A gentleman I met here in the Costa Rican countryside told me he was 1 of 14 children in his family. He isn’t the first I’ve met; this isn’t uncommon in rural areas. Obviously it wasn’t his choice to be in a family of 14 kids, however it starkly points out one of the inherent challenges in the preservation of nature, if not for tourists then at least for the locals themselves. It leads to me to wonder about human beings as consumptive machines, no different from any animal, ready to procreate as much as possible, and consume as much of the environment as possible.
An interesting counter argument can be made, to point out that if the average rural Costa Rican consumes 1/7th of the resources of the average American (which is in the ballpark based on these statistics), then having 14 kids in Costa Rica is like having 2 kids in the United States.
The thing is that neither of these scenarios is sustainable now. Furthermore the growth curves look completely different. For the resource hog American case, those 2 children would have another 2 children, and give or take would roughly sustain their numbers. Energy hogs, yes, but with less growth.
In the 14 children scenario, carried out to another 14 children for each of the 14, would result in 196 grandchildren, and 2,744 great grandchildren. Try to picture that for a moment, 2,744 great grandchildren! Ah but you’re saying “This isn’t realistic! They won’t all have that many kids!”
OK so let’s look at this with each couple having “only” 6 children. That results in 36 grandchildren and 216 great grandchildren. So the land that was originally going to support two people is now somehow supposed to support 258 people, after the parents pass away. (Yes I know this isn’t apples to apples math; if someone can suggest an easy way to look at the math over time, I’m all ears.)
So what ends up happening? Obviously the children, the grandchildren will need to set out in search of lands and jobs. When you are hungry, wild forest looks really attractive as a place to cut down trees and start growing. Failing that, animals, endangered or not, look like a good option when you’re hungry.
While walking along a coastal trail to a remote beach, I met a guy who has a turtle hatchery, and is doing his best to help as many turtle eggs as possible hatch, so that the turtle population can get reestablished.
However one of the challenges he’s up against, frankly, is hungry people who go out and take hundreds of turtle eggs at a time in order to eat. I get it, “why should a local go hungry so that I as a tourist, coming from my resource hogging country, can feel good that the local population of cute endangered turtles is recovering?” Frankly if it were me, and I couldn’t find other ways to eat, I’d probably be eating turtle eggs too.
But what I *would* do differently is that I wouldn’t go and have 14 kids, or 6 kids, or even 3 kids, frankly. I think 1 is about right, and 2 is possible, but it seems clear to me that the sustainable carrying capacity of the earth was overshot a few decades ago. Right now we’re using up the richness of fossil fuels, and the leeway of the environment, to make up the difference. But it’s not going to last. Having less kids and using less resources is critical.
This topic gets me really curious as to why the largest religions in the worlds are so heavily against birth control, and so heavily in favor of big families. I’ll do some digging and let you know what I find.