KIE Scholar publishes paper on climate change and population ethics

In last month’s journal of Social Theory and Practice, Senior Research Scholar Rebecca Kukla published a paper titled “Whose Job is It to Fight Climate Change? A Response to Hickey, Reider, and Earl.”

The paper focuses on a recent publication Travis Rieder, a former postdoctoral fellow, co-authored with former KIE graduate fellows Colin Hickey and Jake Earl. Both papers were shared on popular podcast All Things Considered and aired nationally at a prime 4pm slot, and focused on a moral dilemma: how do we manage family size in a time of dangerous climate change?

In the initial paper, the group espouses a “small-family ethic” which takes seriously the colossal carbon-load implications of having children and suggests that bringing down global fertility by just half a child per woman would drastically affect how demographic change is impacting global carbon emissions.

In her response, Kukla challenges methods offered by the group for incentivizing small families, particularly a proposal that richer nations do away with tax breaks for having children and actually penalize new parents.

Here’s her opinion from the NPR article:

[Kukla] of Georgetown University worries about stigma, especially against poor and minority women. If cultural norms do change, she says, there could be a backlash against families with more children than is deemed socially appropriate.

Kukla appreciates that Rieder’s penalty on procreation would be progressive. But since it could not be so high as to be coercive, she says it would inevitably be unfair.

“What that will actually translate into is it becoming much easier for wealthy people to have children than for other people to have children,” Kukla says.

Read the full paper »