One Child Per Woman — or NONE

Many ecologists and scientists see one, or even no children at all, as the only option to avoid a die-off in the usual unpleasant ways — genocide, war, starvation, and disease.

I’ve said one-child per woman for many years, but I think Stephanie Mills “no children” is the only solution now that we’re past global peak oil (which happened in 2005).  She writes “There needs to be a steep decline in human numbers.  Our last chance for it to be volitional rather than apocalyptic is for the vast majority of people now on Earth not to reproduce. Once birth control and abortion are universally and freely available and the various pronatalist policies tucked away in the tax code have been abolished, but artfully, so that children don’t wind up deprived as a result, propaganda might be the one acceptable means of civic action available to deal with overpopulation: an all-out attempt to change public opinion about reproductive behavior.  And I’m not talking about a “stop at two” or even “one is plenty” campaign, but “Just Don’t Do It!” (Mills 1997).

Alan Weisman, in The World Without Us, proposes

If this somehow began tomorrow, our current 6.5 billion human population would drop by 1 billion by the middle of this century. (If we continue as projected, it will reach 9 billion.) At that point, keeping to one-child-per-human-mother, life on Earth for all species would change dramatically. Because of natural attrition, today’s bloated human population bubble would not be reinflated at anything near the former pace. By 2075, we would have reduced our presence by almost half, down to 3.43 billion, and our impact by much more, because so much of what we do is magnified by chain reactions we set off through the ecosystem.

By 2100, less that a century from now, we would be at 1.6 billion: back to levels last seen in the 19th century, just before quantum advances in energy, medicine, and food production doubled our numbers and then doubled us again. At the time, those discoveries seemed like miracles. Today, like too much of any good thing, we indulge in more only at our peril.

At such far-more-manageable numbers, however, we would have the benefit of all our progress plus the wisdom to keep our presence under control. That wisdom would come partly from losses and extinctions too late to reverse, but also from the growing joy of watching the world daily become more wonderful. The evidence wouldn’t hide in statistics. It would be outside every human’s window, where refreshed air would fill each season with more birdsong. (Pages 272-273)

I don’t think it will happen locally and certainly not globally because we’re animals, not rational robots.  Even if women globally wanted to do this, they can’t, most women don’t have access to birth control.  Many other women want large families, and above all, don’t want to be told what to do.   Even after the most expensive firestorm in American history in Oakland (1991), people didn’t  want to be told where they ought to park on narrow streets so ambulances and fire trucks could get through in the future.  And you’re going to ask families to limit children?  Not going to happen.

When I mentioned this idea to a native American, she said her people wouldn’t like this at all, because in the past some of the Native Americans had been forcibly sterilized. I’d be better off suggesting “fewer children”.

Mao was warned by scientists of over population back when there 500 million Chinese, but he saw a need for as many as possible to fight wars, and didn’t make birth control available or encourage smaller families.  It wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t still men in power who think this way.

And the wealthy since agriculture began need people to do the hard work in the fields, and cheap labor in general.

I hope there are enlightened areas in the world that try this out to see if it can be done.

Why reining in population growth voluntarily isn’t going to happen

Tom Butler: “The chance of reining in exponential population growth through intentional and vigorous—yet humane and non-coercive—policies becomes ever less likely, because there is not yet even a national conversation about the problem of growth. James Howard Kunstler has written persuasively about how the “psychology of previous investment” is a powerful barrier to individuals thinking clearly about the crowded, ecologically devastated, and possibly energy-scarce future, and making rational behavioral changes. The psychology of previous investment operates at the community and societal level too. It is exceedingly difficult to abandon past behaviors or infrastructure when so much effort has gone into creating them.”

In America we have now spent more than 2 centuries constructing a national narrative of expansion and progress based on growth. That mythic story is so thoroughly imbedded in common discourse and conventional wisdom that it goes largely unrecognized and uncritiqued. Social critics, including conservationists, who have the temerity to challenge the religion of growth are ignored and marginalized. And so even the activist community has become balkanized in recent decades, with NOGs focused on overpopulation being essentially shunned by conservation and environmental-related nonprofits that should be their natural allies.”

“Despite the innovative efforts of some NGOs to address the cultural norms that contribute to high fertility and miss immigration, I am not sanguine about our chances to make the needed changes before various horses of the apocalypse (war, famine, and plague) dramatically reduce human numbers. Humans, as tribal, small group animals, have little in our evolutionary heritage to help us cope with the challenge of understanding the peril of exponential growth. But if there is any chance to even have a reasonable conversation across the political spectrum about the dire need to address overpopulation, then a more robust dissection of how that growth affects liberty, for nature and people, perhaps can be useful”.

It’s too late to do anything about population

The exponential decline rate of oil, natural gas, and coal plus financial collapse plus consequent unrest and too many other factors to list (enumerated in the “Or a Fast Crash?”, decline, and collapse menu items of energyskeptic) mean it’s too late to adopt one-child-per-woman strategies in America.

Raúl Ilargi Meijer “Mankind may have invented mythological/religious stories of a deity that made us in his own image, stories that serve to make us feel elevated above all other life, and the crowning achievement of creation/evolution, but the reality is that we are no different from the yeast in the wine vat or bacteria in a petri dish, or any and all other organisms for that matter: when confronted with an energy surplus in a given environment, all species will multiply and proliferate until either they run out of space or the energy surplus runs out, and then there is a die-off.

To be exact: the die-off comes before a species can run out of space or energy, because the use of energy produces waste, and no organism can survive in a medium of its own waste (the corollary to the 2nd law of thermodynamics as defined by Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend in their 1993 book “Valuing the Earth”). Thus, there will always be more space and more energy left even after the population has collapsed. And that collapse is inevitable. No need to worry about how many people need to disappear for any given amount of time.

I’ve often called us the most tragic species, because we have an awareness, we can see ourselves do it, but that doesn’t mean we can stop ourselves from doing it. Perhaps we need to contemplate the limits of our awareness, perhaps if we were fully aware of what we do, we wouldn’t to the damage we do. Or perhaps our awareness simply is no match for the drive to consume all energy available to us, a drive we inherited from more primitive lifeforms. However it may be, what we call our awareness, and our power of reasoning, seem to be applied in the race to consume energy as fast as we can, not to slow down the rate of consumption, even if our survival might hinge on it. What’s ironic is that the drive to consume is very close, if not identical, to the drive to survive that all life possesses.

Note that this describes us as a species, not as individuals. And while individual humans can make “decisions” that may seem very commendable, what happens is that when an individual organism “decides” to lower his/her/its consumption rate, other individuals in the group jump in and take over, so overall consumption for the group keeps rising. This difference between group behavior and – possible – individual behavior is often misinterpreted, I think, to mean that we can make the group do what the individual can do.” (Meijer)


Mills, Stephanie. 1997. “From Nulliparity and a Cruel Hoax Revisited” Wild Earth.

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