Monday, April 23, 2007

Parenting may be natural. It could also kill the planet.

Don't Have Children. Save the World
In a society that holds up childbirth and parenting as the moral gold standard, the idea that procreation might be an irresponsible environmental choice is not a popular one -- even among environmentalists.

Indeed, the issue of global population control and reproductive rights remains a taboo talking point in debates about sustainability. While most people are quite happy to talk about organic hemp baby clothing and the joys of compost, few are willing to contemplate the idea that our children are killing the planet.
I'm sorry I cannot print more of the article, but I am trying to stay well within the bounds of fair use for the G&M copyright. I have focused on the parts of the article most favorable to the childfree side - the article is not quite as strong as the above might make it seem. But in the spirit of fair use, I am using this blog to make a point, so I'll consider that an editorial decision.
Vincent Ciaccio and his wife, Laura -- both 29 -- grew up passively assuming that they would have children one day. However, after the couple met in college and embarked on a life together, they realized they did not want to become parents, a decision informed in large part by environmental concerns.

While the Ciaccios would not describe themselves as hard-core environmentalists, they are both ethical vegetarians who eat locally grown food, drive a compact car and regulate their energy consumption.

"There are a lot of reasons to be vegetarian and a lot of those translate into reasons to be child-free -- choices like not supporting clear-cutting the rain forests to raise cattle," says Mr. Ciaccio, who currently lives in Boston, where his wife is at law school. "Being child-free means we don't run the risk of having children who won't be vegetarians and undo all the good choices we've made."

To that end, Mr. Ciaccio underwent a vasectomy at the age of 23. His wife is now considering getting a tubal ligation at the age of 29 -- which they describe as "a belt and suspenders measure."

And they are not the only ones. Mr. Ciaccio conducted a study of "child freedom" (or the choice to remain childless) for his master's thesis in psychology at Iona College, N.Y., a couple of years ago. He found that 12 per cent of the child-free people he surveyed named overpopulation and concern for the environment as the biggest motivators for skipping parenthood.

Still, Mr. Ciaccio has endured a lot of guff for his choice to be sterilized at such a young age. He points out that his decision was just as informed and irreversible as the decision to have children -- one that is rarely questioned. But he says, "There is this societal idea that normal people have kids and that if you don't want kids, there must be something wrong with you."

This is rich, Mr. Ciaccio says, since, in his view, parents who threaten the sustainability of the planet have their own choices to answer for. "It's funny all those environmentalists with two or three children," he says. "I have an issue with the dishonesty of it, this situation in which people claim to be environmentally conscious but put the environment at risk in another way, but one that is socially acceptable."

The same goes for Third World adoption, the current fad among celebrities trying to improve their humanitarian image. While it may change an individual child's life for the better, there is an environmental trade-off. One cringes to think of the small metropolis of footprints Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have created with their well-publicized orphan-hoarding campaign.
. . .
From an environmental perspective, Mr. Rees says, the decision not to procreate has obvious merit. "The current rate of resource consumption and waste creation exceeds the capacity of our living system's ability to replace what we consume and assimilate what we produce," he says. "Is adding more people to the planet going to help this situation? Probably not."

Still, you could be shaking your head: When it comes to something as essential and natural as the human urge to reproduce, resource accounting is a fallacious approach. It doesn't take into account the kindness and love children bring to the world, nor the potential for future conservation and change.
Kindness and love won't repair the ozone layer. Indeed, for the children we do have, it is an act of kindness and love to them to curb population growth. In this sense, the childfree are giving your children a gift of a sustainable future. At least we are trying to. If people were more careful about birth control (preventing only unwanted children) and restrained themselves to one or two children, that future would be possible.

Not to mention the fact that this notion is romantic and myopic.
Anyone who thinks that children are all innocence, kindness, and love does not remember fourth grade, namely the other children. Children are human beings, with all the flaws and complications that entails. They could grow up to be good people, they could grow up to be Hummer-driving jackasses. Our approach does not ignore the 'love', it is just more honest about it. It is one possible result, not a necessary effect. In that context, having children is, love-wise, much closer to neutral. The offset of environmental harm may well bring that act all the way back to neutral.
"I've been involved in social justice issues since I was very young and the biggest tool I had was the fact that people love their kids," she says in a phone interview from her home in Victoria. "I've met so many people who say, 'I wouldn't recycle if it weren't for my kid.' "
And yet so many childfree people are dedicated environmentalists. One does not need children to care about the future of the planet. Perhaps some unscrupulous people who don't give a damn until they have a personal stake. Yet how much are people this selfish really turning their lives around? It does not matter. No amount of recycling and Priuses can compensate for the damage that was done to get them there. The cost is higher than the payout.
Ms. Cullis-Suzuki's dad certainly seems in favour of human reproduction. Canada's father of environmentalism is also the father of five children -- a number his daughter admits is high (consider him the mayor of a small town in Bangladesh).

"Growing up, we'd often tease him and say, 'Hey, Dad is overpopulating the world!' " she says. "But the truth is we're all human and we all have our hypocrisies. I'm not interested in judgment."

In fact, Ms. Cullis-Suzuki hopes to have children of her own one day. As she explains: "Our consumption habits are really the problem. But the point is, we have choices, so we can make a difference far more than someone who grows up in the developing world."

If our consumption habits are the problem, how is adding more people to the world not an environmentally irresponsible act? More people equals more people with those consumer habits. Let's be realistic - we are never going to roll back the clock on humanity's lifestyle. Unless and until we have revolutionary developments in science, each human is still going to have a huge impact on the planet. If we keep growing the population in the meantime, without any consciousness of its effect, it may well be too late when and if we made those developments. In fifty years we might find a ways to offset the lifestyle of six billion people, especially if they have developed better habits. But by then the population may well be twice, four times, what it is now. There is a good chance that if we don't change, science will never catch up. Even if we could, the major problems impending, including water shortages, may reach us first. People could die of thirst while we are waiting. Unfortunately, that is looking like the more likely solution to the population problem.

The article is correct that this is a touchy subject. Indeed, this is the crux of the problem. We don't need everyone simultaneously to declare their childfreedom, but an important first step is realizing the connection between parenting and environmentalism. Until we start talking about it, we cannot find solutions.
"Let's be really clear. The main reason for decline in birth rates in the Western world is people choosing not to have children because of the impact on their lifestyle. The choice they are making is materialism over motherhood. But you could equally have children and reduce your demands on the planet by reducing your footprint."
So because it is only a partial motivation - what, it somehow undermines the great benefit? I'm not sure it is even worth engaging his point. Clothing all childfree as materialistic is such a desperate ploy, it belies the fact that someone has been backed into a wall by his own hypocrisy.
In other words, people are not just an environmental problem, we are also the only ones who can provide the solution. As Mr. Wackernagel asserts, "We need to have six billion heroes, because without that we won't find a solution."

And what proud parent doesn't like to think their child will be a part of that solution?

Jerry Steinberg, it goes without saying, doesn't share your unconditional love. "Everybody thinks that my child will cure cancer or end global warming, but guess what? The planet's overloaded and it hasn't happened yet."
I'm glad Jerry got the last word. And with that, I don't need to - he has said it well enough.

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Anonymous said...

Oh, come on. You're using logic and intelligence again, and that never wins any arguments when it comes to teh baybeeez.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing about this, although it seems to be "taboo". I think it is necessary for a dialogue now if breeding enviromentalists want to insure a prosperous future for their offspring. Being aware of the consequences of infinite population relying on limited resources is not for the faint of heart. Denial is a natural reaction, so they went ahead and spawned. Is that fair to the children?

tubal reversal said...

no no no....problems are not related with kids,but are related way of life style.

tubal ligation reversal said...

Children are blessing not problem.

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