What if half the world were sterilized?

In the New York Times, David Brooks wrote a speculative piece about what would happen if there were some kind of crazy solar activity that caused the instant and immediate sterilization of everyone who was on the side of the planet facing the sun at the time.

Ignoring the likelihood that we’re in deep doo-doo because presumably all of our domestic animals such as cattle, chicken, and pigs are now also sterile, Brooks goes into speculating what would happen if it happened to be the US side of the world at the time. Bascially he comes to the conclusion that society would almost immediately collapse, because people would cease to have any interest in the future. (I could quote from the article, but it’s not very long, so go ahead and follow the link.)

Let me state up front that I childless, beyond child-bearing, and have never had any interest in having a child. I am also a liberal and something of an idealist, and while I would certainly go farther to protect my own family and friends than to protect strangers, I’ve never been one to view big issues on the basis of how they would affect me and mine more than how they would affect the nation as a whole, or even the people of the world as a whole. That strikes me as a fairly liberal viewpoint, and Brooks is, although moderate, a conservative.

But it seems to me that he misreads the situation. People of all ages would still be alive and unharmed, from the elderly to babes in arms. They might not be able to directly reproduce, but they could still raise their children, and they could still raise children from elsewhere. Immigrants would stream in at whatever rate our laws allowed, and those would almost certainly be relaxed to allow more as our current population decreased.

When I view posterity, I view it as people, not just my own descendants. And if I’d been a parent, I think I still would have; my own kids would obviously have been more important to me than others, but I’d still think in terms of everyone. Otherwise, why would I give a darn about environmental issues? I’m 53, and I not only have no children, I have no nieces or nephews. Basically, my “blood” interest in the future is non-existent; I’m the youngest of my cousins on either side, and have very little aquaintance with the next generation. I haven’t any friends who are or have children. But I care about the future very much.

So what do you think, Dopers? Would sudden mass sterilization of the Western Hemisphere lead to near immediate social collapse? Or would people continue to care about the future anyway?

I have to leave the discussion for a while, so please pardon me if I don’t get back for a few hours.

One thing that David Brooks overlooked is that pretty well every country has an expatriate population. So if, for example, every person in the US becomes sterile, that doesn’t mean every American becomes sterile, because there are always Americans living in, or just visiting, countries on the other side of the world.

Massive increase in cloning research would be one of my bets.

The men or the women?

Children of Men has a similar premise and posits that the social order would break down if people realized that they lived only for themselves.

Considering how worried many people are about the environmental future of our plant - overpopulation, water scarcity, etc. - and therefore the future of our species, I very honestly think that making half the population suddenly sterile would IMPROVE my outlook on the future.

There are billions of us. The world population is going up almost exponentially. That’s not sustainable as is.

From a world standpoint, I absolutely agree. In fact, I’ll go further and say that in many ways, it would be preferable for it to be our (the US) half of the population to be sterilized, since perhaps the replacement population wouldn’t be accustomed to as high a stand of living in terms of resource use as we are. On the other hand, I don’t really believe that there’s any significant difference in people, so it’s quite possible that the new Americans would be as big resource hogs as we have been.

njtt, it’s both men and women in a geographical area.

Giles, I don’t think the ex-pat population would be sufficient to maintain American culture, just as I don’t think there could be enough adoptions to maintain American culture exactly as it is (as if this would happen even without sterilizing everyone). American culture would change somewhat, because the percentage of new immigrants would inevitably rise. But I don’t think there’d be total breakdown, because I think the Americans still living don’t work and obey the law soley because of a sense of their personal posterity. I’m sure that enters into it for some, but I don’t think its absence would eliminate the desire to create or to live in a pleasant society.

I’d predict a big increase in STDs.

I’d expect major increases in immigration, combined with a major push to indoctrinate the immigrants in American culture. Which I expect to have the opposite effect and further the disintegration/disappearance of American culture, by making it perceived as something being forced down people’s throats.

And as said above; a hefty push for cloning research. Probably strongly opposed by the believers, a major faction of which I expect will say that the disaster is a punishment from God for America’s evil ways and we shouldn’t do anything but pray for forgiveness. Abortion, liberals and gays will figure heavily in why God did it, naturally.

Perhaps, marshmallow, but a HUGE decrease in unwanted and teen pregnancies.

I’m not sure you’re right there, Der Trihs. I suspect there’s a good sized overlap between deeply religious people and people who feel that the world is worthless if they themselves have not personally reproduced. I could be wrong, since I’m neither.

There’s a slight difference between a hemisphere no longer able to reproduce and all human life not being able to. Even if one never intended to have children watching the human race die out is kinda depressing.

Yes, that would be totally different.

I think there’d be a free for all land grab ala colonization style. New immigrants would come in ever increasing numbers to replace an aging workforce, they’d group together as first generation immigrants often do and as the old get older areas with distinct ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural differences will form their own republics.

I doubt there’d be an Argentina much less a United States in 100 years.