Population and climate change: Bend baby curve like Beckhams

On most days, people around the world admire the footprints of David Beckham. The supertalented British soccer star's maneuvers around and over flummoxed defenders populate many a YouTube video.

But for several years, Beckham and his family have been the targets of what the British charmingly call "campaigners" on global warming. These critics charge that the globe-traveling Beckhams' carbon footprint is a bane on human existence. And now they have fresh fuel for their furor: the birth of David and Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham's fourth child.

The news of another Beckham baby sent Simon Ross, head of Britain's Optimum Population Trust, into a tizzy. "The Beckhams, and others like London Mayor Boris Johnson, are very bad role models with their large families," Ross huffed. "There's no point in people trying to reduce their carbon emissions and then increasing them 100 percent by having another child."

Set aside Ross' appallingly bad math. The most that one more child in the Beckham household could do to their carbon footprint is increase it by one-sixth. His boorish intrusion into the private lives of public figures is enough to make a paparazzo blush.

But Ross has plenty of sympathizers. They're deadly serious in proposing to rein in what they see as teeming overpopulation.

These elites embrace domestic proposals such as limiting tax breaks for any but the first or second child. The global- warming pinch is just the latest in a long string of rationales for such proposals. From the 1950s on, concerns about population growth, water shortages and famine have driven Western nations to adopt policies promoting abortion, sterilization and other reproductive interventions around the globe.

Just last month, global- warming enthusiast Al Gore championed the "ubiquitous availability of fertility management" as a solution to population-driven pollution. Truth is, there hardly could be more access. U.S. spending on international population projects, as on so many other fronts, has soared. But the sharpest impacts of this ethos often are felt in developed nations.

Today, astonishingly low birth rates prevail in countries across Europe. Scan the CIA World Factbook's list of 35 nations with fertility rates below replacement level, and nearly 85 percent turn out to be in Europe.

Embracing the darkest visions of the "population bomb" movement, many nations in the West saw their proposed solutions detonate on their own shores. The role of declining population in making their social contracts unaffordable receives too little attention in the debt and deficit debates. Borrowing from our children while we refuse to have very many of them in the first place would be a delicious irony if it were not such bitter fruit.

Even the United States, ever so quietly in the throes of recession, has seen its total fertility rate sag below replacement level once again.

Americans' natural optimism has for decades kept us from following the rest of the developed world into one-child-per- couple territory. But the "optimum pop" people are relentless. They want mandatory "free" contraceptives in every U.S. insurance plan, non-negotiable federal dollars for Planned Parenthood and more support for abortion globally.

They're willing to slur and slander the David and Victoria Beckhams of the world for loving and wanting to have children. The irony is that the population curve they so deplore is in fact bending toward zero. It takes a brave set of parents who are willing to defy the crowd and — like the Beckhams — bend it back.

Donovan is a senior research fellow in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation; Web site: