Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Are the children our future or will they destroy it?

In the mood for some satire? Go read Her Bad Mother's take on how we should deal with overpopulation and its strain on the environment. She links to a Globe and Mail article that profiles a number of people who have decided not to have children to lessen their environmental footprint. There's also a link to a blog entry that discusses the article--agreeing with it, as one might expect from "Childfree News."

Now this is an interesting and timely topic for me, seeing how I've been trying to return to my environmental roots but am also in the midst of trying for baby #2. And while I am aware that each human born will have an environmental impact on the world, I won't be stopping my efforts.

I have to admit that I do not, at this very moment, have a lot of research to cite here, and that this is an emotional enough issue for me that I'm pretty much going to lay my thoughts out here without too much shaping.

Reasons the article and post rub me the wrong way:
  • The arrogant tone of those who have chosen not to have children. They are convinced that they are better than people with children and are incredibly condescending.
  • The suggestion that my children are as likely to grow up to be "Hummer-driving jackasses" as not. While I can't rule that out completely, I think the better money's on them being environmentally concerned, possibly doing even better than I on reducing their footprints.
  • If we pull back and consider other factors, there is a need to approximately replace the population. In many developed nations (gross generalization alert), the fertility rate is below the level needed to keep the population steady, which is going to mess with their economies as the burden of supporting an aging population falls on a smaller number of young workers. (A problem HBM's proposal would fix. But seriously, satire!)
  • We need to be looking at the fertility rate on a global level. I don't think it's a bad idea if populations in the developed nations decrease a little, but even a large decrease in those areas wouldn't address the increases elsewhere. So maybe instead of casting insults at the neighbors' rug-rats, that energy would be better put towards improving international standards of living and improving access to birth control and the like.* For an interesting look at how capitalism might evolve into something more environmentally sustainable, have a look at this post from No Impact Man.
But here's the best way I have of explaining my annoyance with these articles. Trillian and I have been friends with a married couple for a very long time. They are childless and had made this decision even before they were married (a few months after Trillian and I got together). A big part of their reasoning was the issue of overpopulation and environmental impact. If one were to ask them about it, they would give an impassioned and convincing explanation of their decision--but they would never suggest that their decision is one that is necessarily right for others or better. The wife's sister has had three children, and our friend loves all of them and will even joke that her sister took care of her replacement. Because our friends do not have the expense of children, they have put aside savings to help pay for their nieces' and nephews' education.

As far as I can tell, more people are likely to be inspired to action by our friends' attitude than the people quoted in the article and post. They're not preachy, their arguments are more logical than emotional, and they recognize that there are as many answers as there are people.

Trillian and I decided a long time ago that 2 is our magic number, years before we took any action towards making children a reality for our family. Our concerns about overpopulation played a prominent role in the equation. Now that I know my youngest sister has absolutely no desire for children and that Trillian's brother is not enthusiastic about the proposition, I know that our extended family's net impact will be below the level of replacement (always a chance my other sister will have more than 2, but I definitely don't see her with 6, probably not more than 3!). And I remain pretty convinced that my children will do more good than harm. No I don't think they'll be discovering the cure for cancer or the renewable energy that will revolutionize life as we know it. But I do think that they will recycle, eat local and organic foods, maybe grow their own, and pay attention to the environmental impact of their lifestyles.

Can I guarantee that? No, but there's enough optimist in me to think it's worth a try.

*And no, this is not me supporting eugenics. I am not saying we sterilize all the adults in the third-world. I am saying that if better living conditions were the norm, if health care were available to all, if women had the opportunity to regulate their fertility, if women held a position beyond producers of heirs and cheap labor, I think that you'd see fertility rates drop and more children would be wanted children.


queenb said...

"And I remain pretty convinced that my children will do more good than harm."

I think what these articles try to point out is that this is not possible. All of the recycling in the would won't compare to the benefit to the environment if they had not existed at all. It may be harsh to hear but it's true. It's true for all of us. There is nothing I'll ever be able to do to make up for my mere existence on this planet.

Also, Western countries use up more resources than third world countries where there are higher birth rates. Hell, America uses up 25% of the earth's resources even though we are only 10% of the population. A westerner having one less child does more for the environment than someone from a third world country having one less.

That said, I don't think someone should be made to feel bad for having one, two or even three kids. But I will admit that people who have five or more make me wonder if they care at all about the environment.

bubandpie said...

I haven't read the article, but I do suspect that articles of this kind arise less from concern for the environment and more from a desire to critique environmentalism by pushing it to its extremes (at least, that's what it is when the columnists in my right-wing newspaper invoke these kinds of arguments!).

It does raise a kind of essential question about our approach to environmentalism. Does concern for the environment require one to reject the notion that human beings have some kind of essential value that makes them more important than trees or animals? Can one be an environmentalist and still believe that the earth exists FOR human beings?

Certainly in practice, many people are committed to environmental preservation precisely because they are concerned about the future of their children and grandchildren. And there's nothing contradictory about having children if the goal of environmentalism is to achieve sustainable human life on this planet.

Her Bad Mother said...

This was a wonderfully reasoned response to those silly anti-child people. All I could manage was to make fun of them ;)