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They’re going to cap and trade babies? Oh noes, what will I eat?

18 August 2009

Well, Mr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. has managed to frighten himself with a rather ridiculous idea by liberally interpreting a study recently done by two scientists, Paul A. Murtaugh and Michael G. Schlax, at Oregon State University.  He also apparently forgot to link to the actual report… but I guess he figured if people actually read it they might not be so willing to believe his twist on things.

As far as I can gather, Mr. Murtaugh and Mr. Schlax decided that an integral part of calculating an individual’s environmental impact was being ignored by current popular measures. Namely, the effect their reproductive choices would have:

“Much attention has been paid to the ways that people’s home energy use, travel, food choices and other routine activities affect their emissions of carbon dioxide and, ultimately, their contributions to global warming. However, the reproductive choices of an individual are rarely incorporated into calculations of his personal impact on the environment. Here we estimate the extra emissions of fossil carbon dioxide that an average individual causes when he or she chooses to have children. The summed emissions of a person’s descendants, weighted by their relatedness to him, may far exceed the lifetime emissions produced by the original parent.”

Now, I’m not sure I agree with everything these scientists are saying; I confess, I don’t have the necessary math skills and etc. to know if their calculations are correct, so I am leery of taking everything they say at face value.  Plus, I’m a little miffed that they decided to choose  a female individual for their example, as if men had nothing to do with reproduction (they never say that, and in their generalizations they include both men and women, but still, it’s annoying).  However; I definitely have to disagree with Mr. Mohler, Jr.’s argument that

“While these two researchers have addressed their report to the scientific community, they openly acknowledge that their argument should be taken into consideration by those concerned with the policy challenge of climate change.”

Apparently, because these scientists think that it’s important to consider progeny when calculating an individual’s “carbon footprint”, they suddenly want the government to step in and set up a cap and trade policy for having babies.  The quote Mr. Mohler pulls for his evidence is the scientists’ assertion that “Clearly, the potential savings from reduced reproduction are huge compared to the savings that can be achieved by changes in lifestyle.”  Indeed, with their math I don’t understand, they prove this to be true. However, they then go on to say that:

“It is important to remember that these analyses focus on the carbon legacies of individuals, not populations... Clearly, an individual’s reproductive choices can have a dramatic effect on the total carbon emissions ultimately attributable to his or her genetic lineage. Understanding the ways that an individual’s daily activities influence emissions and explain the huge disparities in per capita emissions among countries (Table 1) is obviously essential, but ignoring the consequences of reproduction can lead to serious underestimation of an individual’s long-term impact on the global environment.”

(emphases mine)

The study is totally focused on the individual, and never once mentions government policy regarding carbon emissions. They only talk about the measurement of carbon emissions and how it can be improved.  Besides, the last time I checked the government wasn’t suggesting cap and trade for individuals anyway, so why on Earth would they ever put cap and trade on having babies?  Ridiculous.

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