Pronatalism’s Role in Reaching a Global Environmental Tipping Point

Last post I talked about the pronatal “Right to Reproduce” Assumption in The Baby Matrix.  Results of a two year scientific analysis that has just come out leads right to another pronatal Assumption I take  on – I call it the “Offspring” Assumption. First a bit on the sobering analysis:

A group of international scientists report that the Earth is in a “critical transition,” and reaching a “tipping point” when it comes to irreversible destruction of the global environment.

What are the problems that are bringing the mounting pressure on the Earth’s environmental health? “Unchecked population growth, the disappearance of critical plant and animal species, the over-exploitation of energy resources, and the rapidly warming climate.”

And if it continues the way it’s been going, according to the lead scientist Anthony Barnosky, the Earth could reach this tipping point at a “time scale of a century or even a few decades.”

To slow or reverse the critical transition we are in, the scientists urge “international cooperation to slow population growth, curb dependence on fossil fuels, increase the efficiency of food production, and manage both lands and oceans as reservoirs of biodiversity.”

What do we need more of at an individual level? When it comes to decisions to bring more children into the world, as David Paxson, President of World Population Balance, insightfully puts it, we have to come to terms with the fact that we are now in a time where “a person’s biological right to have children must be mediated by his or her social responsibility not to have too many.”

As the Offspring Assumption chapter in my book discusses, given the population and environmental realities we face, it is time to challenge pronatalist beliefs that “biological is best” and that we all have the right to have as many biological children as we want.

We need to shift from a mindset that adulates the birth if another child, to one that hold couples who choose to adopt, or have one or no biological child in the highest regard. Why? Because they are doing their part to mitigate the catastrophic impact of a rapidly growing population on resource decline, rather than what they might personally want first.

What needs rethinking? The supposed problems with having only one child, negative myths surrounding adopting, and policies that encourage births, rather than incentivizing reduction in biological births.

Pronatal Offspring Assumptions are beliefs that lead to behaviors that harm society and our natural environment. Each person’s existence has an environmental impact, which affects other humans and other species. It is up to all of us to make reproductive decisions that lessen that impact.

It’s time, way over due in fact, to adopt mindsets that encourage the environmental health of the Earth and all the beings already on it.

As always, share your thoughts!

9 thoughts on “Pronatalism’s Role in Reaching a Global Environmental Tipping Point

  1. I think sparing the planet is a perfectly good reason to be childfree if that’s where you’re leaning, although it’s not a totally decisive reason for me.

    For one thing, I would choose to be childfree even if having kids was GOOD for the planet. Even if somehow my kids would reduce my carbon footprint, I still wouldn’t have any. So, I can’t claim any credit for trying to save the planet.

    Besides, if you don’t have children you can still use up just as many resources as you would with kids. You’d have to try really hard, and it may not be absolutely possible, but you could probably still be force of environmental devastation even without children.

    Being childfree is not a free pass to be an extravagant consumer. Sometimes in childfree forums I detect a hint of eco-smugness whenever the subject of environmentalism comes up. More people being childfree could help the world, but it’s not necessarily decisive.

    1. Scott, You may not be saving the planet but you are not bringing another person onto it who will create their own carbon footprint over the course of their lifetime. When it comes to carbon emissions, researchers like Paul Murtaugh talk about how unsustainability levels multiply with every addition to every generation. He purports that one is responsible for the carbon emissions of his/her descendants–1/2 the emissions of their children, 1/4 emissions of their grandchildren and so on. You are not contributing to that!

  2. Nature always wins. As it turns out, those nations who’ve historically had the greatest per capita consumption are falling below replacement or nearly so. Those who were the up and comers are falling short due to the Great Recession. We’ve probably peaked in terms of energy consumption and pollution output. The rest of the 21st Century ought to be an unusual situation culminating in global population decline. Great War and pathogens may greatly accelerate the decline. While all of this may give the pro-natalist impetus to shout “increase and multiply” to foment an attempted counter trend, the macro economic environment will not allow it.

    In any case, all of us are ahead of our time. The issues we are dealing with and the late life plans we are making are things the multitudes will blunder into much later.

    1. Many would argue that we have not seen the peak of energy consumption and pollution output – not as long as the population keeps rising at the rate that it is– I too also read a lot about how experts foresee see population decline — as a result of war over resources and disease from all the toxins. etc. I am not a population expert, and the issues are complex, but am blown away by what I read from those who are, and how so many put human birth reduction as key to slowing the tipping point these recent scientists are talking about…even with lower birth rates in the U.S. for example, to get to long term sustainable resource levels, our population Definitely needs to reduce.

  3. My husband and I don’t have (or want) children of our own, and while the environmental angle isn’t the reason why, it’s nice to know that our choice will leave more resources for other people to use!

    One organization that’s working to both educate people on the impact of a growing population and advocate for greater access to voluntary family planning is Population Connection, at

    1. Amy, Thanks for the link to Population Connection…it is a great organization that has been around awhile, through periods since the 70s when population has been talked about less. But the conversation is coming back to the fore with analyses like this recent one… ~L

  4. The pronatalist assumption is entrenched within environmental groups. Our national “Green” party (In Australia this is called “The Greens”) doesn’t even have an education campaign to encourage small families. Environmental Footprint Calculators rarely factor (by +/-%) impacts of adults choosing to bearing their own children. Too many refuse to accept that consumption x population is the problem and BOTH need to be addressed in tandem. Pronatalist greens like to claim “we have enough for everyone, it’s just a distribution problem”. But that’s clearly incorrect wishful thinking. We need to act NOW to mitigate climate change and we won’t fix the human frailties of greed, power, war, corruption before that action needs to commence. Humans are animals that need habitat. But we have the ability to apply consciousness to assist the wellbeing of future human generations and also to share our planet with other species.

    1. Right on, Joan. In the book Man Swarm by Dave Foreman, (edited by me) he goes into why the environmental community has historically shied away from talking about overpopulation directly. Fear of being seen as racist, anti-feminist. Even the Sierra Club – even now- on one hand speaks to population issues, but on the other holds that a woman should be able to make her reproductive decisions as she wants. While true, it is not driven home hard enough how important education on the carbon wake of each human such that people make those decisions from the grander picture, not just wanting their own experience of raising children.

  5. Pronatalists fail to explain why QUANTITY is preferable to QUALITY of human life. They tells us how we could add billions more to current ecosystems, but never answer why future generations would prefer an ever diminishing slice of the pie.

    Denatalists advocate for a humane voluntary reduction in population because we understand that life will be unsustainable, short, brutish and violent if we don’t exercise a little foresight and self-restraint.

    Pronatalists try to silence debate about population issues by levelled attacking the speaker rather than providing any valid counter-argument. So here are our rebuttals in advance:
    Misanthropic – Denatalists advocate actions to ensure the human species will continue. Whereas the short-sighted selfish actions of pronatalists will lead to human extinction.

    Racist – Denatalists are color blind and only concerned with total population numbers. We welcome adoption in preference to creating more babies. We don’t value our DNA over other peoples DNA. It’s pronatalists who are concerned about ‘outsiders out breeding us’ or insisting on creating more ‘who look like us’.

    Anti-feminist – Denatalists encourage frank education about population issues. Women have the intelligence and moral fortitude to tackle ethical issues. But pronatalists prefer to deny women the opportunity to make fully informed decisions about how reproductive choices will impact their own life, their community, and the planet.

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