Same problem, same solution, same mistake.
Once upon a time, many decades ago, the Chinese Communist Party faced a looming environmental and humanitarian catastrophe in the making.
It was on the near horizon, directly and immediately threatening to upend lives and progress, endangering the very survival of the Chinese people as a whole and every person on the continent.
Looking around at the enormous and ever growing Chinese population, under the dark sway of dire growth predictions that made central planners weak at the knee, officials faced disaster so certain as to warrant any action to avoid it.
Overpopulation represented an intolerable, “strain the country’s welfare systems and state-planned economy,” as NPR delicately put it.
How could China support so many people? Feed so many people?
The solution seemed obvious from the moment the first vapors hit terrified government officials contemplating a future of exponential growth multiplied by exponential growth.
They were right, of course: Compounded interest is the eighth wonder of the modern world. Given a little time, exponential rate increases verge on the miraculous.
Chinese Communist Party officials were facing a scenario of compounded human interest, where a family has four children, and those four children have four children, and those 16 children have four children, and those 64 children have four children, and those 256 children have four children, and those 1,024 children have four children, 4,096; 16,384; 65,536; 262,144; 1,048,576; 4,194,304; 16,777,216. And then it starts getting really hairy.
Try it and see how fast you get to a billion, and how fast you get to number like 6.87195e10.
That’s a lot of people.
One family, 240 years or so, optimistically; 16 million people, give or take.
Only one solution presented itself. To stave off this incoming fiasco of overpopulation, and the deaths of millions of Chinese people by starvation, the Chinese Communist Party did something drastic.
That the one child policy resulted in human rights violations like forced abortion and sterilization, violence against women, the femicide of infant girls, and other tragedies is almost impossible to dispute.
Chinese women, like all Chinese people, are not currently at liberty to share their stories with the world at large- if those stories reflect poorly on the Chinese Communist Party in any way.
The most recent proof of this was the mysterious story of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai who disappeared for a time after accusing a top CCP official of sexually assaulting her, then reappeared to make a bizarre video recanting the whole story. Few in the tennis community have been assuaged by this and many still worry the young athlete may have recanted under duress.
If Chinese women were able to tell their stories of the One Child Policy, what would we learn? The first-hand accounts which have escaped CCP censorship have been harrowing enough, of heavily pregnant women desperately hiding from overzealous “Family Planning Officials.”
The One Child Policy was a human rights abuse by a well-meaning government trying to keep the population under control, to preserve resources and human life and avert an environmental disaster.
And it didn’t work.
The Chinese Communist Party, after decades of ruthlessly enforcing the draconian policy, abruptly abandoned it in 2015.
For all its good intentions and ends-justify-means brutality, the One Child Policy failed. It did not keep China’s birthrate in check. Worse, China is now managing major fallout from the policy as demographic crisis compounds demographic crisis.
Though the One Child Policy failed to control the population, the predicted doom of sustained explosive population growth, dearth of natural resources, and mass starvation never occurred.
The reason is simple: Though the CCP failed to control the population via the One Child Policy, it did, if inadvertently, discover what actually does inhibit population growth.
The old-fashioned method: Growing the middle class.
Growing the Chinese middle class naturally brought China’s population growth down to more manageable levels.
Historically and presently, as a population becomes wealthier, it naturally tends to have fewer and fewer children. Larger families are no longer necessary to work a sustenance farm, birth control methods become cheap and plentiful: The world over, it follows like night following day- poorer countries have very high birthrates; wealthier nations have low birthrates.
The One Child Policy failed because it penalized economically disadvantaged people- the middle and upper classes were already having fewer children- while failing to address the problem.
The One Child Policy didn’t bring Chinese families one inch closer to the middle class, and a naturally flattening birthrate. It didn’t work because it focused on addressing the symptom of the problem- high birthrate- rather than the root cause of that symptom- poverty.
“Carbon Offset Credits” are poised to do the same thing worldwide.
While the world’s elites, and wealthier nations, decide that the cheap and plentiful energy their nations used over the past two hundred years to grow a robust middle class, should not be available to today’s emerging nations, the strain on the environment we all share continues to grow exponentially.
If Bill Gates wants a global carbon tax, perhaps he and the other 10 wealthiest men in the world, who all doubled their wealth during covid, should take up a collection if they are that sure about the efficacy of carbon offset credits.
What the world’s global elites like Gates should be doing- counter-intuitive as it might seem to wealthy environmentalists- is pumping as much cheap and plentiful energy into emerging nations as possible, as quickly as possible. The sooner emerging nations become wealthy nations, the sooner birthrates will fall, resulting in fewer people and less strain on resources overall.
The longer wealthy nations prevent and inhibit emerging nations from growing their middle classes, the worse the environmental strain.
As much as it pains American liberals, there is no global authority, no international police force tasked with keeping each nation in compliance with sensible global environmental laws or enforcing a global carbon tax.
Nor is there ever likely to be one.
Who’s going to enforce it? Who’s going to submit to it?
For such to happen, each and every sovereign nation on earth would have to concede to a higher global authority.
Does that sound remotely likely? Do leaders like giving up their power? Does it seem likely for the citizens of every nation, every monarchy, democracy and republic, to concede their right to self-governance to a higher governing body?
For every wealthy nation that outlaws coal, there will be new coal mines opened everywhere from Australia to China. And plenty of countries lining up to sell coal to anyone who wants it.
Environmentalists have been battling corporate greed, the downsides of globalism, the exploitative side of capitalism since time immemorial.
They haven’t even been able to stop deforestation.
That’s a lot more straightforward than carbon offset credits.
Why hasn’t anyone been able to protect delicate ecosystems from deforestation? Because global environmental nonprofits work patiently with one nation’s government to ban clear-cut logging and pass legislation…and the foreign logging company or regional mining entity goes right over the border to a neighboring nation with fewer restrictions.
Same rain forest basin, or endangered animal habitat; same environmental destruction: Only over there instead of over here.
Without a global authority, carbon offset credits and other such strategies that address symptoms instead of root causes aren’t feasible; which is like saying, “without flying unicorns, these schematics for an air chariot aren’t feasible.”
It’s not that nothing can be done; it’s not letting perfection be the enemy of progress. It’s just that “carbon offset credits” is a boondoggle that won’t solve anything. Carbon offset credits are a way for the ultra-wealthy to assuage their consciences while continuing to consume as much cheap and plentiful energy as they wish.
Cutting emerging nations off from cheap and plentiful energy, or making it harder or more cost prohibitive to access it, will only set back the process of growing the middle class and alleviating stress on the environment.
Something can be done, and should be done painlessly, immediately and uncontroversially post-haste: Growing the middle class world-wide.
Why wait decades to find out carbon offset credits did nothing to save the environment or anything else? Growing the middle class has been proven to reduce stress on the environment and shared resources.
It has worked time and again since time immemorial.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)