Family Breakdown is an Environmental Issue

David Cameron raised this notion in his brilliant speech on population and demography.

That growth will come mainly from a combination of higher life expectancy and higher net immigration.

At the same time we are seeing another significant demographic change: the growth in household formation, partly caused by the increasing atomisation of our society.

And now Stuart Staniford is sounding the same alarm.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the most important step we can take to solve our peak oil/climate change problems is to improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles. This is likely to be vastly more effective in the near term than trying to ramp up public transit (at least in the US – the considerations are rather different in Europe and Asia).

But in this piece, I want to take on the societal change that seems to me to have the second most powerful potential to help us adapt to declining oil availability. This is particularly true if the declines turn out to be larger than increased fuel efficiency alone can manage. I’m going to argue that if we put our minds to it, there is potential for us as a society to increase the average size of households again, by both promoting the stability of nuclear families and promoting extended families living together under one roof.

Staniford is more pessimistic than I am. For example,

Before we go on, I’d just like to stress that I’m not advocating encouraging larger families by increasing the birth rate. That would be directly counter-productive. Instead, I’m advocating encouraging the existing families to cluster together more, so that fewer houses are required to house the same number of people.

I actually don’t think encouraging larger families is “counter-productive,” but I’ve inched away slightly from my militant pro-natalism. I still think the arguments were right, but I suppose I have a renewed appreciation of anti-statist arguments.