Not sure if anyone else noted this story in The New York Times early this week: “Fearing Future, China Starts to Give Girls Their Due.” The piece says the powers that be in China just might be considering a shift from the controversial one-child policy (enacted in the 1970s to help control population growth) to a two-child policy. Why? Well, for one, there’s a grave shortage of girls in the country, due to selective abortion (or worse):

In early January, the government announced that the nationwide ratio had reached 119 boys for every 100 girls. Studies show that the average rate for the rest of the world is about 105 boys for every 100 girls. Demographers predict that in a few decades China could have up to 40 million bachelors unable to find mates.

These figures may bring to mind some sort of hideous plot for a reality show. (Oh, wait, isn’t that a tautologous statement? Someone throw me a bone.) But the dismal issues of selective abortion and female infanticide aside, the story also hints at a topic being discussed in other parts of the world, too, one that ought to concern environmentalists but hasn’t received much attention thus far in the United States: Does there come a point at which declines in fertility rates advance too far? The Times piece alludes to a “looming baby bust” in China. Who will provide for the country’s “rapidly aging population”?

How scary that the world’s most populous country might be considering — never mind enacting — policies to encourage people to have more kids. While such a possibility may be a ways off in China, the discussion has been more fully joined in parts of Europe.  I just returned from a trip with three French citizens, progressives all, who voiced deep concern that their country’s population was leveling off. They talked with passion about the need for France and Europe as a whole to find a way to fuel population growth, whether through immigration or E.U. expansion or whathaveyou. Rather than celebrating success at approaching zero population growth or, better yet, a decreasing population — with all the imaginable pluses for resource consumption, CO2 emissions, and other forms of pollution — they focused on the need for population growth.

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I have greatly simplified the Times piece here (and also somewhat my friends’ perspective) to call attention, however inarticulately, to this underreported debate. Seems to me that environmentalists should be working furiously to show that a country with a declining population can still be competitive economically and provide a high level of social services (Scandinavian or French style). It’s beyond me at the moment to make this argument — I confess I’m new to the topic, too — but I wonder whether anyone out there can do so. Anyone? Anyone?

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