and timescale for example), maybe using global warming will detract analysis of the fundamental issue.

So what are the arguments against having less kids if a growing population means decreased standard of living?

It seems it boils down to:

- the effect of one individual decision is negligeable because it's the global population increase (or, at "worst", regional population increase) that condition your children well being......welcome to the tragedy of the commons :-(

- group size influence it's political weigh and capacity to defend/promote it's prefered way of life, so not having children may improve your group well being w.r.t. global population, but this is always less than the loss of political influence of the group your child will likely belong.....welcome to natality warfare :-(

- on average a kid may be a net loss, but my kid will be better than average so he will be a net gain...errrrr...even if it is very likely true, can you say that in polite left-ish society?

Those arguments are not without merit (they really decrease the interest of having less kids if the well being of your kids is what you try to maximize)....but there are really machiavellian in nature (it's the traitor strategy in prisoner dilemna) and I am extremely surprised to see that from Scott....

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Just curious, what is does Holland risk with rising sea level? Are the such old hands at holding back the sea that they are in good shape even seas rise faster than projected?

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The inverse of not having children (for the various reasons a couple chose not to) are the pro-natalists who think an endless supply of human progeny to prop up a system of extraction and destruction to maintain their status quo living standards as a 1st-Worlder are why we're in the situation we face. When we have an entire political party centered around the idea that conservation of resources and the environment are just virtue signaling and then enact policy or personal actions directly inverse to 'own the libs' is another reason why it's so difficult to make incremental changes. Not to mention the vested interests of industries whose entire business model is based upon maximal extraction and burning of fossil fuels regardless of the externalized negative impacts of doing so.

People have a myriad of reasons to have children and not have children. I question the rationale of couples who think they need more than two but I'm not going to propose passing policies to curtail that decision but I also don't think we need policies that encourage it either. The most common excuses I hear are "I came from a big family," "I love children," "blessed be the fruit of the womb," and the underlying narcissism that the world should be blessed with more than 2 of them (regardless of one's ability to afford more than 2.)

That aside, Scott's premise that more Democrats should have kids precisely because their kids need to counteract Republican breeding stock numbers because of climate change, might be appropriate if elections were structured around a popular vote but we don't have that. I live in Louisiana and even if I had 500 kids, it would have no impact on the overall conservative stranglehold on the State's legislation nor the stranglehold that the extraction industries have on the state for the foreseeable future. I suspect a very-left liberal in Austin couldn't breed fast enough to counteract the overt gerrymandering by the GOP to lock in conservative control for decades to come nor the cultural affinity for oil & gas that strangles Texas.

My concerns about climate change on my two kids are not future existential risks when they're 80yrs old. Moving hours or states away from my wife's extended family right now isn't an option. My concern is that the natural world I grew up with has drastically been altered and diminished over the last 40yrs that the impacts of climate change aren't in the future. My two young kids' 'normal' is an environment that is less wild. For a majority of Americans (regardless of political persuasion) this is not a big deal because they don't really care.

Educating my kids about the natural environment, giving them the tools and curiosity to not just simply observe but care for it in the limited ways we can is what I'm focusing on. Building in resiliency is another. But people are deluding themselves if they think the larger and more negative impacts of climate change are 80 years away before the collective 'we' have to act is why we keep kicking the can down the road.

Environmentalists, technologists, climatologists, scientists, and others concerned about the long-term effects of climate change on future humanity are driving them to accelerate solutions despite the complacency of status quo'ers. Do I think having a few kids will doom the world? No. Do I think not having kids will doom the world? No. I think it's the current crop of adults that will manage to do that nicely before we get around to doing the hard work necessary to accelerate carbon reductions and reversing stupid policy decisions that encourage waste and inefficiencies for profit.

The 1st-world has managed to stave off the catastrophic affects of severe drought and water shortages in parts of the Western U.S., but just like low-lying coastal areas, some populations will probably need to relocate sooner rather than later. Areas of the desert Southwest will have to shrink or stop existing because it will be unsustainable to do so without consistent water supplies. Agriculture & livestock production will have to be forced to rethink how it operates in areas where it doesn't make sense - like livestock crop farming and other water-heavy crops in West and Southwest.

I think it's rather unfair to assume or count on future generations to fix the problems they didn't create or will inherit when we know the causes and have the necessary technologies to fix now but are collectively too selfish to do so.

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It is frankly horrific to me that some people are so thoroughly in thrall to politics that they would let it dominate their life choices to the point of controlling whether or not they have children. It's even more horrific to me that the mechanism of action of this thrall isn't, like, nazis pointing guns at people, but rather self-imposed and mediated by neurotic guilt. The fact of having that conversation at all should be a massive wake-up call to people that hey, maybe they need to walk away from the nightmare rectangle in their pocket for a while.

Also, #import my canned rant about how sickening it is that people feel the obligation to run mathematical calculations on utility and appeal to authorities, out of some perverse need to always have something else they can point to to justify their decisions, instead of just "I'm an adult human being with freedom and agency, and I'm allowed to make decisions about my life". The fact that the decision under discussion is one of the most natural decisions that have ever existed, a decision that has already been made _billions_ of times, by people who definitely didn't bust out a spreadsheet first, just emphasizes this even more

Remember when we all agreed that "politics is the mind killer"? I 'member

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The argument about future elections seems flawed. It is not an accident that elections are very close: the parties are strongly incentivised to position themselves in a way that appeals to approximately the number of people they need to win elections. If you removed 1% of the electorate's left wing, the Democrats wouldn't sit there losing elections for ever, they'd just move slightly to the right until they picked up enough centrists to restore the equilibrium. So there is an effect on policy outcomes, but it's roughly proportional to the population change rather than being hugely amplified by elections as claimed.

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I don't disagree with the points you made, and I agree people should have children if they want without worrying about the impact on the planet of future generations although I do think you overlooked a part of the debate…a "no child carbon credit."

My reasons for not having a child are certainly not 100% based on the damage that future generations would do to the planet, however…I do consider the lack of damage done future generations when making decisions about my *own* carbon footprint.

I am not arguing that I should get a government carbon tax credit for not having children (although that would be nice for me, but make things worse for the world) but I am far less concerned about my consumption/carbon footprint because of how the math works out in the future if I do not procreate.

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One thing I find frustrating in this sort of conversation is the equivocation between "collapse of civilization" and "existential threat." (Scott isn't doing this too much, but the linked Vox piece definitely is.) The idea that climate change will literally cause human extinction is ridiculous. But the idea that climate change will bring down the governments of most countries, lead to mass movements that create new cultures and destroy old ones, and precipitate a century or two of techno-economic decline, political decentralization, and widespread small-scale warfare is... well, not necessarily likely, but plausible. If that's not a civilizational collapse, then no civilization has ever collapsed. More importantly, it's not an outcome bad enough to be treated as remotely similar to the extinction of the species.

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I was disappointed in this post. I think Climate Change is probably Scott's weakest subject (of those he writes about) and sometimes sounds as if the information has been regurgitated from somewhere like Vox or the Guardian.

The 1% chance of Venus-like conditions is a good example. Hitchen's razor applies but I'd go straight to Nasa head honcho Gavin Schmidt who has variously described the odds of this scenario as "vanishingly small" and "essentially zero".

Or 'Probably trillions have already been lost to disasters and agricultural problems'. Again, Hitchen's razor is appropriate - the relevant literature says something quite different. Climate disasters account for about 0.2% of the world's economy and that proportion is falling not rising. And that of course is Climate, not climate change.

In a similar fashion to many people who worry about climate changing, it seems that imagination is what creates many of these guesses - and fear driven imagination at that.

An acid test is to ask whether the climate mortality rates of 100 years time will be higher or lower than those of 100 years ago. If you are familiar with any of the literature and you avoid just imagining stuff, you'll know that the climate mortality rate of the future will be a tiny fraction of that of the past.

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I think there is an argument to be made that many of the approaches to reducing carbon emissions, certainly including declining to have children, are actually counterproductive, insofar as they erode general prosperity. A prosperous people are far better equipped to protect the environment than an unprosperous people. See recycling, for example.

If carbon footprint reduction is the real goal (a big if, sadly), then any steps taken in the name of that goal must demonstrably contribute towards it.

Of course a demographic EXplosion is very resource-consuming, but an IMplosion has serious economical implications that very much reduce the ability to protect the environment. It seems to me that a stable demographic is by far preferable.

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I can take the NYC example in well enough, but then we are not just dealing with an isolated event that will only involve NYC, but a massive global event that will have ripple effects that will create as yet unthought of negative feedback loops. We're also dealing with the ongoing loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, deforestation, food and water security, for starters. What will the future look like? Certainly not like your example of NYC.

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How confident are we that carbon emissions per person has been declining rapidly since 2000? https://ourworldindata.org/co2-emissions make it look like it has gone down moderately in Europe but not much in America.

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I agree with your conclusion, but you should not be so willing to believe alarmist scare stories.

"This has already been pretty bad, with unusually many hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts."

The IPCC claimed that climate change had increased droughts in the fourth report, retracted that claim in the fifth. For hurricanes, a long discussion by Chris Landsea, who wrote a substantial part of one of the IPCC report's section on hurricanes is at:


If you actually read the IPCC reports with care, instead of the news media, things look a lot less bleak. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

There is no evidence that surface water and groundwater drought frequency has changed over the last few decades, although impacts of drought have increased mostly due to increased water demand.

Economic losses due to extreme weather events have increased globally, mostly due to increase in wealth and exposure, with a possible influence of climate change (low confidence in attribution to climate change).

Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some cases, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.

... most recent observed terrestrial-species extinctions have not been attributed to recent climate change, despite some speculative efforts (high confidence).

With these recognized limitations, the incomplete estimates of global annual economic losses for additional temperature increases of ~2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income ... .

I was also struck some years ago by a piece written by William Nordhaus responding to a WSJ OpEd that argued that climate change was not a catastrophe requiring immediate response. His calculation at the time was that the net cost of doing nothing for fifty years instead the optimal policy starting immediately was about $4.1 trillion. Spread out over a century and the entire world, that works out to a reduction of average world GNP of about one twentieth of one percent. He didn't put it that way. You can find my comments on his piece and a link to it at:


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Finally, ACT on the most-talked-about scare of the day.

Here is a take I have not seen in the media so far:

We are facing a moral dilemma when reporting & preparing for increased global warming, but it is not any of the usual suspects.

The actual moral dilemma is this: Is it ok to exaggerate how bad the effects of global warming (and accompanying climate change) already are, in order to get people off their arses & to do something to limit the risk of future runaway global warming, or should one always “tell the truth” ?

To elaborate: Global warming so far is modest, approx. 1,5 degrees from whatever you choose as the baseline. A modest increase usually has only modest consequences.

Ocean rise so far has been very modest. Climate change so far is also very modest.

If you read the underlying material (caveat: I have far from read the whole most recent IPCC report, but I have read chapter 3 and 11 in some additional bits, plus some of the underlying articles) you see some statistically significant climate changes across time, but statistically significant change is not the same as dramatic change. Some registered climate changes are statistically significant, but judging from the time series available you would be hard pressed to label any of them “dramatic”.

There are also some positive effects of the modest temperature rise we have seen so far, most notably deaths from extreme cold is declining – and at least in the Northern hemisphere, 95 percent of temperature-related death are related to cold peaks (not warm peaks). Plus, there is a greening-of-the-planet effect.

None the less, the response in the media these days whenever there is a forest fire, or a flood, or a heavy rainfall somewhere on the planet, is immediately to blame “global warming”. This may suggest conformation bias, and in any case we all know that monocausal explanations are usually wrong.

However, I want to offer an alternative explanation for the almost conditioned response of the media whenever they report anything related to “climate”: People in the media are morally dedicated people who know what they are doing, and what they do is deliberately playing up the present negative effects of global/working/climate change beyond what is strictly speaking “truth”, “for the good of the cause”.

I must stress that I am very open for the possibility that this is indeed a praiseworthy moral stance. But then again, it might not be. Hence we are facing a genuine moral dilemma – on behalf of people working in the media, as well as everyone else that is a potential opinion-leader. Including many ACT readers, I would recon.

To further elaborate the dilemma: If we instead tell the present-day truth, i.e. that the effects of global warming are modest so far, people (i.e. the great unwashed) may become complacent, and not geared up to “do something”, or at least “accept something”. Implying that if/when continuous global warming starts to bite for real, it is too late to do something.

How to respond to this moral dilemma? It depends on whether you are a Kantian or a Machiavellian (yes, Machiavelli has a moral theory).

If you are a Kantian, you should never tell a lie. Not to tell a lie is a principle, and you should follow principles regardless of the consequences. If you follow your principles, you can disregard if the consequences of your acts are desirable or not. (The Germans have a wonderful word for this moral stance: Prinzipentreue – to your principles always be true.)

Thus if a Kantian, you should never exaggerate present-day knowledge that global warming so far has had only modest negative effects, and may even have had some positive effects. If the effect of “telling this truth” is that people become complacent and global warming wrecks havoc on the world a hundred years from now, so be it. You told the truth – come hell or high water (levels).

If you instead are a Machiavellian, you believe that what is ethically important are the consequences of your acts, not if your principles are “pure”. Instead, the end justifies the means. (A saying often ascribed to the Jesuits, but Machiavelli is also a representative of this view.)

If a Machiavellian, you can defend to exaggerate (tweak the truth) as regards the consequences of global warming so far, in order to “wake people up” to do something/accept restrictions, and thus to limit the probability that global warming spins out of control 50/100 years from now.

Finally getting to Scott's worry: That some young people become so hysterical due to these media exaggerations that they abstain from having children can be regarded as a sort of collateral damage.

If you are a Machiavellian, this is an acceptable negative side-effect. Kantians would be horrified, but then they would be horrified anyway, at any exaggeration of present-day consequences of global warming.

So this is the moral question we should ask ourselves: Is it ok to exaggerate the consequences global warming already have, in order to lower the probability that global warming spins out of control in the future, or is it always wrong to exaggerate what is our best knowledge?

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Most of the * media reported * climate mantra is terrible and not well thought out. Climate change will have costs, but the alarmism is rampant, rarely challenged, and mostly incoherent.

News bulletin #1: Areas aren't abandoned because sea level rises ~1 inch per decade. Parts of New Orleans and areas of Europe have been getting along just fine living below sea level for quite a while. There are costs associated with this but they are increasingly manageable. Some areas are harder to protect than others.

News Bulletin #2: Lives lost to climate related disasters (notice the term not used: climate change related) have decreased markedly due to improved infrastructure and other technology, it is a fraction of what it was 100 years ago. The costs associated with these disasters is mostly even when normalized to GDP and the increasing amount of infrastructure exposed.

News Bulletin #3: People who live on the coasts (especially in the south) are not concerned with 3 feet of sea level rise in the next 80 years, they are concerned with up to 20 foot of sea level rise in a matter of hours. Hurricane storm surge. Coastal building codes are regulated around this. Higher seas mean higher storm surge but this apparent fantasy that people have where large coastal areas are abandoned is a near psychotic analysis of the situation. Any modern home in FL is typically built 20 feet above sea level and older homes must be brought up to code over time.

News Bulletin #3: Major hurricanes aren't measurably really getting worse over the past 100 years, and if they are they are getting worse it is at such a small level that it is not measurable yet due to the volatility of the spares dataset. Cat3+ landfalls over the past 100 years are about level, there was a noticeable decline around the 1970's which many activists like to start their analysis at, go figure. Summary:


IPCC AR5: “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin” ... “In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low” AR6 states increases since the 1970's but they haven't invented new ways to count hurricanes.

I find it more than a little interesting that the US had a record 11 year gap in major hurricane landfalls after 2006 and nobody noticed, but one or two active years is designated a climate change trend according to "science".

I spent a lot of time reviewing the evidence on hurricanes and sea level rise because I live in Florida. I haven't looked at wildfires in detail. I find the evidence and models to be lacking and the media to be overly biased and politically conformist (constantly treating RPC8.5 as BAU, etc). There is no particular reason to believe my take but all I can say is that the more time you spend reviewing the evidence the less trust you will have in the * reporting * of climate science. By all means go read the IPCC if you have the time and compare that to media reporting.

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To para-paraphrase Mark Twain paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson: "I'm an old man, and I've lived through many end-of-the-world as-we-know-it scenarios, and none of them ever happened."

As an undergraduate in Anthropology, I was trained to look for cross-cultural patterns of belief and behaviors. And something I've observed is that there's universal need in humans to believe that world is going to end in our lifetimes. For the scientifically inclined, we love to indulge in worst-case disaster scenarios. For the Christianists, it's a belief that Jesus is going to bring on the end-times any minute now.

As one of the former group, I used to indulge in "scientific" eschatology. I'm sure I'm missing a few, but, as a kid in Jr High School, I was told by my science teachers that pollution and acidification would likely kill off all the oxygen-producing algae by the 1980s. Around the same time, The Club of Rome was telling us that we were facing a Malthusian tipping point by 2000 where the world population would outpace our ability to produce food and energy. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Kostas Tsipis and another anti-nuclear activist (whose name I've forgotten) would make their yearly rounds to college campuses warning us that nuclear winter was inevitable if we didn't immediately disarm. Around the same time people started dying of HIV/AIDS, and the epidemiologists told us that as much as one-third of world's population would die horrible deaths. And I remember our campus health officer telling us that HIV could be transmitted through kissing or even touching (There were a lot of freaked out horny kids on campus!). It went on... The Ozone Hole was going expand and all life would die under unfiltered UV radiation. Peak Oil was going to cause an economic collapse by 2010. In 1988, James Hansen told us that Global warming likely raise sea-levels by 3 to 12 feet by early 2000's (flooding Manhattan). Then there was Y2K and the preppers were heading up to mountain redoubts awaiting the collapse of civilization (Luckily all our elderly COBOL programmers were lured out of retirement to change he dates from from two bytes to four bytes in all that old code).

Somewhere along the way I became more jaded. But for the first 40 or so years of my life I was pretty damn scared that world was going to end! Eventually I realized that none of the worst-case predictions came to pass, though. And, although I think our civilization may very be past its peak, I don't think it's anything we're expecting or predicting that will cause its collapse.

All the civilizations that predated ours collapsed at some point. I can't think that our current civilization will last forever. Things that worry me are things that don't seem to be concerning anyone else. For instance, all of the breakthrough scientific innovations that have created our late 20th Century efflorescence date back to the 1950s and 1960s (except for the PCR process, which is a pretty big deal). Fusion is still 20-30 years out. Quantum computing might happen in 10 or 15 years, but its use cases are somewhat limited. Space colonies are out of the question with our current technology. So the technical underpinnings of our civilization is basically running on fumes right now. Personally, I feel lucky to have lived with what will probably be viewed in the future as golden age. But I sort of wish I had had kids. I'd tell 'em not let the doomsters get them down. ;-)

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I wonder if a lot of these people are still thinking under the old "population bomb" paradigm. IE, back in the '70's, there was this idea that the global population was increasing at such a rate that, if nothing were done about it, would eventually result in strained food supplies that would create famine, disease, war, and probably a few other terrible things along the way. These problems were headed off by increasing farm productivity via higher yielding crops, higher levels of capital investment, increasing globalization of food markets, etc. Now that sort of apocalyptic fear has simply been transferred from famine to climate change.

I think it was Arnold Kling (vastly underrated, btw) who speculated a while back that humans, having evolved as hunter gatherers, are probably wired for conservation, as over-harvesting plant and animal food sources could spell disaster for h-g tribes; akin to a farmer eating his seed-corn. In our modern industrial world, resources are not fixed in supply, the way they are for hunter-gatherers, and beyond that, what counts as a resource in the first place is dependent on human knowledge of how to make use of a given thing. As such, we're a lot less resource-constrained than many people tend to think. It's another example of humans living in a world that is very different from the one we evolved in, and may help explain a lot of the apocalyptic rhetoric we hear from environmentalists.

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Thank you so much for writing this. It's beautifully argued and I'm sending it to friends and family who desperately need to hear it.

Aside: Could someone do a midwit meme where the dumb person is saying "moar babbies" and the midwit person has a thought bubble with a bunch of equations about lifetime carbon footprints and the smart person is saying "more babies"?

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I did grad school in upstate NY and then moved to DC. That's like speedrunning the next few decades of climate change and increasing my personal average environmental temp by 6C in one weekend. (So far I'm OK in case you're worried about me.) If you look at what states are losing congress seats, it's always cold places like NY and OH. Who's gaining? Hurricane- and drought-prone hot states: AZ, FL, and TX. I would like someone to calculate average personal warming in the US just from voluntary personal migration.

Here is why I'm pretty sure that normal people don't base life decisions on climate expectations: Property values in hot states are <I>growing</I>. Nobody I've heard of says "I don't want a 30-year mortgage on a Gulf Coast house. In 30 years nobody is gonna want to live in the humid hurricane hellhole that this place will become." Actually I think people <I>should</I> reason like that. I've just never heard it. The real estate prices don't reflect any sign of it. So when people say they won't have kids because of climate change, I have a hard time taking that at face value.

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Though it may fall into the category of 'failing to believe that other people can possibly believe what they claim to believe', I think it's important to note the (fairly or not, right-wing coded) point that basically no-one on the left is interested in promoting small-family policy outside of the anglosphere, where arguably it would have the most effect. I know there is some reasoning that improving the status of women in the developing world would naturally lead to smaller family size, but I'm inclined to interpret this as a happy coincidence - if empowering women was likely to have the opposite environmental effect, progressives would still want to do it. (I'd agree)

This combined with the (again, mostly noted on the right) tendency towards offsetting fertility decreases with immigration rather than degrowth, and rather passionate defense of all things immigration related, makes it hard for me to ignore the possibility that there is a big element of motivated reasoning to justify for an already-made decision. (Ie. Not having kids, for the usual rich nation reasons)

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This topic is so frustrating for me and now I'm frustrated all over again by all the replies along the lines of "no one who really wants kids will let intellectual arguments like this stop them". On the margin it absolutely does! Personal anecdote: You wouldn't believe how on-the-fence Bee and I have been about having more babies. An argument like this could _easily_ make the difference (if we weren't already 100% on board with it). In fact, if anyone else has other arguments, lay them on us! :)

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"Life in the First World will continue, with worse weather and maybe a weaker economy, but more or less the same as always."

Exactly, life will be slightly harder and will get harder until we reach an equilibrium or intervene to prevent further climate change. A slightly worse economy probably also means the cost of having a child increases even further into absurdity i.e people with children will burden *more* of the climate change induced costs even if the average person isn't effected much.

It's certainly not just climate change that makes people decided not to have children it's climate change plus the rising cost of home ownership, higher education, health care - all things that aren't going to get any cheaper when the economy gets a haircut due to climate change.

As far as comparing the present day to 100 or 200 years ago in the past, attitudes around child rearing and the relative effort are completely flipped. 100 years ago or even just ~60 plenty of rural families had kids because children were a necessary input to staying alive past the age of 60 (gets pretty hard to run a farm yourself at that age). The most altruistic thing you did was let one or two of our offspring inherit the farm.

Compare that to the modern day in first world countries, children are a net cost. You are responsible for raising them and making sure they can compete in the global economy. Since you are responsible for their future it makes sense to factor in the impact of climate change on the future economy.

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Scott, this is the worst thing you have ever written. You are terrible at understanding why other people hold views that you do not. When people say that they are not having kids due to climate change, they're not saying that out of concern for the world. They are saying it out of concern for their kids.

Do you even have kids?

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Let us not forget that people had kids, sometimes many of them, in previous periods of gloom and doom, BUT they did so primarily for two reasons;

1. They needed those kids for their own well-being. No welfare system, no socialized health care, no pensions, no options for paid senior care. Only the the very wealthy had no worries about the types of situations that would require these social services, and they were thoroughly indoctrinated into need at least 'an heir and a spare'. Plus of course, if you're living on a family farm (as most did) or running a small family business (as many did, blacksmithing and such), you needed those kids' hands at work very early.

2. Since the industrial revolution, most people in 'developed' countries didn't have good info/access to even moderately reliable birth-control, so not having kids mostly meant not having sex. An option few will choose.

I also think that young adults these days (I have three of them in my house as we speak, eating leftovers from Canadian Thanksgiving, two my own offspring) see their own lives as much more precarious in many ways, not just because of climate change but in general. And they have absorbed the culture's beliefs about not having kids unless you can raise them well, and choosing a life for themselves that won't kill them with stress. If a young person believes that they will spend years, perhaps forever, in the gig economy, while trying to pay off the kind of student debt that will impede the purchase of that 'entry level' home, etc AND at the mercy of more frequent floods, storms, drought, fire, etc, I can easily imagine that having kids may not look that attractive. If they have no reason to believe that their children's lives will be any better than their own, and most likely quite a bit worse, less so still.

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"This has already been pretty bad, with unusually many hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts."

That's not what I have read. There has been little to no increase in the number or severity of hurricanes, wildfires, or droughts, over the past century or so.

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I can say with 100% certainty that the Earth's climate will not be anywhere close to the climate of Venus in my children's lifetime and my children's children's lifetime, and on and on for the next hundred generations. (At least.) For one, nothing we do as humans is going to stop plate tectonics and freeze the crust, leading to the eventual cessation of the Earth's magnetic field. Even if we're just talking about atmospheric carbon and the greenhouse effect, Venus is way more than one or two degrees hotter. It's hundreds of degrees. (440-ish if you use Celsius, and 800 or so for Fahrenheit.) And the air is over 96% carbon dioxide. Earth's is 0.04%, even with all we pump in to it. We'll get hotter here, but we will never be like Venus in the next few thousand (or million) years.

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"if you don’t think your kid is going to make the world a better place in some way, why bother?"

I really like this blog. You can go whole articles appreciating the insight into matters great and small and then Scott throws something like this at you, like he just stepped off a saucer from Beta Reticuli. It's bracing, like

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Let's not forget the contribution of the sun to our climate. A lowering magnetic field leads to more cosmic rays reaching earth, and lower temperatures. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/23328940.2020.1796243

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It has always seemed weird to me to argue that one should avoid having kids as an act of mercy on them. After all, human life is (unfortunately) still so fragile that a miserable child can easily exercise the option to cease their own existence by suicide.

One might argue that it is still immoral to force them to experience the suffering necessary to motivate them to exercise this option. However, given the relatively small fraction of people who commit suicide in even the worst times and situation in history, it seems we are quite terrible at estimating the amount of suffering people are willing to endure before deciding it isn't worth it and should therefore be very cautious in that calculation.

For example, I believe I read a study once estimating that the suicide rate in a Nazi concentration camp was 25%. That's very high, of course, but that means 75% of people still preferred existence to suicide.

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You wrote, "The IPCC predicts sea levels will probably rise another half a meter to a meter by 2100".

The linked page says instead, "In its 2019 report, the IPCC projected (chart above) 0.6 to 1.1 meters (1 to 3 feet) of global sea level rise by 2100 (or about 15 millimeters per year) if greenhouse gas emissions remain at high rates (RCP8.5)."

The page THEY link to says instead that RCP8.5 is the most-extreme scenario of RISING emissions, not of emissions continuing as at present.

So the IPCC doesn't predict that sea levels will probably rise another half a meter to a meter. RCP8.5 is an unlikely scenario. The consensus median sea rise by 2100, when I checked about 2 years ago, was about one foot. The only findings since then that I'm aware of would lower that to maybe 8 inches, but that's a guess with high variance, since the findings involved local effects such as the circulation of water underneath ice shelves, rather than global effects.

This is yet another example of climate change claims getting exaggerated with every repetition. All it takes to do that is to let one or two qualifying words slip past which indicate that the result being presented is not the expected result.

I can't help but note that we wouldn't even be talking about this if not for the anti-nuclear campaigns of the 20th century, and that nuclear power is STILL the obvious and only practical solution.

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The choice is viewed through a very western lens, with the benefits basically: would I value having kids and a relationship with them? Instead of: do I value having brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, grandparents, an actual extended family? And if you do value that, then your children aren't just valuable to yourself: they are valuable to others in your family. The extended family cannot exist without more kids.

It is common to hear people complain about their family pressuring them to have kids, with the sentiment that it is none of their business. But you aren't just having kids for yourself: you're having them for the whole family.

Or at least, you would be if you weren't living an extremely independent western lifestyle where families are separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, and increasingly wide generational gaps, and mostly don't interact. As it stands, you aren't helping to bolster an extended family and support network by having kids. You are creating an autonomous worker drone who will struggle to create meaningful relationships in an age of serial monogamy, and find most of their self-worth creating shareholder value and curating their instagram through tasteful consumer choices.

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Scott's political argument may be good rhetoric for persuading the particular people he wants to persuade, but it is a bad argument. Nordhaus, arguing for the importance of acting against climate change, estimated the global net cost of doing nothing for fifty years instead of taking the optimal policies immediately as $4.1 trillion. Congress at the moment is considering two pieces of legislation whose combined cost is more than that.

The scale of expenditure considered in one political controversy in one year should make it obvious that the amount at stake in political decisions in the US over the next century is much more than the amount at stake globally, at least according to an expert estimate from someone trying to make the amount look large, on climate policy.

The only defensible sense I can make of the argument is it is of the form:

1. Climate change isn't a catastrophe that should make you choose not to have kids.

2. But if you believe it is, then you should have kids so that there will be more voters trying to stop it.

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Re: Slim majorities and the median voter theorem, here's a halfway-rigorous way of thinking about this in the context of political parties:

Imagine an iterated 2-player game where two political parties compete to guide the country in different directions. There is an N-dimensional space of all possible policies the country could enact, and each party has a (different) desired point within that space, and wants to get as close as possible to their goal point.

In each round, each party chooses a platform, which is any point they like within the overall policy-space. Then, all voters support whichever platform is closer to that voter's personal preferences, and the country moves in the direction of that platform.

Parties are incentivized to win the election, but also incentivized to choose platforms closer to their goal point. If you use your true goal point as your platform, you'll lose the election, and won't move. If you just copy voters' popular preferences, it becomes easier to win votes, but you still don't move anywhere. You want to maximize (probability of winning) * (distance towards your goal if you win).

In the perfect-information version of this game, both parties will pick platforms that closely follow popular opinions (the "median" voter, or some N-dimensional analog), because if they don't, then the other party will win by getting closer. You need to take the smallest possible steps towards your goal, because whoever tries to move faster will lose.

But now suppose that parties have only imperfect information about voters, voters' preferences change between rounds. Now, moving faster isn't ALWAYS punished, because your opponent doesn't have enough information to reliably capitalize on your mistake; sometimes you win anyway, and your bolder platform means you get a bigger win than if you'd been cautious.

The more uncertainty, the more the two parties will start to pull apart from each other, as the occasional big wins make up for winning less often.

But if both players are approximately equally good at the game, you still expect them to split the vote pretty close to 50/50. For both players, the ideal outcome is to be just-moderate-enough that you can win 51% of the vote, while making as much progress as possible towards your goal-point.

(Note that "the vote" in question here is whatever is actually used to determine the winner. In US presidential elections, that means I'm predicting they approximately-evenly-split the electoral college, not the popular vote.)

If the voters' preferences suddenly move in one direction, then in the short term, one party will start getting more votes--because both parties were blindsided. But once the parties figure out what happened, we expect both parties to move in the same direction as voters' preferences, until they are once again splitting the vote approximately evenly.

In other words: the majority will ALWAYS be razor-thin. Changes in overall voter preferences will move both parties, instead of changing the margin of victory.

Of course, this conclusion is only as sound as the model it was based on.

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"One way to think of this is to notice that we’ve already gotten about 25-30% of the global warming we’re likely to see by 2100."

Your graph starts in 1950. Warming starts about 1909. From then to 1950, global temperature goes up by about .29°C. From 1950 to 2019, the last year in the NASA table I'm using, another 1 degree. So your 25-30% should be 32-39%.

(Data from https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/tabledata_v3/GLB.Ts+dSST.txt)

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Good arguments but you missed what is IMO the strongest one, economic growth.

If global GDP per capita continues to grow at about 2% per year, your grandchildren will be about 4 times richer than you. Climate change could be much more costly than the IPCC says and it would just mean that your grandkids are 3 times richer than you instead of 4 times.

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"if you want kids at all you have to believe they’re going to add something to the world, right? Maybe it’ll be as a climate change activist or environmental scientist, maybe it will be in some totally different field, but if you don’t think your kid is going to make the world a better place in some way, why bother?"

I strongly disagree with this sentiment. I do not have children (yet), but if I decide have any in the future, it will not be for their utilitarian value in making the world a better place. That could be a nice bonus, but it would not at all be required. In fact, I suspect that from a pure EA perspective, using my time and energy to make a family will be highly inefficient.

The only thing I would want for my kids is for them to enjoy their lives. As long as they have that, I'll be happy. Even if they turn out to never help another person in any capacity, never get a job, and contribute nothing to anything.

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People don't want to have children for personal (not quite altruistic) reasons (basically to party until they're 50 or focus on their career and so on), and put forward the "climate change" BS as a noble justification.

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0. I am in qualified agreement with the plea. Climate change, or rather the looming environmental crisis for which it is a shorthand,* should not in itself be a reason for this decision.

My moreal position is that taking the top few steps implied by your "much more than you wanted to know about carbon emissions" post (move to a high-density city, or failing that, next door to work; ride a bicycle, never a car; take no more than ten plane rides in your life; go vegetarian) more than compensates.

However: -

1. This essay amounts to telling women what to do with their lives, and the comments are mostly worse in that regard, as well as in their content because the overwhelming majority of commenters present as male.

2. This essay does not read like one of yours. I expect you to reveal at some point that it was a guest post by a woman.

3. The essay utterly fails to address the moral argument. Morals are not about what other people do: they are not a co-ordination problem. Talk about percentages of voters is utterly irrelevant.

Climate attribution has solidified over the last few years. We know that there will be millions of climate-attributed excess deaths from storms and droughts over the remainder of the century. The question is, to what degree do you want to contribute to them?

4. Focusing on sea level rise is seriously strawmanning climate change concerns.

Economists do that, because they are drunks who can only look for their keys under the streetlight. Not all of them, though: In "Climate Shock", Wagner and Weitzman plead with their fellows to consider the implications of fat-tailed pdfs of climate harm.

Focussing on sea level rise *in developed countries primarily* is strawmanning the strawman. Therefore this section reads like "don't worry your pretty head about it". This essay really *had* better be written by a woman.

5. Unlike moral belief, carbon capture and sequestration technology *does* suffer from a co-ordination problem: it will ony endure and grow if it is mandated by governments.

* William Gibson coined the term "the jackpot" for this multi-system capacity exhaustion and degradation. It's a pity some term like this hasn't taken off.

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Even if the worst case scenario of climate change happens, nature will eventually be fine. Nature survived the great oxidation event, so there's no realistic world in which global warming destroys the biosphere.

So the only possible reason to care about climate change at all is because of how it will affect people in the future. And not having future people exist is a self-defeating way of helping them.

Besides, solving this requires human creativity, effort and wealth. The more of these we have, the more we can spend on climate change. The fewer people we have, the less creativity and wealth we'll have, and the harder it will be to actually make things better. Really the best thing you can do for the planet is have more kids.

This phenomenon is real lesson in unintended consequences. Decades of over-moralizing and catastrophizing about a problem has bred a whole new moral panic about the existence of humans. Given how many people say having kids is the best/most meaningful part of their lives, the net effect of climate activism might turn out to be hugely negative for humanity..

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> It’s hard to tell how many people have died of climate-change-related causes. Maybe thousands? Maybe tens of thousands?

I get the intent of this post, but really, this is really under-playing it. Just to name one thing: the events ultimately leading to the Syrian civil war involved, among other things, the drought of 2006-2009, which had an unprecedented severity because of anthropogenic climate change:


The Syrian civil war, to date, has caused 350.000 casualties:


This does not seem an unreasonably long chain of events to blame a significant percentage of these casualties on climate change; hunger has always been a powerful force for change in societies.

Then we have the geopolitical ramifications of the Syrian civil war and its refugees. Their movements to safety are having long-lasting effects on all of Europe, causing significant debate and strengthening of right-wing parties, parties which just so happen to be on the far side of the climate change denier spectrum.

And that's just one case, one place, a few years: a significant percentage of 350.000 dead, millions displaced.

If you put an almost comically stereotypical focus on the USA, yes, you can buy your way out of much of this. No climate refugees are going to come your way by virtue of geography, sparing you the political ramifications. The world will continue to sell their grain even if their own population may be starving, as long as you offer enough money or technology.

But we're all in this together, and insinuating that the cost of climate change, measured in human lives, is maybe 5 digits, 6 tops, is the sort of disingenious attitude that I'm not used to reading here.

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A good follow up post to this one would be on the risks to civilization posed by low-fertility rates.

For instance, what happens if we reach a point in which there aren't enough high-skilled people in the world to keep all of our technology working?

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I don't want kids b/c I don't want to wage slave longer than I have to. Also, I don't want my kids to be wage slaves, or experience aging, disease, trauma, unfulfilled desires, or death. Life sucks, brah.

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There are lots of reasons to not have a child. The main reason is if you really don't want one because it will ruin your lifestyle. In that case, please please do not have a child. But for those people who are concerned about the future, you are exactly the people who SHOULD have children. Because you are concerned about the future you most likely will be a good parent and thus raise a decent and valuable human being that can contribute to the world.

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The average American makes over $1 million in their lifetime. Even if your carbon offset estimate is off by an order of magnitude, their value easily covers the carbon. If you care about the world, have kids.

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Thanks for writing this. I consider myself to be somewhat in the camp of avoiding children due to climate concerns, but this was never about the issues in the post. I'm concerned about the emotional burden placed upon my children from living in the future world. This in turn has led me to examine the moral implications of bringing children into the world largely against there will. Anyway, these days the reluctance is far more about the uncertain political future and health care future exacerbated by the pandemic, and no longer about climate. This could be read as just making excuses for my behavior, but if my behavior is something I want to be doing anyway, I don't think it matters my excuse. Well, to me it wouldn't but all the pressure from society kind of demands you have these types of excuses at the ready.

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The worst possible thing that could happen as a result of runaway global warming is a replay of Earth's worst mass extinction ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permian%E2%80%93Triassic_extinction_event ), which happened when the largest known volcanic eruption ever ended up causing, among other problems, the release of trillions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which messed up ocean circulation between the surface and the depths, which caused there to be less oxygen and allowed anerobic bacteria to grow that produced toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. Various positive feedbacks then made the oxygen-depleted regions larger and larger until the bacteria were making enough hydrogen sulfide to make the entire atmosphere unbreatheable and to destroy the ozone layer exposing the surface to potentally lethal levels of UV radiation. So, yeah, end-of-the-world type stuff.

Fortunately this kind of disaster would probably require warming the Earth by at least *ten* degrees Celcius, which is significantly more than even the most pessimistic scenarios project and the feedbacks take thousands of years to get to the point where hydrogen sulfide comes out of the ocean and kills everything. So it's not exactly a realistic scenario, but it is *possible* to kill the planet with enough carbon dioxide.

See also: https://books.google.com/books/about/Under_a_Green_Sky.html?id=wWiKJF1aXyYC&source=kp_book_description

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I'm an older (48) reader with two young kids (3.75 and 11 months). I'm extremely pro-natalist, yet my wife and I have already decided that we will likely stop at the 2 since we live in NYC and I'm old. That said, I've heard this exact anti-child sentiment from my 20-something cousins (my mother comes from a family of 8, with her being the oldest, so I have cousins that range from 40's to pre-teens).

Here are my quick takes on why well-off educated people should opt to have families:

1) If you enjoy the fairly liberal, largely secural society you live in, have kids that will be future voters who will help protect that society and its values. If you don't, you will be outbred by religious orthodoxy and you will eventually have a much less tolerant society.

2) Any likely solution to climate change (proactive technological solution, since cutting back is no longer going to do enough to stem the current heating up loop) will originate among the educated elite and their children. I'm decently smart, yet my daughter knows 50x what I knew at 3.75 years. She can basically read, while I learned to read in kindergarten. She understands and can sometimes control her emotions, I had no basic emotional control until post-high school.

3) Having kids and attempting to raise them well has been the most important and most challenging endeavor of my life. I'm not sure I would consider the person I was before having kids to have been fully human. I'm not saying there aren't good reasons for SOME people to not have kids, but the person I was before having kids was 10x more selfish than the person I am now. And I don't have to think about it - innate biology kicks in. I have more energy and purpose than at any other time in my life.

4) Civilization is hard. Civilizations that bequeath gifts of technology, beauty, and progress to humanity are rare and should be celebrated, defended, and cherished. If you are an American, your kids will likely grow up with more wealth and opportunity than humanity has thus far experienced.

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Thanks for writing, and taking up a hot topic. I agree with the conclusion, but respectfully disagree with the framing and the justifications.

The thesis statement to me feels both narrow (relegating the vast majority of the world to collateral damage) and incorrect (missing the point):

"Life in the First World will continue, with worse weather and maybe a weaker economy, but more or less the same as always."

I wish I shared that sentiment, but I think you wildly underestimate the relationship between society/politics and climate. Very few people are arguing that climate alone will be the issue. It's not the fact of sea-rise, it's the mass displacement and associated societal pressures (the refugees resulting from one civil war in Syria, at least in part related to natural resource access, practically broke Europe). It's the way the climate crisis interacts with -- and drives -- the other elements of the polycrisis (rising authoritarianism, runaway inequality, racialized violence, etc.)

The people (myself included) weighing the ethics of having children are not worried primarily about the prospects for "my white male son with an American passport, intergenerational wealth, and legacy admissions at an Ivy"... they're worried about "do I want to bring kids into the kind of world where those are the preconditions to anything resembling a decent life?"

The mindset that gives rise to the inquiry in the first place I suspect is tied to a concern with justice, with fairness, with dignity... and not only for our narrowly-defined biological children. The question is one of: what is the best way to live in the world to mitigate the climate crisis, and in that context should I have children? By framing the second question in narrow technical terms, I fear you miss the ethic of care and concern that gives rise to the first.

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I think most of the people who say "climate change" are using that as short-hand to refer to their sense that there are already way too many people, they don't think there should be more people, and they're already dismayed at the current environmental degradation they see with their own eyes around them (plus they don't have a strong, or maybe any, desire for kids).

A LOT of people who don't desire kids really, really like and care about animals. Sometimes more than humans. And they like forests and open space and nature preserves and untouched wild lands and habitat for animals. You are not going to convince them with these mathematical calculations about the potential carbon impact on hypothetical future people because they look around TODAY and are upset at how many people there are already here NOW and how much they're encroaching on animal habitat and creating pollution and cutting down forests and paving over things.

Also, I guess there are some people who just love being in mega-cities around tons of tons of people like ants in a hive, but I don't think that's a majority opinion. A lot of people want space, and don't like crowding.

I live in a state and metro area that has seen rapid population growth. Almost *everyone* here...conservatives, progressives, those with big families, those with no kids...virtually everyone complains CONSTANTLY about there being too many people and wishing people would stop moving here. We don't like the fact that the highways are constantly under construction to add new lanes yet the traffic gets worse and worse every year. We don't like seeing every inch of previous farm land and open space get developed. We don't like that you used to be able to easily escape to the mountains and now you sit and wait for an hour in a massive line of cars and the trails are all loud and crowded. We don't like the crowds everywhere you go and inability to escape them. We don't like the skyrocketing increase in cost of living. People don't like it! And the birth-rate has plunged while in-migration continues unabated from other states. I mean, it's great for my property values, but in many ways quality of life is worse.

Young people look around and see that while they grew up in a house with a yard and knew everyone in their neighborhood, they will likely have to live in an apartment if they stay in the area, and their kids will be lucky to get a tiny crappy apartment, in the crappy part of town. They see the disappearing wild spaces. They see the increased competition for less and less pay-off. And they don't like it and don't want to add to it.

So regardless of your charts and your math, this is an aesthetic and moral preference. I'm guessing the majority of you pro-natalists have some kind of hard-wired preference for growth and expansion and more more more, but I don't think that is the inclination of a majority of people (I also think the vast majority of people who hold that view are male).

The ecological motivation also lies on top of just not wanting kids much. Here's an experiment. Virtually all of the ecological arguments against kids are also applicable to dogs and cats. They eat a lot of meat products and we spend a ton of money and waste a lot of resources on dog food and treats and cat litter and I'm sure there's a big carbon impact. But try telling any of these anti-kid millennials that we should have less dogs, and that less people should have dogs...they won't like that at all. Because a lot of them truly like dogs more than people. Which I know infuriates the pro-natalists. But I don't really know how you can hector people out of a clear preference. And apparently in the evolutionary contest of being an appealing organism that evokes compassion and care-taking in humans, dogs and cats win.

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Yeah, people just get *weird* about global warming.

Yes, it's real. Yes, it's bad. But it's malaria-scale bad, not Cthulhu-is-eating-all-of-humanity-scale bad. We deal with worse all the time. It's worth some effort to mitigate, but you don't need to derange your whole life or society over it.

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You raise the issue about what will happen politically if many people who accept climate change as real decide not to have children as a result, while those people who reject it have lots of kids. I think this raises a broader point – if you compare secular socially liberal people with social and religious conservatives, one can observe a big difference in rates of reproduction: on average, the social and religious conservatives have bigger families and start younger, and the difference is even more stark at the extreme/radical ends of religious conservatism (groups such as Latin Mass Catholics, the Amish, Haredi Jews). In the long-run, doesn't this risk resulting in social/religious conservatism making a "comeback" due to outbreeding the secular social liberals? Of course, the counter-argument is that many of today's secular social liberals themselves are defectors from religious conservative upbringings, defections will continue in future generations, and those defections will counteract the religious conservative advantage in births. I think the big issue here is we can't predict what those rates of defection are going to be in the future – it is possible it may not be high enough to prevent a future in which religious conservatives become the demographic majority, and then use their demographic majority to gain political control of society, assuming society retains a democratic system – a turn away from democracy may be one way for secular liberals to retain control even in the face of a growing religious conservative demographic majority, but I think many secular liberals would view that as compromising their own liberalism. I think, religious and conservative groups vary widely in their strategies for retaining their members (especially their young people) and the success of those strategies. However, simply through natural selection, the groups with the most successful anti-defection strategies are going to have greater success, and their strategies may then be copied (consciously or unconsciously) by other groups – so it is possible that defection rates may decline over time, which would increase the likelihood of a future in which religious conservatives have significantly more control over society than at present.

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In my sample, I definitely think that among my extended group there are people convinced that having kids is at best neutral and do not feel encouraged by our culture to have kids, sometimes outgroup gets blamed for their fear over having children. But I am afraid there are a lot of subtle and not so subtle cues throughout our society which indicate a low value placed on creating a bigger and better next generation.

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Setting climate change aside, I'm curious whether it's better for the world to (i) donate $x to effective altruism causes where $x is the cost of raising a child in the first world (including the monetary equivalent of time costs, etc.), or (ii) raise a child, say if the potential parent is a typical ACX reader.

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The problem with climate change is it increases the tail risks of catastrophe right? Massive feedback loops or the political impacts of drought/fires/floods etc. the impacts are also non-linear so saying we have felt 25 % of the impact is inaccurate. All the coral reefs will die at 2 degrees. There will be many more step changes like that, which we haven't started to really feel yet.

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The essay was good and needed, but saying that 3 meters of sea-level rise by 2200 is a worst-case scenario is just wrong. We don't really know how fast ice sheets disintegrate; Greenland and West Antarctica fully collapsing would be 12 meters in addition to thermal expansion and glacier melt, and that's not implausible in 200 years. A runaway greenhouse effect like on Venus is also a real existential risk. It's not a linear system.

The thing is more that, as I said, 200 years is a long time, and IMO the bigger existential risk from climate change remains the threat that the slightly worsened political instability slightly raises the chance of nuclear war. We've got a lot of other problems, even over shorter time horizons, and anyhow we have more ideas for geoengineering our way out of global warming than for averting AGI risk, ending poverty, etc..

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As someone who leans antinatalist, I have a different interpretation of the widespread concern that having kids might be unethical on a warming planet: the belief that human life just isn't very good is very common. As Scott points out, the problems that will be caused by climate change aren't extraordinary ones in the grand scheme of human experience. But they're enjoying to convince millions that life might not be worth living. These people fundamentally agree with the basic case for antinatalism on the grounds of reducing human suffering, even if they would bristle at being described that way. And I'm willing to bite the bullets Scott proffers in this post - the preponderance of horrific suffering in our past, present, and anticipated future are precisely why I'm an antinatalist.

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Overproduced elites are telling each other to stop reproducing.

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Re. "Remember, most presidential elections are very close. So even though 5% fewer kids will only decrease carbon emissions by 1-2%, it will decrease Democrats’ chance of winning elections by a lot more.":

It seems more likely to me that our two modern political parties, with their polls, social-media-spiders, computers, and marketing experts, each continually try to adjust their positions as far away from each other as they can get and still win 51% of the vote. Any demographic advantage will be spent on endorsing a more extreme platform.

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I hope that the Climate Change fanatics do not reproduce. Just imagine a world without any Greta Thunbergs.

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Wait I skimmed this article and it doesn't address the strongest environmental (and other cause areas, up to and including pronatalism) argument for not having children: the same resources can be better used elsewhere.

It would be pretty surprising to me if on the margin the most cost-effective intervention to combat climate change is by having children, for either the majority of my social circle or the majority of readers of this blog.

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I see a lot of Americans in the comments saying that lower birth rates are a problem because of the tax base / productive population shrinking over time. I really don't see any reason to worry about this if you're in the US. There are innumerable young, productive immigrants desperately wanting to get into this country but kept out by the law - and I'm not talking about refugees but educated workers with degrees who are held back by H1B/green card quotas etc. As a person who only recently got a visa to the US through such a quota, I do't believe this will change in our lifetime. If people in the US have fewer children, they can just open the gates a bit wider, and the population will be fine.

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I haven't read every comment, but this is the most polite, civil, thoughtful online discussion of climate change I have seen. This gives me great hope.

At long last, I will subscribe.

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Your response to the first line of argument is good. As far as the second one, I'd just like to add that utilitarianism is bad and you shouldn't let your decision as to whether or not to reproduce hinge on the calculation of whether this is on net beneficial for the remainder of the planet.

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Apologies if someone has already written this, I haven't had time to read through all the replies.

I really like this post and strongly agree, but I think you may have missed the point that's most important in my mind. If we're going to beat global climate change, we're going to need a strong economy to fund research and development into new technologies (renewables, carbon capture, etc.). Having an aging population that isn't replacing itself is really bad for economic growth (not just total growth, but growth per capita) and having a larger population makes returns on R&D a lot more attractive, since the fixed cost can be be recouped more easily when you have more potential customers.

In America, for instance, we're going to need close to a fixed amount of younger people to take care of our generation when we're older and we're going to have something close to a fixed amount of government debt that will need to be serviced each year from the taxpayers. If we have 200mm working age adults in the next generation instead of 150mm, that burden is spread a lot more thinly, and a greater percentage of society can devote itself to novel R&D. Almost throughout the developed world birth rates are declining, and economists are pretty consistent in considering this a major macroeconomic issue.

We can't shrink our way to net zero emissions. Shrinking our population can only marginally improve carbon emissions, but that won't be enough. If anything, shrinking will hurt the economy, and when the economy is struggling people tend not to care about anything else, especially measures that won't have an impact for decades. The best way to get to net zero fastest is, ironically, to grow ourselves there, providing a strong economy, but balancing it with good policy that makes sure that a large enough percentage of our economy is dedicated to improving the climate.

Having a smaller population languishing for generations with minimal technological progress will cause a lot more emissions in the long run than having a larger population that can fix these issues (as well as whatever other issues that may arise) generations earlier.

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There’s another reason to have children. The pension and demographic crisis is probably more worrying than the climate crisis.

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I really support people having children even in the face of the climate crisis.

However, I think the strongest argument that I have heard so far is that children are just a high opportunity cost and the money and time spent on them should go into activism, since we are at a decisive moment for how bad it will be. Is there a counter to this argument?

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