(CNSNews.com) - Having babies is bad for the planet, and parents of more than two children should be charged a birth levy and annual tax to offset the "greenhouse gases" their child will be responsible for over his or her lifetime.
At the same time, those who use and prescribe contraceptives and sterilization procedures should earn tax relief for such greenhouse friendly services" that help to keep the population size down.
These proposals, by an Australian academic, were published in the country's leading medical journal on Monday. They drew a sharp response from a pro-family group.
Australia has a population of around 21.2 million. It recorded 273,500 births over the year ending March 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported last September.
Although the total population increase (net migration and natural increase) was the highest to date, Australia's total fertility rate (the average number of babies born to women during the reproductive years of 15-44) has been dropping steadily for decades, from 3.5 in 1961 to 1.76 this year.
In 2004, former Prime Minister John Howard's government announced a drive to counter the declining birthrate, urging parents to aim for three children, and offering families a financial incentive that currently stands at around $3,670.
But to Barry Walters, clinical associate professor of obstetric medicine at the University of Western Australia, that undermines the campaign to fight global warming.
"Every newborn baby in Australia represents a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions for an average of 80 years, not simply by breathing, but by the profligate consumption of resources typical of our society," he wrote in an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia Monday.
"Far from showering financial booty on new mothers and thereby rewarding greenhouse-unfriendly behavior, a 'Baby Levy' in the form of a carbon tax should apply, in line with the 'polluter pays' principle," he argued.
Walters said Australian parents who have more than an agreed number of children -- he cited a population-limitation advocacy group as suggesting a ceiling of two -- should pay the cost of planting trees to offset the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) the additional children will produce. (Trees absorb CO2, which along with other greenhouse gases is often blamed for climate change.)
He calculated that a birth levy of around $4,380 (5,000 Australian dollars) would cover the cost of purchasing the land needed and planting the trees required to offset one lifetime's worth of CO2. An additional annual tax of $350-$700 would cover maintenance of the forest.
Walters said medical practitioners had a responsibility to point out the environmental consequences of having children.
"By the same reasoning, contraceptives, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, condoms and sterilization procedures should attract carbon credits for the user and the prescriber that would offset their income taxes, and lead to rewards for family planning clinics and hospitals that provide such greenhouse-friendly services," he said.
Walters implied that the controversial population-control policies in place in China and India should be emulated.
"As citizens of this world, I believe we deserve no more population concessions than those in India and China."
'Enormous value of human capital'
Another Australian academic, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia in response to Walters' article, agreed with his arguments.
"One must wonder why population control, which was such a popular topic during the 1970s, is spoken of today only in whispers," said Garry Egger, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Research in Sydney.
"The debate needs to be reopened as part of a second ecological revolution," he said. "Doctors, as opinion leaders in the community, must be at the forefront of this debate."
Australian Family Association spokeswoman Angela Conway said Walters arguments were "skewed and simplistic."
He fails to isolate the real reasons why we are failing to manage our environment well," she said Monday. "He fails to recognize the enormous value of human capital
to long economic and environmental sustainability. He fails to put an appropriate value on human family life to society."
Conway said traditional societies that value children were more likely to seek economic and ecological sustainability because they want to steward the environment for future generations.
"Real solutions always come from human ingenuity and inventiveness," she said. "Children are the wellspring for society's human capital."
"Perhaps the children the professor would ban will be the ones who would have planted the urban forests, and successfully integrated trees back into farming on a large scale," she said. "Perhaps these children will be the ones who might have creatively developed sustainable new technologies and systems. Perhaps they will be the ones to reject the economic and cultural systems that underpin the profligate consumption of the developed world."
Conway said she found it sad that Walters would see China's population control policies as appropriate for Australia.
"Does he make this recommendation in ignorance of the terrible and large scale human rights abuses carried out under that policy over the last few decades?" she asked.
Under population policies instituted in the 1970s, China restrict couples to one child, with exceptions for some ethnic minorities and in some parts of the country. The policy, which carries punitive fines for violators, has led to abuses including coercive abortions and forced sterilization, researchers say.
In a society where boys are traditionally favored and valued for their future help to ageing parents, another result of the "one-child" policy is the abortion of unwanted baby girls, leading to a badly-skewed gender ratio.
Attempts to reach Walters for comment were unsuccessful.
Having Babies Seen As 'Patriotic Duty' in Australia (May 12, 2004)
China's Abusive Population Policies in the Spotlight Again (Sept. 20, 2005)
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