The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
March 25, 2011

I’m An Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids

It would be easy for me to feel self-righteous about my decision not to breed. According to many thinkers, population is the number one factor driving such problems as global climate change, pollution, and hunger. And children born and raised in affluent nations have a significantly higher impact on the planet than those born to more modest means. As one of my blogger friends put it, population “relates to everything – including the amount of plastic crap circulating in the ocean.”

So it would have been mighty selfless of me to deny my maternal instinct for the sake of the planet, right? But honestly, my decision not to have children had nothing to do with environmental concerns. I looked at my life, my goals, my physical and emotional resources, and despite my love for cute little babies, I realized there were other things I wanted to do with my life and that bringing a child into the world was not for me.

Of course, we’re all looking for outside validation of our choices, right?

So it was with great interest that I read Stephanie Weiss’s latest piece in the Huffington Post, “My Uterus Is Officially Closed for Business and I Have No Regrets,” in which she explains that despite her own baby cravings, she’s going to adopt someday instead of having her own kids. For environmental reasons.

At first, Stefanie’s plan sounded reasonable to me. I appreciated her non-judgmental approach to the issue. Instead of turning her piece into a rant about overpopulation, she calmly explains how she’s decided to take responsibility for her own impact on the planet, without judging anyone else’s decisions. In fact, she acknowledges the pain of childless women who do want children and have been unable to conceive, but then goes on to analyze how society pressures all women to have children and asks us to

Imagine, for a moment, if the option of not having kids were talked about in home economics or health classes in high school, just like everything else. If all our children were truly conscious decisions, perhaps we’d have a much happier, psychologically healthier world. And that’s not even counting what reducing the population would do for Planet Earth — making all our lives, the ones we’re living right now, safer from the ravages of climate change.

So, I posted the article on my Facebook page and got some comments that really made me think. One of my friends thought Ms. Weiss’s piece was premature, since she hasn’t actually adopted a child but simply plans to do it someday.

I feel like this would be a more compelling piece if this woman… had already gone through the adoption process. The truth is, adoption is HARD. Super super hard. And expensive. Having sex is … well, free. And …pretty easy. The barriers to adoption often stymie the most well-meaning intended adopters.

Hmm… good point. I wonder if Weiss will actually follow through with her plan.   Here are some thoughts from someone who actually did follow through.  BlogHer CE, Shannon LC Cate, wrote me:

I won’t say I decided not to have bio children to reduce the population, but rather that I am so pessimistic about the future I couldn’t bear the guilt of bringing new people into this mess. It’s a terrible, sad way to think, but it’s truly how I feel. So when I decided I wanted to go ahead and be a parent, adoption was my go-to plan.

Adoption was the right choice to make a family for me and there is much more to it than it just being another way to have kids (which is what I thought, originally). Adoption is its own special needs parenting–even if you aren’t parenting kids with special needs, adoption has a package of issues every adopted kid has to handle in one way or another. So I wouldn’t recommend people just swap it out for birth when wanting children.

(Also, there are not enough healthy newborn infants for all the people who want them. To adopt ethically, most of the time you are going to have to consider taking the children all those other people DON’T want.) But for my family it has been an excellent fit.

Other friends of mine questioned the ethics of adoption as an alternative to bearing one’s own children (for those who are physically able to conceive).

Deanna from Crunchy Chicken wonders if adoption “creates a market and you end up pushing the “trauma” of childbearing off onto the poor. In other words, the rich no longer have to go through the burden of carrying and bearing babies.”

And another friend worries that overseas adoption will promote

the activity of selling children. There are countries… where religious organizations pressure parents to give their kids to “rich Americans” so that they can have a better life. Of course they tell the adoptive parents all sort so horror stories about how that child was abandoned or starving, etc when in reality that was that was not the case.

Betsy from the blog Eco-Novice doesn’t believe population is the problem in the first place and does not think population control is the answer to our problems. Instead, she thinks procreation

…is a biological and psychological impulse, part of being human. Like needing to connect with the natural world. Humans have always wanted to perpetuate themselves. I personally think the fact that so many people do not want to have children now is what has been indoctrinated through our current culture.

And Betsy adds,

When lots of people choose not to have children, a society becomes more hostile towards children. Think of the dirty looks parents get on airplanes and in restaurants…. And while environmentalists worry about population growth, demographers are worrying about the dire consequences of population collapse.

Regardless of your opinion about whether overpopulation is the cause of our environmental woes, Abby at The Green Phonebooth wants us to at least be able to talk about it. In her piece, “7 Billion Elephants in the Room,” advices readers to:

1. Reduce your consumption… of everything. About 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of the resources and has the most impact on environmental degradation….
2. When you need to buy something, buy fair trade….
3. Support programs and organizations, politically and/or financially, that promote women’s rights, education, and family planning in the developing world….

But most importantly, let’s talk about the population issues. As environmentalists, let’s stop ignoring the environmental elephant in the room.

So what do you think? About population, procreation, adoption, and women’s reproductive decisions? Is adoption a more eco-friendly alternative to procreation? Or does it just create a whole new set of problems?

110 comments
LOVESPELL
LOVESPELL

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LOVESPELL
LOVESPELL

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JESSICA BROWN:
USA

LOVESPELL
LOVESPELL

THE MAN CALLED DR KWALE HELPED ME IN MY RELATIONSHIP SOME TIME AGO HE FIX MY BROKEN RELATIONSHIP AND MADE MY EX BOYFRIEND TO COME BACK TO ME. I AND MY BOYFRIEND BROKE UP  LAST TWO MONTHS  THIS YEAR (2013) SO WHEN I CONTACTED DR KWALE HE HELPED ME OUT HE CAST A LOVE SPELL FOR ME AND MADE MY EX  BOYFRIEND TO COME BACK TO ME WITHIN 2DAYS ALL THE LOVE AND CARE DR KWALE ASSURED ME HE WILL SHOW TO ME ONCE HE COMES BACK TO ME THAT IS WHAT HE HAS BEEN SHOWING TO ME, HE NOW SHOW ME SO MUCH LOVE AND RESPECT SO I TAKE MY TIME TO FIGURE OUT EVERYTHING DR KWALE TOLD ME AND NOW I FIND OUT THE LOVE MY BOYFRIEND HAS FOR ME IS SO STRONG AND HE IS SO COMMITTED TO ME. SO I WANT TO USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO THANK DR KWALE WHOSE EMAIL ADDRESS AND PHONE NUMBER ARE KWALETEMPLE@GMAIL.COM MOBILE +2348056141089

JESSICA BROWN:

USA

LOVESPELL
LOVESPELL

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Lynn from OrganicMania.com
Lynn from OrganicMania.com

Wow! 105 comments....how did I miss this one? Beth, some folks in my neighborhood adopted for environmental reasons. They would have been able to conceive...he had a vasectomy. Many people took it hard, especially because this is a good looking, well educated, successful couple. Many folks made comments like, "Our society NEEDS people like you to reproduce." Interesting.... It took me a long time to decide to have kids. Had 9-11 never happened, I might still be more focused on climbing the corporate ladder. My eldest was conceived a month after 9-11. It changed everything for me. I agree with the notion that the child-free option should be presented more fully to kids. When I was a DINK (dual income no kids) I really resented so many people daring to ask us when we were going to have kids. Even though I'm a "green Mom" now, I still really identify strongly with child-free people. After all, I didn't have my first until I was 39!!! I spent most of my life without kids, and frankly, some days I feel like I'm still getting used to the idea!

Clif
Clif

Brooke, you make a great point that is on my mind quite a bit - that is the fact that although we feel we are making individual choices, if you took all the choices of all individuals and plotted them statistically, you'd find that they fall into the typical distribution curve where a few have many children, a few have none and most fall in between. In other words, human behavior of any kind follows the curve of other phenomena - like throwing dice. So it makes me question free will...though each of us certainly believes he/she is making a free choice, when taken as a part of the whole the choice is quite predictable. That's why I am very leery of saying that human intellect makes any difference. Not that I want it that way, but we can't escape the statistics.

Brooke
Brooke

I've never really understood how making the personal choice to adopt over having a biological child really helps to reduce population. Most children are not planned and obviously the ones given up for adoption are not. Just because I might make the choice to have one child or no children, doesn't stop another person from having 12 children. In most developing countries where the population is increasing dramatically women don't even have a choice of planning their pregnancies.

amberrayh
amberrayh

One commenter on this post said that their family line (theirs and their spouses) has remained stable for the past 100 years. I.e. parents had a child or two, parents died, child(ren) married and had a child or two, then died, etc. My family line has been quite the opposite. I recently read my great-great grandfather's memoir. He and his wife had 13 children. By the time he was 80 years old he proudly reported that he and his since deceased wife had exactly 100 descendants. My own parents both came from families with 8 children. My parents had six children including myself. My parents are in their mid fifties now and already have six grandchildren.... a total of 12 descendants. I myself have over 60 first cousins... and I have never attempted to keep track of second cousins or my cousins' offspring as their are waaay too many of them. I come from Mormon stock.... Utah Mormons to be exact, and the culture is very mother/father/child centered. I myself have not had children and do not plan on having more than one. I absolutely love children but am not having one now and would never have more than one biological child for environmental reasons. My partner thinks that having a biological child is part of the human experience. If it wasn't for his feelings I probably would have already had my tubes tied. I think that a culture with less children would not look negatively on those who do have children. Or look negatively on the children themselves. These children would be all the more precious. I do feel baby sick (like homesick... not sick of babies) sometimes and I am looking for more ways to interact with my out of state nieces and nephews, and for ways to interact with and help nurture children in my own community. What ever happened to "it takes a village to raise a child"? I think that women can choose not to have biological children due to concerns about the human population, and still find ways to be "mothers" besides adopting a child of their own. They can teach, mentor, babysit, become a nurse, etc.

LJRich
LJRich

I could write an entire blog entry about what I think on this topic. Fact is, I have 3 kids that I do not regret having. But, if I were to have to go back and do it over again, knowing what I know now? I might not have done it. First of all, over breeding is DEFINITELY a problem. When something eventually goes wrong, and people are fighting each other to survive, we don't have enough for all these people. Just look at the mess the U.S. has become. It's tragic how disgusting this country is, right now. Involved in 3 wars, politicians who can do nothing for the people that's right, we have people living in tent cities, an atrocious unemployment percentage. The fact is, the world can't accommodate more people, and then those people's people, and so on. Eventually, something will happen to "cull the herd". Another thing to think about is the cost of raising children. The cost of raising a child, if born TODAY, raised in MY NEIGHBORHOOD in the South, NO COLLEGE, in a two parent family in my $38,000-$64,000 income range(lower middle class by today's standards), according to the Cost of Raising a Child Calculator for the first year is $11,000, alone. Total cost by age 18 is $200,052. How about 3 boys? $600,000. Who's prepared for that?! Those are things no one teaches you before you jump into the deep end of the reproduction gene pool. I disagree with the person who said it's biologically and psychologically wired into us to procreate. I believe, rather, that it's a choice we make. And, that it's usually the most common choice. But, that doesn't make it a biological one. Think back to the infamous, albeit non existent, Swine Flu pandemic. Now, think about what will happen when a REAL pandemic hits us? We have children running around with no immune systems, rampant autism, rampant allergy problems, etc. The population is a ticking time bomb for a real pandemic. We didn't have enough Swine flu vaccines to go around the first time(regardless of your opinions on vaccines for flus). I doubt very highly that we're going to be able to keep up with a real pandemic. The American food supply is horribly tainted with mass produced toxins of all types, and we just don't have the immunities to keep up anymore. As for adoption, it's not more eco friendly, no. Just because the adopting couple decides not to put one more child on the planet, there are too many as it is. It doesn't help anything until more people hop on the bandwagon. But, the one person was right who said that the problem is that most people want a HEALTHY baby. Most won't lower their standards to include special needs children. So, the problem really isn't being fixed and adoption is a moot point. Do we need to stop reproducing at alarming rates? Yes. Just do the math over a couple hundred years. Start with 2 people and give each breeding couple two offspring. Do the math. It's frightening. Then go watch the Duggars and blood will shoot our your nose. No joke.

B
B

Hi SimplyCJ, Your beliefs are your own business, but how can you say the population of the world is not ours to control? Clearly, we DO have the ability to make choices about and control our own reproduction, through any number of means. And if those means were exercised by people on a global scale, it WOULD amount to us controlling the population of the world. Acting as if we can't exert control on the population of the world sounds like a rather convenient abdication of real responsibility for our actions to me, for with knowledge and power (which as I said, we clearly do have) comes responsibility to use that knowledge and power wisely.

SimplyCJ
SimplyCJ

I'm also an environmentalist, but I believe in God. We were made to procreate and children are His gift to us. The population of the world is God's to control, not ours. Allow yourself to be lead by God. If he calls you to parenthood, then be thankful and embrace the joy of it.

Why I’m Not Having Kids — Jen Henderson
Why I’m Not Having Kids — Jen Henderson

[...] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of [...]

B
B

Dear Trendy, Thank you for stopping. I don't think you read the comment thread above (understandably, b/c it is quite long), or you might have seen this, which I will reiterate for your benefit: “And PLEASE, can we stop saying that it’s “natural” to want to have kids, as if it is somehow “unnatural” to choose not to procreate?”" -EcoCatLady Your remarks about what is "natural" are insulting to those of us who don't fit your definition of "natural," and your comment about what women were "created" for reinforces gender stereotypes, and therefore sexism. Please be more careful about generalizing what may be natural for your, or you believe you were "created" for to all women. (Many of whom are atheists and don't believe they were "created" for any specific purpose at all, btw!) Sincerely, B

Trendy
Trendy

The topic was a little over the edge to me. I am all up for doing what I can to help the environment but not having kids to offset my carbon footprint? This is just too much for me. As a mom of two, I can tell you that there is a huge emotional deep connection between me and my children. I couldn't imagine asking someone to forgo this. As a mom, I have a better appreciation and understanding of my family and other people because I am a mom. I feel more connected to humanity. I am all about nature and I think it is natural to be a mom. Most women were created to be moms. Ok..I'll stop.

Amber
Amber

I have two kids. I would actually like to have a third. I consider myself an environmentalist. I feel some conflict about this, as I know that my children are undoubtedly going to have a high carbon footprint, based on their typical North American lifestyle. Having fewer children is one way to help solve some of the environmental issues we're facing, yes. But I think it's unrealistic to expect many or most people not to have children at all. For many people, reproduction is a deep biological compulsion. And so I think the ultimate solution has to be to change the way that we live, no matter how many children we have (or not). There's another element to all of this, though. Some quick googling suggests that nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended. Many of them are carried to term all the same, likely for a variety of reasons. While I planned both of my children, pregnancy is something that "just happens" for many people. So even if we have the best of intentions, we can't always control the number of children we have.

I believe the children are the future — Ecology +
I believe the children are the future — Ecology +

[...] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of [...]

Julia
Julia

Brand new here. I have a lot of feelings about this subject, but the one thing I'd like to address is the idea of expecting your kids to be like you when they grow up. So many of my friends are the black sheep of the family. . . and hey- that works both ways, you know! A family of liberals could end up with an "Alex Keaton"! When it comes down to it, I'm just uncomfortable about the idea of bringing kids into the world with those kinds of expectations. It actually seems unfair to me. They are people. They are going to have their own ideas, like it or not!

PureMothers
PureMothers

I've been meaning to comment. Good topic. I hear environmentalists all the time say that they won't have babies and no one who cares about the planet should, yada, yada, yad. But really, the women who care about the planet will pass down the values we need to treat the planet and its inhabitants better. Like teaching our children how to grow their own food and get them back in touch with the earth. Buy mostly local and organic food, make, reuse and barter, etc... I am pregnant with baby #2 at age 41 and I am an environmentalist! I'm going for a 2nd home birth, breastfeeding longterm again, not pumping toxic vaccines into my child, making 80% of food from scratch, significantly reducing plastic waste, we walk or take public transport.. my son and new baby will learn these things from me. I'd say that even though we went form a family of 2 to a family of 4, we care about the environment.

Magic and Mayhem
Magic and Mayhem

As a mother who is currently pregnant with my fifth (!) child (despite our efforts to be done at three, incidentally), I was almost afraid to click on this post. It has certainly crossed my mind more than once that I have no right bringing more people to the planet. I have resigned myself to the fact that my children and I will just have to work that much harder to make up for my selfish choices, because I utterly adore life with my family and even though my last two were not planned I am massively thankful for them. We are a family who actively works to make this world better for all of its inhabitants. We live incredibly frugally, garden organically, buy used, do without, eat vegan and vegetarian, reuse, repair, donate our time and our money and our knowledge, help out, preserve, speak out, and so on. I am fairly certain these children will vote green and carry their passions for the environment into their adulthoods, and I hope the gifts they give the earth balance out their presence. All I can do is assume so and live the best we can. :)

Stephanie
Stephanie

Adoption is not always that easy. My husband and I have always planned on adopting, but it didn't work out. With him in the military, we're not in one place long enough to adopt a newborn (the wait is generally well over the 4-6 years that one posting lasts). We both feel uncomfortable with international adoption. We tried to adopt a 10-year-old boy with ADHD and OCD through social services - a difficult to place child if ever one existed - but it fell through because we couldn't guarantee that we'd be staying in the same province. My heart was broken, and we decided that adoption didn't seem to be the path for us. While I absolutely believe that population is a problem, I also believe that people who care about the environment and social justice are raising less kids. So what does that mean for the future?

Andrea
Andrea

I think the screech of "overpopulation" is just one more way that we blame the people with the least power for all of the world's problems. Have you seen those comparisons of like, how many Bangladeshi's does it take to equal one middle class American (something like 60?) And how many to equal one of the top 1% of the US who have amassed all of the world's wealth and have multiple mansions, yachts, personal jets, etc? The people who will suffer most from the consequences of climate change (and other environmental catastrophes) are the people who have played the least role in causing those crises. Yet all those brown people near the equator who keep having all those babies are an easy target when laying blame for our country's own actions (and inaction and misactions). I have three children and I truly could not imagine life without them...they are what keeps me whole. I don't think anyone should be pressured into having kids when they don't want to--it's an extremely hard job that should only be taken on with willingness and love--and I don't think anyone should be guilted or shamed for carrying out our biological imperative. Having a personal, genetic stake in the future adds one more reason to care about that future. Besides, if only people who don't care have kids, then who in the next generation will care at all?

Carmen
Carmen

Betsy's last sentence struck home with me. "If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?" I don't see a purpose in saving the world for the world's sake. I am an environmentalist for humanity's sake. If people don't want to have children - I totally support that. But as some noble sacrifice for the earth - that just doesn't ring true to me. "If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?"

claire
claire

i am a mom of one amazing 22-month-old girl. i have been an environmentalist for years, but i do want to comment that many new parents become environmentalists because they finally get it: they see the dangerous things that go into their child's mouth (which they didn't care about before the child); they are more willing to plan for the future, in terms of caring for our earth (whereas before, 'the future' was more just a few years down the line, instead of 'the next generation'); they recognize that they need to model proper behavior to their children (instead of "oh, well, what's some fast food every once in a while?"). additionally, having a child biologically alters your brain chemistry dramatically. i definitely view the world in a whole new way. i am more loving, respectful, and a better person, now that i am caring for my daughter. i'm not insinuating that people who do not have children are not good people. i am simply expressing that to have children is a very complex choice, with extremely valuable outcomes beyond just another number in the population total.

frish
frish

From Comment 24 above: (snipped etc.) Hank on Fri, 25th Mar 2011 1:10 pm The world can support a finite number of people. It’s a problem that will fix itself. (I agree, and, unfortunately, the fix, given current trajectory/momentum of EVERY human folly, will include a world no longer viable for human life. We've already tipped the scales in favor of chaos, which will swing us right off the planet...not many agree with me, yet. Dead Humans Walking. IMHO, we've already "booted the pooch". I love the name of this blog. I often consider how the Pacific Gyre will have plastic floating for the next million years (in ever smaller particles...)) I think as a rational, caring, and longterm focused individual, it is fine to have children or adopt if doing so is within your financial, emotional and physical means. (I disagree. No One. Any Where. Any When. should have children. In the article above, the case is made for adoption, and/or non-judgementalism when it comes to childbearing/parenthood. My position is strictly moral. I assert it is currently immoral for anyone to have another child.) It is the selfish, corrupt or blindingly short term folks that lack the means to raise a healthy, kind and considerate child that should not have children (but should be allowed to). (I agree, no one should be coerced to have or not have children, I can only stand at the sidelines and cheerlead my position. I am a Volunteer in the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, as we feel that's the best way to minimize the numbers of humans subject to the die off you point to! Since I believe the die off is both inevitable and in the not distant future, I can only hold that having children is immoral, as being child-free means fewer suffering at the end. However, please also know that once a life is on the planet, I am nothing but supportive of every one of them...I just hope the parents decide it is their last.) The metaworry is that from both sides of a nature/nurture argument, if “good” people are increasing not having/raising children, while the “wrong” people have children without accepting the responsibility involved, then a couple generations from now, what happens? (From my Anthropology BA I would have this to say about that: a. Our physical evolution cannot proceed particularly quickly, so I am unclear what your implication is... b. unclear who is judging what "accepting the responsibility involved" means...there is no license, education certificate, or even a pop quiz to qualify for parenthood. You get what you get. I'm all about VOLUNTARY...and don't want to regulate parenthood in any way...educate, free safe available contraception, and incentives for sterilization for sure! I happen to love children, that's why I became convinced at age 8 (48 years ago) that I'd not have children if there were still starving children, since if there are starving children there must be too many children... Made sense then, makes even more sense now! I would like to rid the tax code of all the pro-child/pro-parenthood incentives, there are no reasons that can justify them. c. Mostly, we're raised by elder siblings. So, if the parents were paying attention at all with the first one, there is a chance the other siblings will be okay. d. It takes a village, whether you like it or not. The village will intercept the real outliers (physical abusers, etc.), and the neighbor kids will raise the others...school of hard knocks. Life's like that... My point is, nothing like the social evolution that has to occur (including loads of incentives for those who remain childfree!) is in any way occurring, or going to occur. Every societal sanction is in favor of parenthood, which obviously is also congruent with the natural outcome of sex. Sex feels good, that's built in...no need for anything like a "biological clock". And, as has been mentioned, Corporations expect growth, if the population stops growing all of a sudden business is a zero sum game and not so much fun anymore...companies will have to get smaller and smaller, not something they are interested in or designed to do. Our biology promotes sex, and therefore children. Our economics promotes growth, therefore children. Our world is limited, finite, small, fragile, and being polluted and damaged in ways we have yet to even understand. I am under no illusion. No one ever became a Volunteer to Not have Children because of anything anyone said. It is a decision that is VOLUNTARY and therefore personal and unique. But hey, perhaps this note will catch the eye of another of like mind, who didn't know like minded folk existed.)

Rob
Rob

Well Beth, You are certainly entitled to your opinion. And I agree with you. LOL Even though I would love to adopt a child, being a single man, society and government frowns upon the practice. I find I am a Sexual Suspect because I don't want a wife. Not having a child with someone is my choice, and like you say it is not an environmentalist one. It is a factual one. I am not likely to make anyone pregnant and since I can't become pregnant my self, that seems to close the door. I think that if anyone who has a lot to offer a child wants to adopt, they should be able to do so.

Dmarie
Dmarie

At this point fortunately, people are still able to make these decisions for themselves. Having said that, I do applaud all the adoptive parents, and when it comes to legal foreign adoptions, I love it that the ethnic mix of our little white bread/Miracle Whip community (97% white) is changing, if only slightly. Embracing diversity will help us all.

Meg
Meg

Hi again EcoCatLady! I think we do have a problem not just looking forward, but also considering others outside of our small circles. The way I see it, we as a species are ALREADY in a crisis. Look at what's happening all over the globe with climate change and pollutants and so many other problems! And I think it's sad to see people debating whether or not there "will be" a crisis when there already is for others whom we should be helping and at least not hurting. And not to diminish what others are facing, but it's not smooth sailing for us, either. How many people have to have cancer and thyroid problems and other problems because of pollutants alone? We're like frogs in a pot slowly coming to a boil. We're just so used to the idea that these things are a normal part of life. But the thing that really got me about that video is how exponential growth gets very bad, very fast, especially at the end before people realize how bad it is and too late to save things. I have no doubt that the world will continue without us, but yeah, I'd rather not suffer or cause unnecessary suffering to others in the meantime. I might not change the world, but I am still responsible for my actions and their consequences. That's a big part of why I'm a vegan. I don't feel it's right to exploit other sentient beings when there is simply no need. But we must not only not exploit others, we must work to see to it that we don't take their homes and poison their lands and kill them. We should tread softly on this earth out of respect for its other inhabitants.

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

@ Meg - I totally agree that we need to reduce both our population and our consumption in order to avert a crisis. I think that means that we need a new economic system, one that isn't dependent on constant growth. Don't know how to get from here to there though. You know, the other thing that always sticks with me when it comes to this sort of discussion, is that we're all arguing about what we need to do in order to avert a crisis... or I suppose some are arguing that there is no impending crisis in the first place. But if one thing has become really clear to me over the past few years, it's that people are really bad at averting crises. I'm not sure what it is... if the human psyche is just so focused on dealing with immediate dangers that we as a species don't seem to be able to take a long view, or if it's the craziness of our capitalistic system, or the corruption of money and power, or the fact that people are so busy staying busy so they don't have to deal with any of their feelings, or any of a billion other reasons. But it just seems like people don't seem motivated to change until something has an impact on them personally. I've spent many many years lamenting this fact, but I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that perhaps it's not such a terrible thing. I mean, on some level it's almost irrelevent what we do... I don't mean to sound fatalistic here, but I just think that we live in a self-regulating system. I guess it's like the Gaia theory. The earth is not just a static thing that we act upon, it is an organism in its own right, and while what we do influences its behavior, we're by no means in control of any of it. If there are too many people for the earth to sustain, then we will experience a population decline, it's as simple as that. It would be much more pleasant for us if we could find a way to do that in a controlled manner that didn't involve massive human suffering, but the earth will take care of it one way or another. I don't think any of that absolves us from the responsibility to live as sustainably as possible, and in a manner that creates as little suffering as possible for ourselves and the other species that share this planet. But ultimately, the point of it all is to make life better for ourselves and the other creatures that call the earth home. If we fail in our endeavors the planet will survive, and perhaps new species will thrive, it is we who will suffer ultimately. OK, I'm blathering. But as long as I'm thinking about Gaia, you might want to check out this video by Dr. James Lovelock (the creator of the Gaia theory). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg7Jt_Yzl1o&feature=related It's about his new book "The Vanishing Face of Gaia" in which he lays out many of his ideas about population and climate change and the earth's response to these issues. There are a pile of other videos out there featuring Lovelock and outlining his work and thoughts, so you might want to click around and watch more if you're interested.

Melissa Brown
Melissa Brown

Many mothers (all the ones I know) pump their milk so when someone else is watching the baby, the baby can drink it. Also, there are those mothers who are just **not able** to produce enough.

Carla
Carla

As an environmentalist, you probably know that breastfeeding is how to feed a baby. And so, I ask why use the photo of a baby drinking out of a bottle to illustrate your point? Formula-feeding (whatever your opinion on it) has a huge impact on the environment (cans, bottles, byproducts, etc.). There are lots of photos babies drinking mother's milk as mammals are wont to, which is the environmentalist way. (You could argue that the bottle has expressed breastmilk, but not evident...) Just sayin'

Pam
Pam

I realize I am late in the game here, but I just wanted to chime in. I come from a family of 8. My father was self-employed, my mother a full-time homemaker (and bookkeeper for my dad). We all worked in our organic garden, raised rabbits for food, wore hand-me-downs and handmade clothing (my mother sewed). We also canned food, ate fish caught from nearby lakes. Because of the nature of our "big" family, I think we were more resourceful with our consumption. It seems that the families I knew that were smaller had more money to buy more things (and change them out on a regular basis). So I guess my attitude is: be responsible about your consumption, period. If you want children, have them and teach them about being responsible about their consumption. If you don't want children, for goodness sakes, don't have any! And hold your head up high knowing that you and your partner made that decision because it was best for YOU two, not for everyone else.

Meg
Meg

@EcoCatLady Thanks for sharing that video! How sobering! I urge everyone else to watch it. And here is the playlist link: http://www.youtube.com/user/PeacefulKancer#p/c/CD787B1AEC2B2D91/0/Hps7hIalV7o So, I've been thinking more and more about this issue and reading the comments, too. It seems that we can't look at this as either/or, reducing population or reducing consumption. We really have to do both. People have mentioned that improving the quality of life for people in developing countries would reduce their population growth. Yes, it would, but it would increase their consumption, too, and probably make things worse from a purely environmental perspective. That is not a reason to deny them, though. Rather, we should stop looking to that as an answer that somehow frees us of the responsibility of reducing our own consumption and population. And while we could squeeze out a little more time by reducing consumption, it's just not going to be enough and especially not at levels that most people are going to find tolerable -- even those of us who pride ourselves on already consuming less than our neighbors. Yes, depopulation has problems, but increasing population already has problems and those will get worse and worse. We must learn a way to live sustainably without an increasing population -- otherwise it just isn't sustainable, period. As the video explains, even if we could find other planets to populate, even IF, we must still stop our population growth. Even if we can find more power sources. I've heard from some people who say that we must have more kids because then we'd have more people working on the solutions to these problems. Maybe, just maybe, they will figure it out. But what if we already have the solution and it's just not the one some of us want? What if there isn't a perfect solution that pleases everyone and we wait too long hoping to find what isn't there?

Clif
Clif

I am probably so late on this posting that nobody will read it but... Get the new $10 video game called Fate of the World. You are given the responsibility to keep the world going, economically and ecologically. The game is elegantly designed, easy to play (not to say it is easy to accomplish the goals!) and it is impossible not to learn about all the interactions of things. Check it out. It's a great educational tool and has had rave reviews.

B
B

@ EcoCatLady You said: "And PLEASE, can we stop saying that it’s “natural” to want to have kids, as if it is somehow “unnatural” to choose not to procreate?" OMG yes. You are so after my own heart here. Language is so, so, important to me, and I think how we talk about the world is a big part of how we understand it. I'm always the one at the party asking people to please refrain from using gendered insults (like "b*tch" and "d*ck"), or ableist insults, like "lame," or other oppressive insults, like "gay" or "ghetto." And I think you've really hit the nail on the head here by saying it's completely unhelpful and discriminatory to frame wanting kids as "natural" and not wanting them as "unnatural." (At least in a society like ours where "natural" generally mean "good" and "acceptable.")

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

Sarah - I would argue that both Malthuse and the Elrich's were correct, they just got the timing wrong because they didn't anticipate the advent of the green revolution. The problem is that all of this great food-procucing "technology" is based on petroleum, which is a finite resource. I'm sure this will sound "alarmest" to you, but how do you see the world continuing to produce food at the current level once the oil runs out, taking all of the ammonia based fertilizers with it? It seems to me that in the end the green revolution will only end up postponing the crisis, and making it the problem worse because there are now so many more people to feed. I think we all tend to underestimate the power of non-linear equations, and that's what we've got when it comes to human population. This 8 part video is a great primer on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY. I advise watching all 8 parts and then ask yourself, what time is it? (You'll understand if you watch it.) It's great that we keep finding ways to make things more efficient, but the truth is that our carbon emissions keep going up because each improvement in efficiency is cancelled out by population growth. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/09-carbon_emissions.htm I do think it is true that the crux of the population problem lies in the developing world, and I totally agree that we need to be striving to improve living conditions there, because as living conditions go up, birth rates go down. But I still don't think that adresses the fundamental problem. It's just a fact that you cannot have infinite growth in a finite world. I'm not saying that there will necessarily be a catastrophic end, but it just defies logic to argue that technology will solve all problems when it comes to population growth. I totally agree that we can live in a much more sustainable way than we currently do, but we cannot grow the population indefinitely, it's just a physical impossibility. All that being said, I don't believe that people who really want kids should forego have them for environmental reasons. I think the scope of the problem is so huge, and it's governed by forces much larger than personal choice, so I just don't think that in the broad scheme of things it makes sense. I think that if environmentalists want to tackle population growth we need to do things like challenge the Catholic Church's stand on birth control, and the Republican position on funding Planned Parenthood, and crazy policies about US foreign aid and birth control, and raise the education level of women in the developing world etc, etc, etc. And PLEASE, can we stop saying that it's "natural" to want to have kids, as if it is somehow "unnatural" to choose not to procreate?

B
B

@ Sarah Johnson You said: "Other posters on this blog keep repeating that an increased population on a finite resource is unsustainable. And while the land area of the Earth is finite, it’s carrying capacity is NOT. The reason man has thwarted global famine is because we keep INCREASING the carrying capacity of the land through technological and agricultural advances." Which just seems so patently shortsighted to me. Yes, we can keep using resources more and more efficiently (thus increasing carrying capacity), but in the end, there's only so much energy and resources available on our planet, thus, there IS a finite limit on carrying capacity, and we'll reach it eventually, no matter how clever we are. It just seems like a second law of thermodynamics/entropy sort of question to me. We can keep using what we've got more and more efficiently, but in the end, we'll run out eventually because we can't make something from nothing. As some of my fellow geek friends like to say "entropy wins."

Carmen
Carmen

I have two beautiful daughters that I am teaching to be earth friendly...We try to grow our own food using compost as fertilizer...I have taught them how to make eco friendly cleaners and they in turn are doing the same with their friends...When I was young and childless I did ask couples w/o children why they chose not to have them...I was curious and wanting info for myself...It was not to judge at all...I told them I was proud of them for sticking by their decision and not to let anyone push them...I know families that abuse resourses...It is disturbing to say the least...I live in Ca and you would think they would have all waste management using the blue recycle cans since they give us a yard waste can...Not where I live...I took it upon myself and now have my family helping to do so...I used clothe diapers as much as I could, but then there is the extra water usuage...My oldest gave up her child to a member of the family...Yes she was using b/c my youngest doesn't know if she wants any...What ever decision I stand by them...We need more control over the plastic garbage that the manufacturers push on us...We try to control that in our home..One step at a time I guess...

Sarah Johnson
Sarah Johnson

Let's examine your apple analogy another way. Instead of looking at how long it takes each group to eat the bushel of apples, let us consider the energy and resources it takes to GROW the apples in the first place. Say I take five individuals and give them each their own plot of land, say a 1/2 acre, give them them apple seeds or even young saplings, and let them each grow their own apples. Each individual will have to water, fertilize, prune, mitigate pests, and tend their own plot. Apple trees require full sun to grow, so each individual has to remove any shading trees on their 1/2 acre plot. Pest control is a major issue and each individual has to ward off invertebrate and vertebrate animals from damaging his/her crop; either with pesticides (chemical or organic), exclusion netting, or animal traps. A good farmer will calculate the expected crop loss due to pests, disease, etc. and plant extra trees to hedge those losses. It can take anywhere from 3-10 years until the trees will bear fruit (depending on if they were from seeds or saplings). So take all the energy, resources and water needed to grow apples on those 1/2 acre plots, times 5 individuals, per year to get that bushel of apples. Once the trees do bear fruit, those that were successful farmers now each have a bounty of apples (more than one individual could possibly eat). Now take the same total acreage, 2.5 acres, but instead of parsing it out to individuals, I give to a group of 20 to be managed cooperatively. Now there is no need for each individual member to have their own apple tree plot. They pool their resources instead. Since it is not 20 individual plots, less trees are actually needed. Less trees means less water and pesticides used. Each individual's energy input the system is less per person than if they had an individual plot. So by actually increasing the number of people on the same area of land, I can potentially minimize the pressure on the resource. The axiom of more people means more resources does not always hold true. Alarmists have been predicting a global crash for centuries, ever since Thomas Malthus's "Essay on the Principle of Population," where he introduced the concept of carrying capacity and overpopulation leading to global famine...in 1798. Paul and Anne Ehrlich's seminal "Population Bomb" in 1968 predicted world wide famines in the 1970s-1980s, with such infamous examples as India being unable to sustain it's projected 600 million people in the 1980s. India of course has over 1.1 billion people today. As I said in my first post, there is a reason why these predictions have been wrong year after year. They do not take into account innovation and technology. Other posters on this blog keep repeating that an increased population on a finite resource is unsustainable. And while the land area of the Earth is finite, it's carrying capacity is NOT. The reason man has thwarted global famine is because we keep INCREASING the carrying capacity of the land through technological and agricultural advances. The famines that have occurred in the modern era were caused by drought (exacerbated by soil erosion and desertification from poor agricultural methods) and economical and political instability. We are continually innovating new agricultural practices that allow us to feed more people on less land. Vertical Farming is a breakthrough in agriculture, just now being tested in the real-world, that uses 90% less water, has no pests, uses organic methods, recycles black water (i.e. no run off), requires no tractors or plows (reducing fossil fuels), actually puts energy back into the system through composting, and one indoor acre is equivalent to 4-6 traditional outdoor acres. (Conservation Magazine: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2009/11/up-on-the-farm/). Agronomists and city planners are working together to design sky-scrapper greenhouses in cities. (Conservation Magazine: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2010/08/can-c%E2%80%8Aities-feed%E2%80%8Aus/). We are also revising our ecologically disastrous aquaculture practices into a more conservation-friendly "Aquapod" farming (Conservation Magazine: http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2009/04/taming-the-blue-frontier/). I'm not saying these solutions are without their own drawbacks (cost being one) and they are still early in development, but they are solutions nonetheless. I am not trying to downplay the impact we have on our environment. I still strongly advocate responsible stewardship and follow the "wise use" doctrine of conservation. What I am saying is that the raw number of people on the Earth does not matter nearly as much as their behavior. In some areas we need to protect the environment through fighting poverty and promoting stable democratic governments. In other areas we need to examine overconsumption rather than overpopulation. I understand it can be hard to let go of our firmly held preconceptions on environmental issues. I too held the mantra that overpopulation is the harbinger of collapse and man is source of all our environmental problems. Until one of my professors, Dr. Balint, showed me that as much as man is the problem, man is also the solution. We must use a multifaceted approach, be realistic in our expectations of humanity, and be willing to let go of stubbornly held assumptions if we want to come up with real, effective, and lasting solutions. So when I make the decision on whether or not to have children, it will be based on emotional, spiritual, and even financial considerations. Environmental considerations will determine HOW I raise my children, but not if I have them at all. (NB: There are more sources to support my argument, I just keep citing Conservation Magazine, because it is that AWESOME. Seriously. Everyone needs to read this magazine. Beth, it also did piece on plastic pollution last year......"Garbage In, Garbage Out" as the cover story last year, and with some disturbing developments on plastic pollution at the polymer level. http://www.conservationmagazine.org/2010/01/garbage-in-garbage-out/)

hands of eye
hands of eye

I have the same belief about the future. The world cannot sustain 9 Billion people in a functional manner. It is not possible. look at the pollution overcrowding and poverty around today with close to 7 Billion 2-3 more Billion people will be a collosal hell hole. If your missing that parental instinct adopt a dog or cat. They are just as fun allot easier to take care of and will remain loyal till the day they die. Which cannot be said for every human child. The cause of all the worlds problems. Pollution destruction of habitat hunger poverty are all the direct result of having to many people on the planet. Do you really want your kids growing up in a world were they are constanly fighting for survival and competing for jobs etc? Adopt a dog or cat and enjoy your life more. Most people I see with kids in grocery stores on planes or out and about do not look happy. They looked stressed tired frustrated and annoyed. Adopt kids if you really want one and especially if you have any potentially harmful genetic traits to pass on the world has far to many people

Population, reproduction and the environment: a th
Population, reproduction and the environment: a th

[...] This is the first time I’ve ever seen/read/heard such a peaceful, thoughtful and nuanced discu.... Every other time I’ve read an article or heard people discussing it, it seems that most people take extreme views, one way or another, and aren’t actually interested in thinking about the very complicated and varied opinions involved in this issue. Most people seem to have their minds made up and aren’t interested in changing their thinking at all, no matter what anyone else has to say. It was SO refreshing and extremely thought provoking reading this blog post, and for the FIRST TIME EVER, actually reading the comments people made without becoming infuriated by people’s close-minded or judgemental statements. [...]

Beach Mama
Beach Mama

I was married for many years before having a child at 41. It was not a 'planned' pregnancy . . . I decided that if I got pregnant it was meant to be. That was 15 years ago and the most cherished day of my life. I love my son dearly and he is not only a gift to me but a contribution to the world. I respect anybody's decision not to have children of their own. Not everyone should be a parent and I have high regard for anyone making this conscious choice for whatever reason. Our planet is far too populated for the amount of resources that we feel we need to consume and the way we choose to live. I chose to stop at one child and am happy with my decision. There are many children who need homes and adoption is one way to create a family. Another is to foster a child. Foster homes are desperately needed. If you have love to extend, consider fostering a child. Thanks for your vulnerability and the post Beth . . .

D.C.
D.C.

I think we have too many people on this planet, and I considered that heavily when deciding whether or not to have a child (I now have a one year old). However, I also know that my environmental impact with child is drastically smaller than the environmental impact of the average American. I feel that I more than make up for it, and hopefully I'm breeding a little eco-warrior. I think it comes down to education. People need to understand the impact they are making so that they can decide accordingly. I think if more people were aware, they wouldn't be having so many kids, but more importantly, they'd change the way they lived.

Eric Wilson
Eric Wilson

Thanks for the article. My wife gave birth last Feb. and I contemplated many of these issues (for my thoughts I'll include the post I wrote for my website: http://2ndgreenrevolution.com/2010/02/11/teaching-the-next-generation/). The recent National Geographic issue (a few months back) talked about hitting 7 billion, but the columnist argued it's the consumption that is the big issue (which was touched upon in your article). I also threw up a short post a few weeks back about a new "Three Rs".(http://2ndgreenrevolution.com/2011/03/10/toward-a-new-set-of-three-rs/) While Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are still great and essential, I wanted to add a few more. I'd love any additions to the list.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Amberrayh, thanks for that last part. Yes, I feel like I want more ways to interact with children, too. I wish sometimes I hadn't lived so far away from my neices and nephews when they were small. And by the way, I'm from a Mormon family too. But not Utah Mormon. My parents were both converts -- and only children.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

Hi Trendy. I understand that this is an emotional topic, but I hope you realize no one is asking anyone else to forgo having children. Quite the opposite. The post is about personal choices and teaching women and girls that they actually have a choice. It's natural for some women to be moms, but it's also just as natural for some women not to be moms. And thinking about our childrens' impact on the environment can influence how we raise the children we choose to have.

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  1. [...] This is the first time I’ve ever seen/read/heard such a peaceful, thoughtful and nuanced discu…. Every other time I’ve read an article or heard people discussing it, it seems that most people take extreme views, one way or another, and aren’t actually interested in thinking about the very complicated and varied opinions involved in this issue. Most people seem to have their minds made up and aren’t interested in changing their thinking at all, no matter what anyone else has to say. It was SO refreshing and extremely thought provoking reading this blog post, and for the FIRST TIME EVER, actually reading the comments people made without becoming infuriated by people’s close-minded or judgemental statements. [...]

  2. I believe the children are the future — Ecology + Family + Lifestyle says:

    [...] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of [...]

  3. [...] I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids by Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic [...]

  4. Why I’m Not Having Kids — Jen Henderson says:

    [...] some degree, I still don’t. The other day, though, I read a thoughtful blog post by Beth Terry, environmental activist and crusader against plastic. In it she talks about the complexities of [...]

  5. [...] catching up on my blog reading, and I came across this post from Beth Terry at My Plastic Free Life, which asks the question: [W]hat do you think? About [...]