ACCORDING to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the birth rate in England and Wales has fallen to a record low since records began in 1938 – 11.1 live births per 1,000 people in 2018, down from 11.6 in 2017. 

There were 657,076 live births in 2018, a decrease of 3.2 per cent since 2017 and 9.9 per cent down on 2012, leaving the fertility rate in England and Wales at 1.7 children per woman, a 3.4 per cent decrease against 2017 in a six-year trend.

The news comes at a time when fears are being expressed about the negative effect on the human ‘carbon footprint’ of having children, echoed by Prince Harry’s pledge not to have more than two. 

According to Justine Roberts, chief executive of the online forum Mumsnet, an increasing number of its users have voiced concerns about ‘environmentally friendly parenting’. Blythe Pepino, founder of Birthstrike and member of Extinction Rebellion, sees the answer to environmental ‘crisis’ as not having children at all – maybe she will be starting a website called Mumsnot.

Presumably Ms Pepino will be celebrating the declining birth rate, as well as the record number of abortions in England and Wales. Presumably too the fact that the number of stillbirths has also declined – reaching a record low for the second consecutive year, with 4.1 per 1,000 births – will be a cause for gloom, as must any news about lives being saved.

We are already hearing demands to legalise abortion in all circumstances, and perhaps we should also cease investing in new medicines and treatments, instead devoting the money to devising new ways of carrying out euthanasia on the elderly and unwanted. We could respond to calls for famine relief by sending truckloads of contraceptives, close all the hospitals, sack the police, fire and ambulance services, and applaud when people throw themselves off cliffs and high bridges. We could give public service medals to murderers, and instead of birthday greetings we could send ‘In sympathy’ cards.

As Julian Jessop of the Institute of Economic Affairs points out, ‘there is a long tradition of scare stories about overpopulation’. But he says Thomas Malthus, the English cleric who warned in 1798 that the ‘power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence for man’ was wrong because he underestimated human ingenuity’s scope to transform agriculture and increase food supply.

Jessop points out that since 1800, the global population has soared from one billion to nearly eight billion, but living standards have hugely improved, and says that linking population growth to climate change makes much the same mistakes. Reducing the number of people might ease some pressures on the environment, but there are more effective ways to help, therefore ‘smaller families will not save the planet’. Indeed, he argues that smaller families will cost the nation more as increasing numbers of old people are left without family support.

He might have added that cutting the number of people who jet around the world lecturing the poor on the perils of over-consumption might reduce the carbon footprint much more effectively than making people feel guilty for having too many children. But judging by the newfound enthusiasm for Malthusian misery and the readiness to listen to the prophets of doom about the perils of over-eating, we are becoming gluttons for punishment.

Given the new pessimism, it seems logical to reduce the numbers of babies, who consume very little in return for all the joy that they give. The best things in life may be free but are regarded as worthless because they are scorned by those with enough money to buy up the Earth and indeed put right its problems. For them, the problem is not people but other people, and it is this attitude that is the problem, because it is people, not pessimism, that make prosperity.

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