California has 39 million people in it. Our arbitrary planning horizon is 2050. In 2050, California is projected to have 60 million people in it. Growth in California is primarily from births (deaths and immigration are roughly even, pg 3). Obviously we value high individual autonomy in decisions as personal as procreation. But here’s something you might not know. A little under half the births in California are from unintended pregnancies (“women got pregnant sooner than they wanted, had not wanted to get pregnant then or in the future, or weren’t sure what they wanted”). Those are live births, not pregnancies.
Most people who do work on this stuff talk about the effects of unintended children on the parents. Here, I am going to speak to the resource costs of that population increase. I’d like to give you some equivalencies.
California has, roughly, 550,000 live births a year.
Of those, roughly, 46% were unintended. You know where this is going.
Every year, this state adds 253,000 kids whose parents did not want them then.
253,000 people is more than the City of Modesto, added every single year. If they follow usual urban water use patterns (which maybe they wouldn’t as young children, but the delay is likely only 15 years or so), that many people would use 63,000 acrefeet of water a year. That is the size of most medium-sized dams in the state (although not the yield of every dam in the state, because dams have a dead pool). Every single year. For kids whose parents didn’t want to have them at that point.
If you project out to 2050*, the size gets staggering. By 2050, the difference from not having any unwanted children would be about 9 million people. In 2050, I am sure that water managers would be very grateful if they only have to supply water to 50 million people instead of 60 million people. The difference is the population of the Bay Area plus the San Fernando Valley. It is twenty city of Fresnos. Now you are talking water volumes roughly on the order of Oroville Dam, or California’s share of the Colorado River, or what you could get if agriculture shrinks by a third. Addressing population directly is non-trivial.
When you are talking about climate change and emissions, the story is even starker. Every person consumes water and every person causes greenhouse gas emissions, but greenhouse gas emissions have a cumulative effect that matter over time. Greenhouse gases emitted now hurt us more than greenhouse gases emitted in five years. In the year 2050, delayed emissions means less sea level rise, slightly cooler nights, slightly larger snowpacks. Averted people would reduce emissions, but even postponed people would help.
This stuff gets brought up awkwardly at meetings, then we all retreat. But controlling population has profound implications for California’s resource use and climate. We should face it head on.
*There must be all sorts of problems projecting out to 2050. Presumably some of the kids who aren’t wanted in this year become wanted in future years as the parents’ circumstances change. On the other hand, there’s a generation and a half between now and 2050, and all the kids averted now will have no future kids. I will do the grossest of simplifications and hope that no demographers are reading. Thus:
(Population in 2050 – Population now)(Percent of births that are unwanted) = Number of people who shouldn’t exist in California in 2050
(59 million people – 39 million people)(0.46) = 9.2 million averted people in 2050
Look, I’m sure this is wrong. But I could be very wrong and it would still be staggering. If I am wrong by two, you are still talking 4.6 million people. If I’m off by an order of magnitude, you are still talking about a million people. If you ask any water manager in the state if he wants to find water for an extra million people, the answer will be NO.