Realities of Environmental Reasons Not to Have Children

Lisa Hymas’ piece on hits the nail on the head: When it comes to the “impact of humanity on the environment,” it’s not the people in poor or developing countries who have “more kids than they can feed,” or even immigrants who come here with big families, it’s white, middle class (and higher) Americans we need to focus on. The problem: ..the effects of consumption. The most impactful solution: Don’t bring more consumers into the world to begin with.  As much as this would be a great thing for more people to do to help the planet and those already on it, here are a couple of realities to consider:

1. More than likely, most people  who don’t have kids for the population/consumption reasons did not have a strong emotional desire to have kids to begin with.  If you really don’t want them that much or at all, it is much easier to resonate with environmental and population related reasons not to have them. And let’s face it, more people than not have the desire.

2. When they have the desire, it seems unrealistic to expect more people to put the greater good before this personal desires.  People who want to have children may understand that their carbon footprint is “more than 200 times bigger than that of an average Ethiopian, more than 12 times bigger than an average Indian’s, and twice as big as an average Brit’s.”

They may also be fully aware that in terms of per capita emissions, the U.S. is number one  among the big economies, with 18 tons emitted per person (by contrast, it is 6 tons per person in China, just over 1 ton per person in  India, and looking at the whole world, it is about 4.5 tons per person).

They may be fully conscious of the fact that they are going to bring a little consumer into the world to create these kinds of effects. But their heart wins out over their head, and rationales to support their heart’s desires kick in, e.g., we will strive to be low carbon emission parents, the world needs kids like ours who can try to solve the world’s environmental problems. In short, the heart wins.

It is worth speculating, however, at what point would more people be willing to put the greater good before their personal desires when it comes to having children? How “bad” would it have to be in the world for people to make the planet and those already on it truly their first obligation? How many billions of people? What level of resource depletion and scarcity?

I fear what that answer will turn out to be. Write in what you think.

I know one thing, I agree with Hymas, that if it was totally acceptable from a social and cultural standpoint not to have children, it would be of great benefit to the planet and those already on it. The planet sure would reap benefits if we could do away with the prejudicial cultural context that prevents total freedom of reproductive choice.

4 thoughts on “Realities of Environmental Reasons Not to Have Children

  1. The environmental reaons for being childfree don’t really resonate with me so much. Some of them don’t seem particularly well thought-out, in my opinion. But, I support whatever reason anyone gives for choosing not to have children. If someone has bizarre reasons for being childfree, that person should definitely NOT have children anyway, so I won’t discourage him or her.

    I think there are some ways of being a consumerist household that consume fewer resources than others. I’m sure a childfree umarried American zillionaire has a bigger footprint than a poor American woman and her two kids.

    If the situation were reversed, and being childfree was bad for the environment and having kids was good for the environment, I STILL would not have kids. The environmental concern is not decisive for me.

    Cynically, though, I am not above indulging in some “carbon-offset” smugness once in a while. You switched to high efficiency light bulbs? That’s nothing — I just got a vasectomy! Beat that!

  2. “it seems unrealistic to expect more people to put the greater good before this personal desires.”
    Why? It’s THEIR kids future we are talking about. Do they want their kids to have a home (planet) to live on, well then they have to start thinking with their heads as well as the heart.
    I’ve noticed that almost every time a discussion about the environment comes up people say “it’s my/our kids future!”. If that’s the case then I shouldn’t care since I don’t have any kids so I can’t care about anything, right? I know they don’t mean anything when they say that but it makes me upset that the only thing that seems to motivate people is their own kids. So I’m an idiot caring about other people’s kids future? Not to mention how I’m seen as less mature and less important than parents. Argh! How about “Thanks for not having kids so we can have them instead!” That would be nice for a change 🙂 I’m actually saving the planet out here 😉 ok, not really but I’m helping or at least I’m not making it worse.

    1. Artemis–I am withbyou- on one hand, I was thinking of the situation where it is their first child when I wrote that. On another, if it is their 2nd or 3rd, while parents should think first about the existing kid’s future, too often they think about themselves first, and what they want..another child– to try for the sex they didn’t get the last time, or any number of other reasons…

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