Economics, Science - Environment
Manure into mattresses – we can "create" resources
Economist Julian Simon's key insight is that man's creativity – his brainpower – is a resource that creates other resources. So while some view a rising population as a threat to limited resources ("We're going to run out of oil!") Simon viewed a growing population as a growing resource base. Our brains, when properly applied, could in a reflection of God's own creativity, turn nothing (or next to it) into quite something. For example, when copper – a key element in our phone lines – started getting very expensive, this motivated some smart chaps to develop a much cheaper alternative: sand! That's what our telephone lines are today: Sand (silicon) + Human Creativity = Fiber optic cables Making sand into something is amazing enough, but a much more impressive example of "resource creation" is the way some farmers have turned poop into bedding (or if you prefer alliteration, manure into mattresses). It is quite a story! Rising prices prompts creative thinking Down where I live, in the Northern Washington/Southern BC area, some dairy farmers used to use sawdust as a cheap bedding material for their cows. The cows could sleep in it, poop on it, and the farmer could then come along, clean it out, and put a new layer down. Sawdust clumped together, making it easy to scoop away, but perhaps its most attractive quality was its cheapness. Sawdust used to be viewed as a waste product from the lumber industry – they couldn't give it away and would even bury it. But then creative farmers created a market for this castoff. Or to put it in more mathematical terms: Sawdust + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Some time later, other creative folks started to see more ways that sawdust could be used, including as fuel. Because it originated as a lumber waste product it was cheaper than many other fuel options. So some greenhouses owners figured out a way to use it to heat their buildings, and started to outbid the farmers. This result was this waste product – nothing more than garbage before human brainpower got involved – had so increased in value that farmers could no longer afford it. They needed to find a cheaper option for their bedding! And then it happened. Some ingenious dairy farmer, probably sitting out on his tractor staring out across his manure lagoon, started thinking about the possibilities in all this poop. The result was a separation system that used the undigested fibers found in cow manure. This is fed into a rotating drying drum, where high heat kills the germs, and the output is fibrous bedding material for the farmer's cows. Poop + Human Creativity = Cow bedding Manure has been turned into mattresses! Conclusion Julian Simon was an atheist, so he didn't understand why we have this capacity – why we have a mysterious, awesome ability to use our brains to create something out of nothing. But Simon did recognize Man was more than his mouth; he understood that Man wasn't best understood as a consumer of scarce resources, but that instead Man has an ability (and Christians would add, a calling) to be a producer of plenty. So, in this limited way, Simon has a more accurate understanding of Man than any of his critics. So where does our creative capacity come from? It is a reflection of God's creative Genius. We can't create ex nihilo – out of nothing – like God does, but when we take what was once useless, and put it to productive use, we show ourselves to be His image-bearers....
Vancouver ads presume big families hurt the planet
Ads popping up around Vancouver, BC encourage couples to reconsider any plans for having a big or even medium-sized family. Some of the ads read: “The most loving gift you can give your first child is to not have another” “Traffic congestion begins at conception” “We chose one!” “Climate crisis? Think small.” The group behind the ads is the US-based non-profit “World Population Balance” which believes the planet is threatened by an overpopulation crisis. Their “One Planet, One Child” campaign features ads that go even further, celebrating “childfree” living. One Vancouver news outlet framed this as a freedom issue, with the interviewed passersby seemingly unanimous in their insistence that family size is nobody’s business but the couple’s. News 1130’s Kelvin Gawley went deeper, interviewing a disabled Vancouver writer, Gabrielle Peters, who put the campaign in a historical context. “By blaming overpopulation for climate change and environmental degradation, said the billboards revive a debunked theory known as Malthusianism, named for an 18th Century reverend, Thomas Robert Malthus, who warned humanity would soon outgrow its food supply. His dire predictions never came to pass, but that didn’t stop others – including Nazi eugenicists and the author of The Overpopulation Bomb, a bestselling 1968 book – from remixing Malthus’s ideas to bolster their beliefs, Peters said. “‘It’s based on bunk and it invariably leads into dark places,’ she said.” “Peters said that the theory of scarcity is especially alarming to disabled people, who ‘may not be highly productive in the eyes of capitalism’ while consuming medical and other resources. “This thinking has led some modern academics to call for forced birth control and government-mandated licensing for parenthood, she said. “But Peters said her fear of this philosophy backstopping real-world action aren’t merely hypothetical. She cited a new “frailty scale” used to determine eligibility for health-care services in Ontario.” That was some deep perspective for a secular news source, but there is deeper still we can go by highlighting the biblical truth these ads attack. God speaks of children as blessings (Gen. 1:28, Ps. 113:9, 139:13-16, 127:3-5, Prov. 17:6, etc.) while World Population Balance says the fewer the better. So how has that worked out where it's been tried? For decades China had a mandatory one-child policy and that's meant many a Chinese couple will be caring for two sets of parents, and four sets of grandparents without any siblings or any cousins to help them. As the Christian Heritage Party’s Peter Vogel put it in his article about the ad campaign: “Imagine there’s no uncles…no aunts, no cousins too. No siblings either. This is what young people today are being told to imagine for their grandchildren.“ While human beings' value isn’t based on what we can do (but rather on being made in the image of God – Gen. 1:27, Gen. 9:6), more kids does mean more hands at the ready, and imagine how helpful those extra hands could be in caring for aging parents! More children also means more creative thinking. Want to figure out cold-fusion, or safer fission? The more brains the merrier, right? Those family relationships, those extra hands to lighten the load, the multiplying impact on ingenuity that results when heads are put together – those are the blessing we’d forgo if we all did as these ads encourage. But what of the climate crisis that World Population Balance is afraid of? Their “solution” isn't one, so can we conclude the same is true of their problem? That doesn’t necessarily follow; that a group is wrong on one point gives us reason to question them in other areas, but we can’t rely on the foolish to be consistently so. We can't count on them to always get everything wrong. So when it comes to the supposed climate crisis, here is what we can know for sure: if children are a blessing (and they are) and each one comes with their own carbon footprint (which they currently do), then either that carbon footprint isn’t the problem it’s being made out to be or children don’t have to be accompanied by a carbon footprint. And what we can know for sure is that children are a blessing we will never have to reject for the sake of our planet....
Career over kids: South Korean women aren’t having babies
A new report has South Korea population beginning to decline in just ten years’ time. Statistics Korea reported in late February that the country’s fertility rate dropped to 0.98, or less than one child per woman. To put this in context, women need to be having at least 2 children each to keep the population stable: one to replace her, and one to replace her husband (the exact figure is even a bit higher – more like 2.1 – to account for infant mortality). This less-than-1 rate means that South Korea’s population is headed for a precipitous drop. Statistics Korea numbers released a month later bore that out. This year, for the first time, the country expects more people to die than be born, with an estimate of 309,000 births, and 314,000 deaths. Immigrants will keep the population stable for a few more years, but starting in 2029 the country’s population is expected to take a sharp (and irrevocable?) downward turn. The country’s coming decline seems to be caused by both women and men devaluing marriage and motherhood. The government has tried to encourage couples to have more children by extending maternity leave and expanding State daycare. But these measures don’t get at the fundamental issue – is being a mother honorable? When a culture values women only for the career they have outside the home, then women aren’t going to want to do anything to impede their progress in that career. Maternity leave – especially longer maternity leave – can’t help but slow a woman’s career progress (it’s hard to get noticed by the bosses when you aren’t there). And while easier access to daycare will mean it's possible to juggle having kids and a career, if career comes first, why even bother with the juggling? As a Church we need to show the world a different way, making it clear we understand children are the blessing (Prov. 17:6, Ps. 113:9, 127:3-5), and the priority (Gen. 1:28, Prov. 22:6) that God says they are. Whether that’s mom sacrificing career opportunities, or dad doing the same by picking a job near a good Church and Christian school, or the two of them giving up nights with the gang, or the pair of them forgoing “me time,” we know parenting is our priority…and our privilege....
South Korean babies: going, going….
Last year South Korea had the lowest number of babies born since their statistics agency started tracking this back in 1970. The decline has been enormous: in 1970, just over one million children were born, while in 2017, the number had dropped to a third of that, at just 357,000. Back in 1970 women were, on average, having about 4.5 children each. Last year that number dropped to 1.05, or half the 2.1 number needed to keep the population stable. South Korea is facing a demographic crisis – as The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson reported, Statistics Korea says that by 2060 the population will have declined as much as a third, from the 51 million it has today, to somewhere between 34-44 million. Why has the South Korean baby become such a rarity? The same reason babies are becoming a rarity all over the developed world: having children is seen as a hindrance to personal fulfillment and career advancement. So, for example, the South Korean government’s Family Minister Chung Hyun-Back – the official tasked with addressing her country’s population crisis – is herself a childless 64-year-old woman who chose to remain single so she could pursue her career goals. She sees the problem as being one of discrimination and excessive work demands. Women who take maternity leave are often pressured to resign, rather than return, because companies find it problematic to accommodate their time away. And, when women have children and a career the statistics show that their husbands are not carrying the same load at home as they are. Thus women feel pressured to choose either a career or children. And more and more are choosing careers. Chung’s solution is to increase the accommodations companies make for mothers, and to push for more help at home from husbands and fathers. She doesn’t want women making a different choice – to choose children as a more important priority than career – but wants them to be able to do both. But is this realistic? In the real world we have only so many hours in the day. We recognize this limitation means that if the CEO of Apple also wanted to be the CEO of Microsoft – if he knew he had the talents and interest needed – time simply wouldn’t permit him to hold two full-time careers at once. So why do many think that time allows for both a committed career outside the home, and committed parenting inside it? It's only because the world has so belittled the importance of parenting that we've come to believe it can be done on a part-time basis, or handed off to daycare workers and schoolteachers. But deep down, even the world knows a choice is involved, because justice simply can’t be done to both roles. If both mom and dad are at the office or on their way to and from it for 9-10 hours a day, who’s caring for little Timmy after school? And when mom and dad get home, which parent is going to have the energy to listen patiently, correct lovingly, and seize teaching opportunities enthusiastically in those short hours that remain before the children head to bed? Maybe some do have that energy reserve, but for most of us this is why doing both isn't an option – not if we understand how important the parenting role is. That means that if South Korea and the West want to address their coming demographic crisis, then they need to stop pushing the impossibility of both. Instead the world needs to elevate the role of parenting, honoring it as a task worthy of our energies, our intellect, and our passion. It is challenge to take on that demands much but offers its rewards too. Christians also need to remember that raising children is no part-time gig, and no trivial pursuit. God has given parents the task of being our child’s primary educator, their disciplinarian, and their example of godly living. Raising them up in the ways of the Lord is quite the challenge but also quite the opportunity. Finances don’t always allow for one parent to stay at home. Divorce and death sometimes take one parent away. And when our kids head to school, then there might be time for parents to take on additional roles. But if we recognize parenting as the God-given calling it is, then we’ll understand that having a parent readily available to meet our children’s needs is an ideal worth pursuing....
Chip and Joanna Gaines and global warming
When Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines announced earlier this month that they were pregnant with child number five, the congratulations rolled in. Thousands of encouraging messages flooded the home-improvement-show hosts’ Twitter and Facebook pages. But over at CBC.ca there was one voice of dissent, notable for the objection she raised. In her article “It shouldn’t be taboo to criticize parents for having too many kids” Kristen Pyszczyk characterized the Gaines’ decision to have baby #5 as “a choice that affects everyone who inhabits our planet.” Yes, she was making the case that, due to the threat of climate change, the Gaines’ newest little one shouldn’t be seen as a blessing: “Procreation is becoming a global public health concern, rather than a personal decision. So when people do irresponsible things like having five children, we absolutely need to be calling them out.” Pyszczyk gets some facts wrong – she claims that “populations are multiplying exponentially” and they simply aren’t. But Christians don’t need to know the latest statistics to see through her argument. We just need to know our Bibles. It’s there we find that procreation isn’t a “public heath concern” and large families aren’t a problem. Children are a blessing, not a curse (Ps. 113:9, Ps. 127:3-5, Deut. 7:13, Gen. 48:4, etc.) But what of the increasing numbers of mouths to feed that Pyszczyk is worried about? Well, her worldview blinds her to the full truth. Yes, children come with their own carbon footprint, and a mouth that needs filling, but they also come with two hands to work, and a brain to dream up innovations. And as Solomon teaches us, we can “sharpen” one another (Prov. 27:17). Why have we seen so many technological leaps this past century? Because we have more minds on the planet than ever before, and that means all the more opportunities for one to sharpen another. We are not just consumers but producers and innovators too. The reason this matters is because Pyszczyk’s short-sighted “children as a concern” narrative isn’t just a minor mistake. This perspective has been a major justification for abortion, which, over the last half century, has killed hundreds of millions. So it’s vital, then, that we teach the world to see children as God sees them. We can do that by congratulating families, like the Gaines, who are blessed with growing families, and we can do so by, when God allows, embracing that blessing ourselves....
Overpopulation is a myth, and we should have known
While overpopulation fears aren't causing the same panic they once did, this bogeyman hasn't disappeared entirely. The United Nations still has their Population Fund, advising nations on how to handle, as their mandate puts it, "population problems." While China has moved away from a One-Child-Policy – couples were fined, or even forced to have abortion if they had a second child – the government still has a Two-Child Policy. And while India's Supreme Court shut down that country's mass sterilization camps just this past year, the country is still committed to population control. So why does the myth persist? Two reasons: Most aren't familiar with the current state of the world. We don't hear about how things are improving, and how poverty is decreasing even as population is growing. Many still trust these doom and gloom prophets because they aren't familiar with the predictions that were made back in the 60's and 70s. The younger generation, especially, doesn't understand just how outrageously and how disastrously wrong these experts were. The world today Last year Japan’s birthrate fell below 1 million for the first time, while 1.3 million deaths were recorded. Since 2010 Japan’s population has shrunk by approximately 1.2 million (or roughly 1%). And they aren’t the only country shrinking; Russia has roughly 4 million less citizens than it had in 1995. We can see in Europe that population has leveled off, with deaths exceeding births for the first time in 2015, so growth is due only to immigration, not procreation. In Canada, too, we are not having children at replacement levels – whereas we would need 2.1 children born per woman to maintain a stable population (this number is slightly over 2, to account for children who don’t survive childhood), our birthrate is only 1.6. The United States, Australia, and the Western world in general are all under 2. There are problems that come with this, as an aging population doesn't have enough young people to care for it. The overall world population does continue to grow, with the growth focussed primarily in the developing world. For example, Africa's population has just passed 1.2 billion, up from roughly half that in 1990. But even as world’s population increases, we’ve seen not a shortage of food, but an increase in our ability to feed the planet. And poverty continues to decline worldwide – by one measure, extreme poverty has been more than halved over the last 30 years, even as the population has grown from 5 billion to more than 7 billion. Starvation does still occur, but that is due more to government corruption and war than to an inability to produce enough. The predictions of the past But how can things be getting better even as the world population increases? As one of the best-known population alarmists, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, noted, a finite planet cannot sustain infinite growth – at some point the Earth is going to run out of food, room, and resources. That seems to be a matter of basic math. And it's this basic math that had Ehrlich make this prediction in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb: "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate..." People under 40 may not understand the scope of the disaster population alarmists were predicting. Ehrlich said England wouldn't exist by the year 2,000 – this was end-of-the-world-type rhetoric, and people were taking it seriously. This New York Times video does a good job of capturing just how scared people were. https://youtu.be/W8XOF3SOu8I Clearly Ehrlrich was wrong. But to many it is less than clear as to why. One reason is a revolution in agriculture that was deemed "the Green Revolution." Even as Ehrlich was making his doom and gloom predictions, an American innovator, Dr. Norman Borlaug, was developing new strains of wheat and new farming techniques that dramatically increased crop yield. As Henry Miller wrote in Forbes: "How successful were Borlaug’s efforts? From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland." Ehrlich was about as wrong as wrong can be. The world has not ended; things have dramatically improved. And lest we attribute it simply to luck – Norman Borlaug just happening to come around just when we needed him to save us from disaster – we need to view this from a Christian perspective. Ehrlich, and population alarmists viewed each new baby as being a drain on the planet. They didn't see them as human beings given a task to develop the planet. They didn't recognize that while each human being does come with a mouth that needs to be fed, we are also gifted by our Creator with a brain, and with two hands, with which we can produce. We not only consume, we create (and in doing so reflect our Creator God). That's how more people can mean more, not less, resources - that's why food production has gone up, and poverty down, even as population continues to rise. Not just wrong but dangerous Overpopulation alarmism isn't just wrong, it's dangerous. This end-of-the-world rhetoric had a role in the Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion in America. It has been used to justify government-funded abortion, forced sterilizations, and actions like China’s One-Child Policy, and now Two-Child Policy, under which tens of millions of Chinese babies have been aborted, many against their parents' wishes. Meanwhile, in Africa, where the population is growing, the first annual Africa-China Conference on Population and Development was just held in Kenya and hosted by the Chinese government and the United Nations Population Fund. Mercatornet.com’s Shannon Roberts shared how some of the speakers pointed to China’s coercive population controls as worthy of imitation. And at least one Kenyan media outlet thought that wasn’t such a bad idea. The Daily Nation commented: “With a controlled population, the Chinese economy boomed, benefiting from cheap labour from its many people and rising to be the second largest after the United States. Should Kenyans do the same?” Population controls are not just a problem of the past – they exist and are still being advocated for today. That's why we need to bury the overpopulation bogeyman once and for all, before it kills millions more. Christians falling short The Bible doesn't speak to all issues with the same degree of clarity. But when it comes to the population alarmism, God couldn’t be clearer: children are not a curse to be avoided but a blessing to be received (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 9:7, Prov. 17:6, Ps. 127:3-5, Ps. 113:9, etc.). Back already in the 1960s Christians could have spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, based on the clarity of these texts. And some did. But the Church is so often impacted by what we hear from the world around us. We let ourselves be muted, we let ourselves become uncertain. We start to ask, "Did God really say?" And then, like the watchman on the wall who failed to give warning (Ez. 33:6) we become responsible for the deaths we might have been able to prevent, if we'd only spoken out. It's back? While the overpopulation hysteria has died down in recent years, this bogeyman is primed for a resurrection. Global warming and concerns about CO2 emissions have some questioning "Should we be having kids in the age of climate change?" The argument, so it goes, is that people can't help but have some sort of carbon footprint, so the only sure way of reducing carbon emissions is to have less people on the planet. Once again we are being urged to have "one and be done." Once again children are being portrayed as a problem rather than as a blessing. The Bible doesn't address climate change as clearly as it does overpopulation alarmism, but what we can be certain of is this: obedience to God is not going to destroy our planet. While obeying God doesn't always lead to a smooth life for Christians here on Earth – following God can lead to a loss of friends, or business opportunities, or result in persecution – when we as a society turn to God then prosperity follows. Then we end slavery, open hospitals, develop Science, create industry. This obedience doesn't even need to be of the heart-felt sort to still reap benefits – even unbelievers, when they follow God's commands for marriage, sex, and parenting will have better results (for a book-length treatment of this thought, see Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World). Our disobedience can be destructive – our self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, and hatred can cause real harm. But not our obedience. That's why the begetting of many children is not something we need feel guilty about, or refrain from, out of concern for the climate. We can be certain that the world’s doom will not be caused by us, in obedience, listening to God and having children. God has spoken out against overpopulation alarmism, so we need to. The next time you hear someone talking about overpopulation, point them to the Bible and share how spectacularly incorrect all the doom and gloom predictions have been. We need to bury this bogeyman....