Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men was rather deft about playing the explanation game. There was this huge catastrophe–worldwide female sterility–yet the movie was not overtaken by the mystery of how it happened. Today, I came across a passage in The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken that offered a possible source for PD James’ (author of the novel) story. Even though James pinned the blame on women, (Or maybe it was just the characters’ points-of-view?), I can’t help but wonder if this 1992 study on male fertility done at the University of Copenhagen was on his mind. Here’s the a key passage from it:
data on semen quality collected systematically from reports published world wide indicate clearly that sperm density has declined appreciably during 1938-90, although we cannot conclude whether or not this decline is continuing…Such remarkable changes in semen quality…over a relatively short period is more probably due to environmental rather than genetic factors.
E Carlsen, A Giwercman, N Keiding, NE Skakkebaek – BMJ: British Medical Journal, 1992 – pubmedcentral.nih.gov
And here’s the passage from The Ecology of Commerce (pp. 42-43) that brought my attention to it:
The decline in male fertility, which has been called “remarkable” by Professor Niels Skakkebaek of Copenhagen University, is based on the review of sixty-one papers and studies covering 15,000men around the world between the years 1938 and 1990. Professor Skakkebaek suspects the cause to be environmental factors, because the drops have been accompanied by an equally dramatic increase in genito-urinary abnormalities and testicular cancer. in wildlife, these chemicals [organochlorines] cause decreased fertility, behavioral abnormalities, compromised immune systems, and monstrous defects, such as fish born with both male and female sex organs but incapable of reproduction.
Aside from switching to boxers and not riding bicycles too often, we should probably work towards limiting the use of chlorines that can easily become harmful organochlorines, if we’re interested in giving ‘our boys’ a fighting chance. As uplifting as the second half of this trailer tries to be, I don’t think I want to live in such a world where babies aren’t being born.