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?

107 Responses to “I’m An Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids”

  1. Odudu says:

    My name is Hight priest Odudu of the SPELL TEMPLE and I am a professional traditional healer and master in spells that specializes in love, money, power, success, happiness and witch craft, Pregnancy, Inheritance Properties, win back his divorced husband back. Can you help with any problem or wish, you may have.* * I have more than 30 years experience in the field of magic / spiritual healing. Over the years I have worked for thousands of clients in more than 80 countries worldwide. My services are highly in demand, which is proof of the success I achieved on a daily basis.* * We can also help those who were victims of fraud by fake loan lender, or in any way scammed get your money back from this fraudulent loan lender that the occupation of our fake magic of the loan and the lender back the money to scam from you and also send money back in your country. We’ve helped so many people around the world and are satisfied with their charm our casting.the All you have to do is send us a false loan lenders e-mail address and name management company and we will help you, we will cast spells return back your money on fake loan lender and after 3 days will be contacted and ask how to send back money scam from you, so it is a good time to get my money back from this scam people.* * Do you like the problems / issues that you need solved? We have a variety of love spells that change your life forever. Have you lost a loved one? Are you in love with someone who does not seem to you? Is your loved one in love with someone else? Call me and I will muster all his strength to make your dreams come true.* * You struggle to make ends meet? You are experiencing a financial crisis and can not pay all your bills? I know what it is. Let me help you by casting one of my much sought after money spells. I can help you increase your income country, the job you are after, to help you achieve success in many areas, to improve their happiness, and much more ?* * You live in constant fear? Need protection spell? Call me and I will cast a very effective protection spell that will protect you and your loved ones from evil. Do not wait until it’s too late. Please contact ashra spell temple on email. or phone number +27743185702 * I specialize in different areas of spell casting. Can you help with any problem you might face. Contact SPELL TEMPLE now for immediate result CONTACT on email address: or call his personal phone number +27743185702 and get your problem solve now

  2. 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!

  3. Clif says:

    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.

  4. Brooke says:

    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.

  5. amberrayh says:

    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.

    • Beth Terry says:

      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.

  6. LJRich says:

    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.

  7. B says:

    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.

  8. SimplyCJ says:

    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.

  9. B says:

    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!)


  10. Trendy says:

    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.

    • Beth Terry says:

      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.

  11. Amber says:

    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.

  12. Julia says:

    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!

  13. PureMothers says:

    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.

  14. 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. :)

  15. Stephanie says:

    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?

  16. Andrea says:

    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?

  17. Carmen says:

    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?”

  18. claire says:

    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.

  19. frish says:

    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.)

  20. Rob says:

    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.

  21. Dmarie says:

    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.

  22. Meg says:

    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.

  23. EcoCatLady says:

    @ 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). 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.

  24. 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.

  25. Carla says:

    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’

  26. Pam says:

    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.

  27. Meg says:


    Thanks for sharing that video! How sobering! I urge everyone else to watch it. And here is the playlist link:

    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?

  28. Clif says:

    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.

  29. B says:

    @ 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.”)

  30. EcoCatLady says:

    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: 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.

    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?

  31. B says:

    @ 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.”

  32. Carmen says:

    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…

  33. Sarah Johnson says:

    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: Agronomists and city planners are working together to design sky-scrapper greenhouses in cities. (Conservation Magazine: We are also revising our ecologically disastrous aquaculture practices into a more conservation-friendly “Aquapod” farming (Conservation Magazine: 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.

  34. hands of eye says:

    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

  35. Tami says:

    Please learn the facts before you choose your worldview. Here are some facts about overpopulation based on numbers from the UN.

  36. Beach Mama says:

    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 . . .

  37. D.C. says:

    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.

  38. Eric Wilson says:

    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: . 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”.( While Reduce, Reuse, Recycle are still great and essential, I wanted to add a few more. I’d love any additions to the list.

  39. EcoCatLady says:

    what underbelly said

  40. Amy Korst says:

    I suppose full disclosure from me, too: Degrees in anthropology, English literature, and a Master’s degree in teaching. A degree in anthropology requires study of population drift and population dynamics, and I find the subject so captivating that I continue to study them even after my formal schooling is complete.

    I understand that a linear A=B=C is oversimplifying the situation. However, all I am contending is that more people=more consumption of resources. Absolutely, some socieities live with less of an impact on the planet (let’s compare Americans to indigenous Papua New Guineans).

    Say we present each group with a bushel of apples. 20 members to a group. Probably the Americans go through the apples faster than the New Guinean, and probably the New Guineans make an effort at sustainability , replanting the apple seed so that they can have more apples in the future. It takes 20 Americans 10 days to eat a bushel of apples, and the New Guineans twice that long. Now, increase the number in each population – 40 members of each group, but still a finite resource (only one bushel of apples per group). If each person is given the same serving of apple, each group goes through the bushel in 1/2 the time. Sure, it still takes the indigenous people longer to use their resources than the Americans, but once people are added to the group, the pressure put on the finite resources is increased.

    The more people you have using a finite set of resources, the faster the resources are used, even if all individuals are making an attempt at conservation.

    I’m not contending that overpopulation is, in itself, a bad thing. What I hope people understand is that the planet is a finite resource in itself (albiet a giant one), and we will one day reach the planet’s carrying capacity. Maybe the planet can handle 6 billion people living like glutionous Americans, or maybe it can handle 12 billion people living in a deliberately sustainable way – but eventually, we will reach that carrying capacity. The fewer people we have on the planet, the more resources we have to spread around (but please don’t think I’m suggesting we run through those nonrenewable resources without stopping to think about our impact). The more people on the planet, the more we must spread around those resources.

    Links abound on the Internet explaining why overpopulation is bad, but since this is such a complicated issue, I would suggest reading the following books, which are extremely well-written, comprehensive, and thoroughly researched:

    – Anything by Jared Diamond, esp. Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel
    – Blue Gold, which is a book about how competition for water increases as the global population increases
    – Hot, Flat, and Crowded 2.0

    I don’t think there’s any denying that population is a complicated issue, but I also don’t think there’s any denying that adding more people to a finite system means that system’s resources will be used faster. My hope at this point is that our Western countries realize that they’re racing through more than their share of resources – and if we’re going to share the planet with 6 billion other people, we better come up with a way to go through that bushel of apples a little more slowly.

  41. underbelly says:

    Hi Beth. Great thought-provoking piece, but I am surprised that you didn’t mention anything about the issues surrounding family planning. Like how many women in our country do not have the luxury of safe, easily accessible reproductive health care.

    Or, how Republicans in Congress are trying to bring Planned Parenthood to its knees, which is an organization that has been key in providing access to reproductive health care to the poor.

    Or, the A-word. You know, abortion.

    One of the things that frustrates me about the debate surrounding population explosion is that family planning is often left out of the conversation. It’s like we’re assuming that all women in our country have complete control over their reproductive choices. While many readers of this blog have the luxury of grappling with societal expectations vs. personal desire (myself included), this is not the case for many women in our country.

    Wouldn’t our time as environmentalists be better spent supporting reproductive health care measures? Like trying to find a solution to the fact that so many poor women end up with unwanted pregnancies? Or how expensive it is to stay on the pill? Or how the 18 & under crowd is largely uneducated about safe sex and also has a hell of a time buying condoms?

    (And by the way, you don’t have to be pro-choice to support reproductive rights.)

  42. Jen says:

    I don’t think that there is any right answer about which is “better” for the environment. We made the decision to have 1 child. There were several reasons behind it and one did include the environment. It is our hope that we can pass on our passion for the environment to our son so he can be a responsible citizen.

  43. If you’re going to adopt, why travel halfway across the globe to do it? There are plenty of children in this country who need help, whether waiting for adoption or in the foster system. Giving a child hope is an incredible task – there are so many statistics showing how children in the foster system tend to wind up having “societal” issues – low graduation rates, early pregnancy, criminal records…

    Besides, one *could* argue it is a worse environmental impact for overseas adoption, seeing that we’re (1) bringing children halfway across the globe and (2) instilling our commercialist values on them!

  44. Natalie says:

    There is clearly a lot that goes into this issue. One major point is that linking procreation entirely to environmentally impact (as well as severing the link completely) is an oversimplification; see Sarah Johnson’s comments.

    What seems to be coming up more often in the comments, though, is a desire for each of the personal stories (have / do not have children, adopted / would not adopt, etc.) written here to be supported by society. Ideally, I would wish for a world where everyone has access to education/knowledge about life with/without kids, the impact of having/not having kids, and is also empowered to make a personal choice on the matter and be supported in that decision. I wouldn’t wish for any woman to have children because they felt pressured by society to do so (or never gave it much thought); I fully support women who have thought about all the outcomes and then made a decision to have/not have kids. That decision is hopefully right for them and their situation, and that is awesome.

    A couple of comments that stuck with me:

    S said: “I would argue that most of the people who even read Beth’s blog are not the type of people who have children without thinking. ”

    Amy Korst says: “I’m concerned that people have children simply because that’s the next expected step in our culture – marriage, baby, college, grow old and gray together with a white picket fence.”

    I think this is true for our society, in part. It seems to be a leftover from the Baby Boomer generation, or our history in general, that life happens in certain discrete stages, and that if you don’t want a family now, you will later, or you should work on getting to a place (mentally and monetarily) where you can. It is not said in words, but that pressure is there. I know of some people who desire to have children right now, but don’t seem to have any _reason_ for it, and that bothers me. Like others have mentioned, I would wish for a society that actively — in school, around the water dispenser, etc. — encourages all walks of life, including a childless life.

    However, it’s also true that in America and other developed countries, this is becoming increasingly more common (see: the number of women who opt to have children later in life. it’s also true that women have babies later when they go farther in the educational system, and when they have a supportive and fulfilling job/career.) The societal assumption that you will have children when you are of babymaking age is not as strong as it once was.

    I would also hope that in other cultures (where the fertility rate is still far above replacement level) we can work on removing the barriers of poverty, education, and women’s rights that keep that fertility rate high.

  45. Carole says:

    I feel more strongly about reproductive rights and how my choices impact the environment now that I’m a mom. It’s true that the kids have had an adverse effect on our environmental footprint, but we do the best we can– buy/sell used, cloth diaper, make our own baby food, breastfeed… I know that raising kids is hard, in general, so putting in the extra effort to raise then “green” is well worth it. I think more and more parents feel the same way. I certainly don’t look down on anyone who don’t want kids. I agree that having kids should be a thoroughly weighed decision.

  46. Emily says:

    I give this article a thumbs down.

    • Beth Terry says:

      Hi Emily. Would you please elaborate on what you are giving a “thumbs down” to? Is it the topic? Is it the Huff Post article? There are so many different ideas here, it’s hard to know which one(s) you object to. Lots of points of view are represented and even more in the comments, which, btw, are amazing.

      I think I must have the best readers in the world. I hesitated to post on this topic because it can be such a touchy subject, but everyone here, regardless of their opinion, has been thoughtful, intelligent, and decent. Thank you, guys! I’m learning a lot.

  47. Bizz says:

    This has been an issue that’s gone through my mind a lot. I, too, have that maternal instinct to have babies. But, at least right now, I choose not to. In my mind I put forth the thought, “Maybe one day, but not anytime soon.” I do believe that population is a problem. But that’s not why I don’t want children. We as a species have come so far technologically that we don’t have to worry about a decrease in population due to things like disease, which is in essence a natural population control. In the wild, the more of a species there are the quicker a disease spreads. But we have more and more survival rates. People are living longer, etc. I’m not saying that we should just let these people die, but having one or two kids rather than five or eight would maintain or reduce the population. Do some of us still have that instinct to have lots of children to compensate for loss due to disease, war etc? Perhaps. My conscious decision to not have children is similar to this article, in that I just don’t see a child fitting into my and my partner’s lives. And I would hate to ever think, “If only I didn’t have kids.”

  48. EcoCatLady says:

    I am so glad to see that people are finally willing to talk about this issue. I have long believed that there are too many people on this planet, but until very recently it’s been an issue that was too taboo to talk about. I remember about 10 years ago, I mentioned the subject in a casual conversation, only to have a self-proclaimed atheist scream at me about his god give right to have children. That was a weird moment, but at least he stopped hitting on me! :~)

    The thing is, I think most people are deeply ambivalant about kids. There are a ton of studies out there showing that having kids doesn’t make you happier, but on the other hand, procreation is an innate part of what it is to be human. Hence, we resort to bizarre and hostile arguements in order to defend our positions, whichever side of the issue we come down on.

    In my heart of hearts I think that our society is probably doomed. You just can’t sustain a system that demands infinite growth in a finite world. That being said, my decision not to have kids has nothing to do with environmentalism. The world’s human population was stable at about 1 billion for a very long time, and in the end I think that’s probably where it will end up. I fear many people will suffer gravely along the way though.

  49. B says:

    So, thanks, Beth and Jason for encouraging me to speak further. (That is actually something of a minor personal issue of mine- realizing my own worth/importance/voice- funny how those issue show up everywhere!)

    Anyhoo, I’m responding to the link Jason posted. This comment won’t make much sense at al if you haven’t read it, so here it is again.

    1. It WOULD be making it someone else’s problem if only child-free people were concerned about it, but a lot of people (including many who have children) are concerned about global population, and make it their own concern. So to call the entire issue “making it someone else’s problem” is inaccurate. (Though I won’t deny there’s a contingent of people out there who use it to play “greener than thou”- they suck.)

    2. You’re worried it diverts the limited time of climate scientists away from what you consider more important issues. However, we here in the blogosphere talking about it are not (for the most part) climate scientists who could be working on your other suggested problems. And honestly, I’m not even certain studying global population is something climate scientists do (sounds like more of a sociology thing to me), so I’m not certain it’s something even the same people would study. Even if it were, though, perhaps there could simply be more climate scientists? In other of your points you suggest that innovations may change our patterns of consumption- if that can change, why can’t we also increase the funding for (and therefore numbers of and time of) climate scientists?

    3. I completely agree with you on this point, actually, but as I said in my earlier comment, I think we’d need to figure out what basic quality of life and share of the planet’s resources we’d ideally want every person to be entitled to before we could actually know how many people the planet could COMFORTABLY support.

    4. I hadn’t heard this. Can you cite a source for that?

    5. “There’s plenty of space.” Not really. It’s not as if the entire landmass of Earth is habitable, or even if it’s habitable, it’s not all desirable to live in. But honestly, that’s not really the point. Shelter isn’t all we need space for. Being able to produce the resources to feed, clothe, and purify the waste of every single human takes more land than the small space it takes for shelter.

    6. Yes, we need more thoughtful people. But telling people who don’t want children that they should have them because they’re environmental people is no better than telling people who DO want children that they shouldn’t have them because they’ll destroy the environment. As numerous people have said above, the choice about whether or not to have children is tremendously personal, and all individual choices should be respected. Far better to address this potential problem on a systemic, societal level than get bogged down with finger-pointing at individuals. (And by that I am not abdicating forced abortions or anything drastic- more like information and incentives.)

    7. People don’t just consume when they’re grown-ups. You seem to think people can only generate emissions when they drive, or own a house to heat or something, but how many people do you know who drive their kids to soccer/music lessons/friends’ houses/the mall/etc? And don’t most people you know want larger houses (to heat and cool) once they have children, so the children can have their own rooms?

    8. Per capita consumption could indeed drop, as you suggest. Seems to me it could just a likely increase. I’m in the U.S., and here it seems like our national priorities change with every president (sort of). I’m not holding my breath for a less-consumerist society, but I hope you’re right.

    9. Yeah, you said it yourself. This one’s kind of weak. In nature, only so many of a certain type of animal can be supported, and that will be true whether each female of that species has two offspring or ten. Crop failures and natural disasters may reduce our numbers, but the idea of them wiping us ALL out is practically apocalyptic fear-mongering.

    10. I know little about AI, so I’m going to refrain from commenting beyond saying that my computer-scientist fiance thinks that we don’t have have hardware powerful enough to run true AI programs yet, and doesn’t think it will happen unless the problem of quantum computing is ever solved.

    So, thanks for reading, anyone who’s made it this far!

    PS- This was incredibly stupid of me, but I didn’t look up the phrase “population bomb” and realize it was a book until about halfway through writing this response. So, obviously, I have never read that book. And it is entirely possible that Jason was writing specifically about that book, whereas I responded as if he were writing generally about the relationship between environmentalism and population. In which case my responses wouldn’t really make sense at all. I don’t think that’s the case, since he initially posted his link here on Beth’s blog post, which is definitely about environmentalism and population in general, and not about that book. But I just wanted to put it out there that I admit that possibility.

  50. Sara Jennings says:

    I am an environmentalist, who for the population argument does not want to have bio-kids, and for that reason am in the process to adopt RIGHT NOW. The mother is due to give birth in two months, and I will be a mum of a newborn adopted not only from my own province, but from my own town. The adoption is going to be very open and the birth mother and I have been getting to know eachother and are now close friends. It has been amazing so far. I did not want to adopt from another country for many of the fears about international adoption mentioned in your piece (baby market, etc). I thought the adoption process would take years, but I was extremelly lucky….at least so far.

    I have also committed to fostering and/or adopting more older children in the future as these are the kids that need homes the most.

    The thing I have to defend most about my position —-

    How am I going to fit a kid into my 150sqft, small footprint house/lifestyle. I always remind people that it is done all over the world (and not just in warm countries as some people try to tell me). Sure, I may have to move someday, but for now there is plenty of space and I don’t need most of the ‘stuff’ that comes along with babies. I am looking forward to the journey and adapting my low impact lifestyle to the needs of a mum and baby.

    Should be interesting.

  51. Thank you Sarah for the links and very well written post.

  52. Renee says:

    I read the piece at Huffington Post and your post as well. I thought your post thoughtful and thought provoking. I read a couple of the comments and found even more to think about. I am 48 and childless but not exactly by choice. My husband and I are were not able to have children and we chose not to officially adopt for many of the reasons pointed out.
    We also chose not to pursue fertility treatments as they can strain finances, health, and marriages. We both worked in education and mentored many of the students who passed through our classrooms. The oldest ones are now reaching 40! I feel we filled a void that is largely ignored in our culture.
    We have been able to pursue avenues in life that would be very hard to pursue if we had children. There are so many amazing things to do and explore on this planet! Life is very good.
    We did want to have children but when that didn’t work out, we embraced not having children. There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to whether or not to have children in spite of the cultural pressure (believe me, I have heard it all). I do sincerely believe it should be an educated and honored choice.

  53. Kaitlyn says:

    Thank you Sarah Johnson with great response and all of the links to back up your points. It is nice to have those who are educated in this field participate in these discussions. I really appreciated that you said no matter what decision you make regarding children, do not claim that it is for environmental reasons- that is what I was thinking as I read all of the comments.

    I also agree with those who have said that if you choose to have children, whether biological or adopted, that you can be a responsible parent by teaching your children the importance of caring for our planet. Children are the future, and if we educate them properly, they can have a huge positive impact on the world. There are many reasons people choose to have children, and maybe we should not make the decision so black and white- kids or no kids, but maybe we should stick with smaller families, closer the the request two children per couple to directly replace the current population.

    Overall, this should come down to personal choice. We all have to make decisions that can either have a positive or negative impact on the earth. We should work on making positive personal choices and encouraging others to do the same, even if their positive choices are not the same as ours. Our concern should not be about each other, those of us who read these blogs and are already making environmentally sound decisions, but setting an example and educating those around us who do not care about environmental issues.

  54. Sarah Johnson says:

    Amy K.-

    The logic of more people = more carbon = more climate change makes numerous assumptions and can over simplify the issue. First, as Beth’s blog has shown over and over, not everyone shares the same consumption patterns and behaviors. We tend to be ethnocentric in our world view and apply our behaviors and belief systems to the rest of the world. We must wade deeper into the data and look at the consumption patterns (which demographics are consuming what and at what rate). Aging populations tend to have lower emissions, because older people usually travel less, consume less, and live in small spaces. Multigenerational homes also consume less per person (traditions where the children live with the parents until they are married, and even after marriage, as in India), whereas shifts in family structure that encourage the children to “make it on there own” lead to increases in consumption.

    There is also the traditional view point that urban areas are bad for the environment and since more people means more cities, we’re just speeding up the inevitable. While there are certainly some egregious example of urbanization gone wrong, this is by no means a hardened rule. For example, the article in Conservation Magazine mentioned earlier states “By some estimates, for instance, Tokyo with its 12.7 million people but superior mass transit system actually produces less carbon dioxide (the major warming gas) than San Diego, which has one-tenth the population but more car use.” (of course this was in 2009 and pre-earthquake). So by the linear argument of more people= more carbon, Tokyo with 10X the population should have 10X the carbon emissions of San Diego. But with a well-designed and administered transit system and city planning, it has LESS. Well planned cities can reduce per capita costs and energy demand, and actually minimize pressure on natural resources. Cities also produce wealth…. wealth that can be used to fund conservation programs and clean technologies research. There is reason why the U.S. is a leader in clean energy innovations, and not Sierra Leone. Conservation is a luxury.

    The complexities of population growth, and the factors driving birth rates, mean we cannot use the linear patterns of A = B =C. Real solutions to our environmental issues will require first acknowledging that there many facets to each issue and then exploring each facet to its conclusion. If we approach the issue of population growth with the bias that it is inherently “bad” then we are missing out on the whole picture. When we only look at half of the problem, we only arrive at half of the solution.

  55. Amy Korst says:


    I appreciate your comments, and I’m very glad to hear you say that to tackle population, we must tackle poverty.

    I’m wondering about your statement that an increased population has not necessarily led to climate change/is not necessarily bad for the environment. I’m certainly simplifying, but it seems to me that the link is straightforward: more people = more carbon emissions = more climate change. I understand we need to consider where the population increases are occuring, but I would suggest that even given our steady/declining growth rate in the U.S., we keep inventing more ways to use fossil fuels/increase our carbon emissions. Each body added to the U.S. population will emit more carbon, which leads to climate change – and we know undeniably that climate change is bad for the environment.

  56. mrs spock says:

    As an infertile woman, I am happy to see it mentioned that procreating is a deep biological impulse. Infertile couples are often told how they should or should not handle their infertility based on the earth’s overpopulation. Having a child or remaining childfree is a deeply personal decision that should be respected by the rest of us. We have two children who will hopefully live to adulthood and replace each of us. Our net contribution to population growth should be zero. There are plenty of ways to decrease your environmental impact if you are inclined to have children. We use cloth diapers, I telecommute from home, we eat vegetarian most days of the week, and are planning a home with geothermal heating.

    I also echo a previous commenter who notes adopting a child is its own special-needs kind of parenting. There is a loss involved for that child and birthparent that needs to be navigated. We explored adoption quite a bit and were often told by social workers that one should never consider adopting because you wanted to “save” a child. I would assume adopting to save the planet is equally inappropriate. Adopting should stem from a strong desire to parent a child and a willingness to navigate the special issues adoption can bring.

  57. Reenie R says:

    One of my meditation teachers has said that raising a child is the greatest art, even greater than music, poetry, painting, etc. I became a parent at age 19, and because I came from a big (and I might add very nutty) family, I thought I was prepared for raising a child. How wrong ! Decades later, after having observed the results of full loving sane parenting, I see some of the ways I messed up. I do not recommend becoming a parent unless you have had great loving sane (and maybe even intelligent) parents. But if you are one of the emotionally battered, you’d better have witnessed good parenting from somewhere besides your own personal sphere if you are going to cultivate the skills needed to raise loving, high functioning humans who are compassionate with themselves and others, are self reliant, sharing, and all that goes with the human package.

  58. Wow. What a thoughtful, intelligent discussion about a sticky issue. I think many of these are valid perspectives. This is also a reminder to me of how lucky most of us in the conversation are to be able to bring so much thought and personal preference to this question. The very idea that we can choose to be parents, and choose how we will be parents is a new one, as women, and isn’t shared by the majority of the world’s population–including the moms who bore my daughters and just live across town from me, let alone women in poor countries.

  59. Julia says:

    I think there are good reasons to be in all the boats, wanting your own kids, wanting kids but adopting, or not wanting any at all. I also think there are negatives with them as well.
    There’s two aspects I tie together in my mind quite clearly. The first being that I do feel procreation is a natural instinct that many people feel, and I agree that it ties us to our world as creatures. The second is that our culture has a backlash manifested in child hating.
    I fantasize in my head that if more people were exposed to children and parenting at a younger age and we parented in a more communal way, those who would be fit parent would do so, and those who could do other things, or wanted other things would feel their ‘instinct’ fulfilled in other people. My personal example is that my older sister had a child when I was 12, so in my house I grew up comfortable with babies and children, and the same goes for my younger sister. Now as adults I am a mother, while my little sister is very content just being an aunt, and plans not to ever have kids of her own.

  60. Thank you, thank you, Sarah Johnson for that amazing comment with all those sources! I am glad to see it in print that population growth is no longer considered an “open-and-shut case” anymore, as was my sense. Here’s an article I came across with some of the same points (population growth no longer a big concern; population decline will be a bigger challenge):

  61. I did not mean to suggest that people without children do not or cannot care about the Earth. What I am saying is that having children is central to the human experience for many, many humans. How do you think the arguments printed here would play with the millions of devout religious of the world? If a tenant of environmentalism is that childlessness is the higher road, I think you will lose lots of people. I do not think environmentalism will succeed as a movement by placing itself at odds with basic human urges such as procreation. If you would like to reach a global consensus on environmental issues, this is not the song we should be singing.

  62. Sarah Johnson says:

    First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am Conservation Biologist with my Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Public Policy. I am single with no children. Now, on to my very lengthy response….

    Weiss’s article shows an all too common lack of understanding of the issue of population and climate change. I feel like she’s just regurgitating the buzzwords and bylines of the “green movement” without looking at all sides of the issue.

    Is the average global population growing? Yes. Is it growing everywhere? No. The majority of population growth in the world is occurring in emerging economies of the developing world, not in the developed, Western countries. The U.S. is experiencing zero-growth and several other countries have achieved demographic transition and now are experiencing negative growth (note: when calculating population growth we examine birth and death rates, not immigration/emigration). Biologically speaking, every reproducing couple needs to have two viable offspring to reach replacement (one to replace the mother and one to replace the father), hence the ‘magic number’ needed to maintain a population of 2.1 children-– the 0.1 is to account for any non-reproducing females. The U.S. is slightly below 2.1 and is experiencing the lowest birthrate in almost a century (Washington Post and HuffPost The trend is similar in Italy, Brazil, China, and Russia.

    This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Shrinking populations can actually lead to instability when there aren’t enough young workers to support the economy, provide a broad enough tax base to pay for welfare programs, or care for a growing elderly population. It can also affect the cultural psyche of a nation, as we’re seeing in Italy, where households traditionally emphasize the importance of family (A “cultural catastrophe”- . In fact, declining birth rates are such a big concern that some countries have initiated pro-birth policies, such as ad campaigns (Australia “one for mum, one for dad, and one for the country”), free day-care (France), and even cash bonuses for each baby born (France, Italy).

    The argument that population growth = more climate change = bad for the environment is illogical and so far unproven. Declining populations, on the other hand, can lead to economic instability, and instability IS BAD for the environment. Economic crises means less money and less attention paid toward environmental issues. Conflict and war are more likely to occur in unstable economies (anyone watch the news recently?). War is absolutely deadly for the environment, both in the direct impacts of violence and the weapons themselves but also in the resulting displacement of refugees seeking respite in protected areas (Environmental Impacts of War:

    So, if most of the developed world is experiencing population decline, where is the growth happening? The high birth rates that environmentalists cry about are occurring in the developing world– some parts of South America, Africa, and the Middle East. These regions have larger families because of high infant mortality, more people needed to work and provide for the family, inaccessibility to family planning and contraception, and gender inequality. The best way address burgeoning birth rates in these countries is to address the POVERTY. Not only do we tackle problems like basic medical care and education when we pull these people out of abject poverty, but we tackle out of control population growth as well. As people get richer and more educated, they tend to have fewer children. Hans Rosling did an amazing TED talk on the subject. (

    Even as we get better at projecting population growth models, we still falter at projecting the environmental impacts of it. Malthus and Ehrlich’s works, as important as they are, both failed to predict the technological advances and innovations of the modern era. We haven’t seen a world-wide famine of apocalyptic proportions, because of advances in agricultural methods (the ecological impact of some of these methods can be debated at a later date, but the fact remains that innovation and technology thwarted the predicted Population Bomb). I am confident that we will continue the current trend of creating more efficient and environmentally conscious advances in the years to come and disprove the predictions of an all out climate catastrophe. It’s easy to be pessimistic these, but I prefer optimism and faith in the human spirit.

    Some previous posters have rightfully mentioned that not every person consumes the same number of resources. There are many eco-conscious decisions parents can make when raising children, most of which are the original/traditional methods once used before our consumerism mantra of success = more stuff. Cloth diapers, unpainted wooden toys, home made toys, breast-feeding, glass baby bottles, second hand clothes and linens, etc. The Environmental Working Group ( is a great resource for making eco-friendly parenting choices.

    There are of course financial, emotional, and spiritual reasons for deciding whether not to adopt or have children at all. All of which are valid. I just reject the idea that not having children is “greener” and better for the environment. Such a statement overlooks the complexity of population growth and ignores the deliberate decisions we make in what we buy or eat and how we choose to live. If you want to adopt, great! The world needs more open-hearted people like you. If you want to have biological children, great! Teach them well and raise good stewards of the Earth. If you don’t want any children, great! It’s a free country, do as you will. Just don’t claim that it’s for environmental reasons.

    Finally, Conservation Magazine did a great article on this topic called “Be fruitful and multiply?” illustrating that population growth might actually be a good thing for the environment. ( Conservation Magazine is an AMAZING quarterly publication that covers a variety of environmental topics with cutting-edge science, innovative ideas, and fresh approaches to our current environmental woes. I wish everyone would read this magazine. You can get a free trial issue at .

  63. traceytf says:

    Ahh, briefly, I hope:
    ~ I tried to adopt locally and swap through fertility clinics, but the barriers for a single queer woman were insurmountable.
    ~ I have two children with two different actively involved fathers and we consider ourselves a family.
    ~ I think raising kids to live lightly and responsibly on the Earth is helpful.

    40% of the US fossil fuel consumption goes to private transportation (cars, SUVS, the dreaded “family” mini van). That fossil fuel consumption is genociding /sinking many nations of Pacific Islanders through “climate change”. As a family living lightly and travelling by bikes, we are actively resisting participation in this horror. I respect the choice to have or not have children. I wish I didn’t get flack from (other) hardcore environmentalists for my choice to raise children.

    Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

  64. Amy Korst says:

    I, too, plan to have no children, though the decision wasn’t made for purely environmental reasons. I’m concerned that people have children simply because that’s the next expected step in our culture – marriage, baby, college, grow old and gray together with a white picket fence. Having children is perhaps the most serious and profound decision a person can make. At this moment in my life, I’m simply lacking that visceral desire to be a mother. Given that lack of desire, is there any other real reason to have kids? People suggest to me and my husband that we’ll be all alone when we’re old. Who will take care of us? Sure, that’s a sad thought, but it’s not a reason to bring children into the world.

    That said, there is no doubt in my mind or scientific literature that the current population rate of growth (on a global scale) is unsustainable. The two most valuable books I recommend on the topic would be Ishmael (fiction) and Collapse by Jared Diamond (nonfiction). In a nutshell, the argument goes like this:

    1. It is of course natural to want and have children. After all, our evolutionary imperative is to pass along our genes.
    2. All species will expand up to the point at which they begin to butt up against the biological limits of their environmental system. Antelope will run out of grassland, for example.
    3. Once the limit is reached, the species’ population begins to shrink – from disease, starvation, etc. Lots of starving antelope make easy pickings for predators, culling the population.
    4. Population will thus decrease, meaning resources are plentiful once again – fewer antelope, more grass. More resources encourage a population expansion, which will continue until the species butts up against those limits again.
    5. Eventually, a kind of ebbing and flowing equilibrium is reached that brings the entire food chain into balance.

    The above five points act as a system, and in order to keep the system working, all species in nature (except us!) operate in accordance with these three laws, according to Ishmael:

    1. Animals never exterminate their competitors. Wolves and coyotes may hunt the same prey, for example, and while a wolf might on occasion kill a coyote, the wolf does not deliberately set out to eradicate ALL coyotes, as we have done with the animal species we are in competition with.
    2. Animals never destroy their competitors’ food to make room for their own.
    3. Animals never deny their competitors access to food. Yes, a lion will defend its kill, but it doesn’t/can’t say “all antelope are mine, I claim them and you can’t eat them.”

    The deal with our out-of-control population is that we are butting up against the limits of an overpopulated system because we are violating these natural laws. The evidence of the limits of our system are all around – we are using our natural resources faster than the planet can replenish them. The more people added to the planet, the faster we use the resources. Our food systems, water systems, landfills, are all taxed beyond their ability to serve us. We are running out of green spaces and there are countless endangered species whose habitat has been impacted by our actions. Our way of life is simply not sustainable because of our population.

    The most frightening statistic to me is this: Each time the world’s population has doubled, it has done so faster than the time previous. We are at 6 billion people right now. That means the time it took to add 3 billion people (doubling from 3 billion to 6 billion) was shorter than the leap from 1.5 billion to 3 billion.

    Finally, a thought from a aid-worker friend in Africa right now. For much of the world, having children is a form of medical insurance – having children ensures that you will be cared for and fed in your old age. She pointed this out to me to explain that the solution to overpopulation is not simply to get everyone to have fewer kids. That might work here in the U.S. where some of us have access to insurance and social services, but in other places, it’s not an option. To tackle overpopulation, we must tackle other humanitarian issues as well.

  65. Mary Ann says:

    In response to Mary K’s comment on birth control and how family planning should be done in a “natural way”, I can honestly tell you that I am on this earth because this does not work for every woman. My mother and father tried this method, as birth control was against their religious beliefs. Because it did not work for them, am the youngest of 10 children.

  66. Melissa says:

    @Betsy; personally, I would like to save the Earth for the Earth. As to thinking being childless makes me greener, I do not think most reasonable Eco people think that way – except when it comes tp families like the Druegers (sp?) and their excessive number of kids. One or two? Fine. Eight or ten? That’s going overboard.

  67. S says:

    I am childless by choice. I am 58 years old. I decided to have my tubes tied at the age of 29. I knew then, as I know now, that I could not justify bringing a child into this world. And if at some point I did decide I just had to be a mother and a parent, adoption was always a choice. If you’re looking to not adopt because it is hard and expensive and the adopted child is not comprised of your DNA, then maybe you just aren’t having children for the right reasons.

    At 29, I did not have a husband nor a steady boyfriend. I knew that I did want children, and if and when I married, it would have to be a serious discussion with my spouse about my decision not to bear a child, and the possiblity of adoption. I would not be married to a man who could only be happy with his biological child. I am currently married to a man who is very content with our decision to remain childless. And, of course, none of you with children would ever dream of giving your children up! Even if you had children “accidentally”, you have decided to act responsibly and be the best loving parent you can be.

    I would argue that most of the people who even read Beth’s blog are not the type of people who have children without thinking. I’m sure you all care about the environment or you wouldn’t be reading her blog. I would say Miranda and I are probably contemporaries. One of her concerns was ” with so many of us who are concerned about the planet, making the decision not to have children, that in the next generation or two, there will be no guardians of the Mother earth.” But yet, Miranda was a concerned evironmentalist and she had 4 children and I had none. That doesn’t net out to zero population growth. And what about the other millions of families who have children because it is easy and inexpensive and maybe they don’t believe in birth control? Or the thousands that have children because they want “mini-me’s”? Are those parents teaching their children to become moral and ethical stewards of our environment?

    I disagree with Betsy that ” If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?” I hope I’m saving the Earth for the remaining time I have on it and for those of you with children and grandchildren, etc, as well as my nieces and nephews and their children. You don’t have to have children to want to make this Earth a better place to live. I remember when it was okay to have clover in a lawn and it was “normal” for kids to wear hand-me-down clothes. Now I have to fight my neighborhood association to have a pesticide-free lawn and I can barely find clothes that weren’t made with slave labor.

    And for those of you who decide not to have children, don’t ever apologize for it. Those of us who live in the U.S. and other non-regulated population countries are lucky enough to have the freedom of choice. And it is our choice.

  68. Paula says:

    Here is some interesting research to consider when thinking about these issues.

    Coming up with a moral/environmental rational about whether or not to have children isn’t going to convince anyone either way, although it may support someone who’s already made a choice. We need to just respect each decision, hoping that they are acting from a deep personal desire to foster another human being (or just themselves/their own lives if they don’t feel a need to have children) no matter what the circumstances may end up, and not any philosophical or idealistic vision of parenting.

    Being smart about sex, on the other hand, is something that people DO need to be educated about.

  69. After reading everyone’s posts I would have to say that Betsy (Eco-novice) and Abbie’s points make the most sense for me. I am too tired right now to think about it so ditto.
    The first thing I thought of when adoption from a less developed country is that yes you are not adding another child to the earth, but if you bring a child here and they use the resources like Canadian’s and American’s there will actually be an increase rather than equal or less use of resources.

  70. Jason says:

    @B, I’m new here too but I imagine your counterarguments are welcome here – they’re certainly welcome on as well…

    • Beth Terry says:

      EVERYONE’S comments are welcome as long as they are civil and don’t include personal attacks. B, please do keep going if you have more to say. I love a challenging discussion with many points of view.

  71. I will chime in here and defend my position a bit although I will admit it is more philosophical than scientific at this point in time (I readily admit I am not up on the latest environmental population research). I think everyone can agree that our current natural resources are grossly mismanaged (think corn being grown to feed cows, rainforests destroyed to grow coffee, fields of poppy to be made into heroin and so on). If we utilized our resources in a different way, or had pursued cleaner energy options a hundred years ago, we would be in a very different place now. That’s why I say procreation is not to blame. Humans will procreate, folks. But we’re smart primates, and we could have come up with better technologies to handle our population growth and energy needs. I see the principal problems as poor public policy, heedless development and mismanagement of precious and finite resources.

    I also want it on record that I heartily support education and economic opportunities for women, as well as access to contraception if desired, as an extremely humane and ethical method of naturally bringing down the birth rate.

    There are some political considerations here as well. I think to resolve the crises at hand, we need international solutions. You can say that not having children is an individual choice, but I clearly see the stance taking an evangelistic/judgmental turn. You will alienate 90% of the world population (including a significant portion of the U.S. population) with the idea that a person is “greener than thou” for choosing not to have biological children or by depicting children principally as greenhouse gas emitters/ resource suckers. For much of the world, having children is one of the central experiences and purposes of human existence. If having children is not an appropriate choice, why bother saving the Earth in the first place?

  72. Mary says:

    My husband and I have often said we’ll never have kids. Sometimes we mean it, and sometimes maybe we don’t. We’ve only been married 2 years, so we have time to decide. But every time I’ve mentioned to my family that we might not want kids, they first seem to need to know WHY, and then they say, “Oh, you’ll feel differently when the time comes.” Well, now I AM starting to feel differently, but I don’t want to admit it. I’ll just give it time. I figure in 3-5 years I might feel ready to have a kid, but I definitely won’t be pressured into it. I will probably only want one child because I do think overpopulation is an environmental problem.

  73. miranda says:

    Beth, Thank you for your thought filled blogs. I have been following your blog from the start, because I too was trying to find better ways to live my life and to run my business in a responsible way.
    My interest in environmental issues, started at a young age, 40 years ago. I made the choice to have a large family; four children, who have grown up to be writer, designer, musician and doctor of physics. One of my concerns is that with so many of us who are concerned about the planet, making the decision not to have children, that in the next generation or two, there will be no guardians of the Mother earth. I think the real problem is how the planetary resources are managed. Mono crops of rice, wheat and corn and corporate run government are killing the planet. If, as communities we could copy nature’s closed loop systems, we have enough for everyone. Every woman on this planet should have the right to choose to have or not to have children without the judgment of others. We need to provide better education about reproduction. Having children is a lifetime commitment and should never be decided lightly. Those of you who choose not to have children; get involved with your sibling’s children and your friend’s children and teach them what you know so that there are guardians for the next generation.
    Beth, thank you for giving us, your fans, the chance to talk.
    Sincerely, Miranda

  74. Hank says:

    The world can support a finite number of people. Maybe that is 8 billion, maybe 80 billion. It’s a problem that will fix itself.
    Unfortunately, that fix may be a terrible, terrible thing if it is based on running out of resources and precipitates destroying our co-inhabitants. Not enough people see how unsustainable the current path is, whether enough people wake up before famine, disease, war and other destructive forces take over is a scary unknown.
    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.
    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). 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?

  75. andria says:

    Just think if those in the world who value and stride towards a heathier, cleaner, less wastefull planet chose not to have children. . . scary. As a mother of three planned children and as a sped teacher I think so much of our changing social culture is created by Parents. Children learn from watching those that raise them (for better or worse). I think my three daughters can help make the world a better place. My parents believed in composting, recycling and reuse and reduce and passed that on to me, I hope to pass these values on to my children and up the expectations for the as well. When the grow up and get married they can influence the men they marry and the children they raise. I see thoughtfully raising children as a positive for our world and change not and environmental negative. . .

  76. Deb T. says:

    Several thoughts…

    1) I am an adoptive parent, and struggled with some of the same thoughts as one of the gals you mention–I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bring children into a world that seems to be getting worse & worse. HOWEVER, I have always had an ache in my core to be a mother, so that won out. Adoption is definitely not easy, is expensive, and is not the same as parenting a child that is biologically yours.

    2) Before we had our kids, a wise Rabbi once told a group of friends & myself, “If you want to change the world have children!” That really stuck with me. When you have children, you raise up multiplications of yourself & your personal values, and send them out into the world to do the same. Yes, we all know that children do not end up like their parents most of the time, that’s not what I am saying. What I mean is that by raising my two boys to care deeply about the earth; to grow their own food in their own backyard; to compost, recycle, and use everything until it wears out before you buy something new; to love people & give them every kindness (all of these things and so much more)…By raising them this way, they can walk out into the world with some of the tools they require to be world changers, and to continue the multiplication of more world changers…All this to say, yes, it is honorable to be child-less if that is your calling, and if that is what you need to do. BUT, how can we expect future generations to keep the values we hold so dear if we don’t train them up as children to continue with what we think is necessary to make the world a better place? I am certainly not suggesting that everyone should have children; not at all. I’m just saying that for those who think that having children is less honorable because it makes a bigger environmental footprint I disagree.

    Anyhow, that’s my two cents ;)

  77. Desi says:

    I’m an environmentalist, and I have two kids biologically my own. My husband and I considered adoption when we were having some fertility issues, but it really was a last resort scenario for us. We felt a deep need to be parents. And after watching the struggles people close to us have gone through in order to adopt privately, through agencies, and via foster care, I prayed we wouldn’t have to become parents that way. Your friend is right – sex is easy, free, and relatively stress-free.

    After our second child turned two, we opted for sterility over birth control so that’s the limit to our contribution on the global load. Like many other environmentally aware parents, I rationalized my decision to have my kids against my commitment to raise them with the tools to heal our planet. And, like every other parent, I look at them and couldn’t imagine my world without them.

  78. Clif says:

    On responsibility for population increase:

    My parents are dead. My wife’s parents are dead. One day my wife and I will be dead. We will leave two children. Their child-bearing decisions have not yet been made, but in the period of 113 years running from 1898 (the birth year of the oldest parent) to today there has been no net increase in the number of humans produced by our two family lines. Any births (additions) are followed eventually by an equal number of deaths (subtractions) leaving no net increase.

    Since 1898 the world’s population has grown tremendously, but I can honestly say that my family and my wife’s family have had nothing to do with it.

    On having kids per se:

    There is no good one can do in the world equal to producing a thoughtful, caring, responsible, moral, self-controlled, free human being.

    While one can achieve this by adopting, it’s more difficult than doing so with one’s own child. Natural affinity from genetics is extremely powerful in creating a bond, and understanding behavior, that can be completely unconscious.

    There is no guarantee that one can produce a child with the characteristics above, but it is far more probable and far more within one’s ability to do so than to influence another person outside the family to become such a person.

    There is no better project for oneself than dedicating one’s life to producing the characteristics described above in one’s child. In modeling one’s life as an example for a child to follow, there is no way to avoid the real thing, no escaping from a 24/7 dedication that puts all other projects in the shade. This is because you can fool yourself and rationalize anything in your own head but you can’t fool your child.

    In short – we make the world by our own actions and nowhere more so than in our act of reproduction and the parenting that should follow. One should ask oneself – do I and my sexual partner act in a way to make the world a better place? Are we agreed on parenting? If the answer is yes to both then there should be no qualms about having a child.

    Irresponsibility is rampant in the world. When responsible people refuse to reproduce, it has no effect on the irresponsible. Rather it increases the chances for global catastrophe.

    Harry Chapin sang it –

    “…and when I hung up the phone
    it occurred to me
    the boy was just like me
    my boy was just like me”

  79. Abbie says:

    In regards to plastic, I would argue that women who choose to adopt should consider inducing lactation to reduce the need for bottles, nipples, formula cans… and everything that goes along with it. Just one tiny piece of the pie!

    I’d also argue that adopting a child from the developing world and raising him or her the “American” way won’t make a difference in the big picture.

  80. Tara says:

    I am a GINK too, although that was not my only or even my main reason for being childfree. I am a vegetarian although I have 2 cats and 2 dogs and a spouse who are not. Basically I try to do what I can to help the environment (sold my car too).

    As for adoption, it’s a risky proposition that can take a heavy toll – as someone else pointed out, they are a kind of special-needs child. So I would not recommend that as a blanket equivalent to having your own. My hope is that people will think long and hard about their motivations to be parents and try to be as green as possible when raising that child (hopefully not more than one or two at most).

  81. Great post about the never-ending discussion about over-population. I chose to have children and don’t necessarily subscribe to the over-population is the sole cause of the world’s environmental problems theory. I realize that population is a big factor, but consumption is a bigger one. Consumption and distribution of resources can be affected by people in developed nations choosing to not have children, or having fewer, but it is not a necessary result.

    My hope is that women can be supported in their childbearing decisions and those that do have children will raise them to be aware of their impact on the environment and work to reduce it.

  82. B says:



    Sorry for the typo.

  83. sari says:

    What an interesting article. First, let me say, that your decision needs no explanation or defending. If you choose not to have children then that is where the conversation should end. People who feel the need to argue with you or point out why this is a bad thing are stepping over the line.
    Having said that, I am glad I am a parent and would not trade my oops baby for anything. My son had made me a better person and finally forced me to take stock and grow up. Not all people have to have a baby to grow up and I cannot see why you would need to be a better person.
    Adoption is a wonderful alternative for those who cannot conceive or those who feel it unnecessary to do so. Sadly, it is hard to adopt today and as someone else pointed out, very expensive.
    Adoption can come with its own set of problems. I heard a great interview on NPR with a lady who is part of an adopted parent group. One issue we hardly hear about (how could anyone admit it) is that many times adopted parents do not bond with their children, and can suffer from “buyers remorse”. Sometimes too, parents will adopt then have a “natural” child and find their relationship with the adopted child change.
    This is not to say this happens all the time, but according to this interview these issues happen more often than one would care to think about.
    Babies are wonderful, but this does not mean everyone wants or needs one. Good for you for knowing you do not. I have a lot of friends who never had kids and do not regret it for a second.

  84. B says:

    I, like you, am someone above described as “GINK.”

    And, I have been thinking about the connection between environmentalism and population for a LONG TIME.

    It is true that, when we start talking about population growth as an environmental problem, we need to be careful not to stigmatize poor people (in this country or any other), just as, when we talk about overconsumption as an environmental problem, we need to be careful not to stigmatize fat people. The point in both cases being that having kids or being fat are complicated, complicated things, AND we must respect and protect individual choice and self-determination while also evaluating what all those individual choices add up to. (I say these things as someone who is feminist, socialist, and progressive.)

    All that being said, my world changed and all these issues seemed simpler when I started thinking in term of environmental economics rather than human economics. Human economics are predicated upon growth. Environmental economics are predicated on stability (or dynamic equilibrium, if you prefer).

    As such, I think human economics generally fail at solving environmental problems, and yes, THERE MUST BE A LIMIT ON THE HUMAN POPULATION (barring the possibility of colonizing other worlds, which right now seems to me to be unlikely to happen within the next millennium). I don’t know what exactly that limit is, but I am sure there is one. I am equally sure that that limit is affected by the quality of life we all want to have (in other words, how many resources will each person ideally be entitled to?).

    As someone living in a first-world country, and knowing how many people want to live in first world countries, I suspect what we ideally want is something only a little less luxurious than this lifestyle, and that makes me suspect that the human population limit is either at or below what we already have (since the luxuries enjoyed by first world countries are produced partially by other countries living with less).

    And if a stable population would break our economic systems, GOOD. If these systems can’t be maintained by a stable number of people, then they weren’t sustainable in the first place.

    Also, Betsy is just flat-out wrong that fewer children will lead to more hostility towards children. While it is true that many childless-by-choice people get irritated and make dirty looks at children in public places, that is honestly us just being unreasonable and selfish. I say this as someone who has done that in the past, and upon further consideration of how difficult raising children is, decided I was just being an ass and expecting parents to keep children out of public places for my benefit. Yeah, that was sh*tty of me. I grew up some since then, and I can deal with it now.

    While I’m making counter-argument, I will also say I read the link Jason posted, and have counter-arguments for almost every single one of his points, too. However, this comment is long enough, and I’m not certain how welcome disagreement with previous comments is in this blog (I’m a little new here), so I won’t go into unless asked to do so by someone who truly wants to hear more of what I have to say.

  85. Meg says:

    My husband and I are happy to be child-free. We got married young and we expected to have kids. Heck, a lot of people assumed I was pregnant! (Suspicions that I wish they had kept to themselves.) But, my mom had always taught me that things change when you have kids and that it’s o.k. to not rush into it and just enjoy being married first. And that was coming from a woman who LOVES being a mom! So we did wait. And then we realized that we didn’t really want kids. We just assumed we would have them, that that’s the way things work, you know? But we realized then that we do have a choice. So we’ve decided to not have kids. After all, if we’re going to bring another child into this world and spend all the money and time and other resources on them, then I think we should really, really want to have kids. It shouldn’t just be the default choice because we can.

    Fortunately, our families have been pretty understanding, but not everyone is. There’s a lot of vitriol on both “sides” which I find so sad. Let’s educate people about the choices, give them the choices and tools to make them, but let them make that choice for themselves.

  86. greg says:

    I decided to have one amazing baby and I am blessed. But the plastic gifts she has recieved from good meaning people has amazed me. I have tried to return as many as I can. There is no question affluent countries produce a lot of “stuff” for the baby industry. As a parent you are made to feel guilty if you don’t have all this crap availabe for your kid. The doctor actualy told me to try to take her to Disney World every year! I hope I teach my girl a deep responsiblily for the earth and that she doesn’t need alot of stuff to be a productive wonderful person who I hope contributes to this life. To have a child is a deeply personal descion with your spouse and all that it means in terms of your life.

  87. Kate says:

    @Jason, population IS tied to societal collapse and environmental degradation. It’s true that Americans consume too much, which is another reason one could argue that it is irresponsible for American families to have more than, say, two kids each. Maybe one kid each would be better. We use too many resources, and no matter how conscientious we are, our kids will be using too many too.

    The two books my husband always recommends on collapse are Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies and Jared Diamond’s book. National Geographic did a show about Diamond’s book too, which you can watch on Netflix. The connection between population growth and resource overuse is distinct and consistent. Global warming just makes it worse.

  88. Kaylen says:

    I’m an environmentalist and I’m child-free. I like children, but not enough to want them full time – it’s convenient that this is compatible with my desire to limit my environmental impact. I have a loving relationship with some of my friends’ kids, which seems to suit everyone. That said, I love dogs and want them around me frequently/always, so I have 2 dogs and intend to continue adopting dogs throughout my life. Meat-eating dogs are not exactly low-impact.

    I wish Ms. Weiss luck – adopting infants is not an easy or inexpensive thing to do.

  89. Mary K says:

    Several things come to mind for me…..

    1) I am currently pregnant with my first child. In my religious belief system, having children is a gift from God, and it is a reflection of God’s love being shown through the “fruit” of marriage. While there are definitely less than fun moments during pregnancy, it is a wonderful experience, and I love it. I don’t think that childbearing is a burden…. our society has warped our view of childbirth into being nothing but a horrible, painful means to an end, so bad that many women believe their bodies can’t give birth without a myriad of interventions and drugs (all of which have their own impacts on the birthing process).

    2) Birth control– Many women think they are being liberated by chemically controlling their reproductive system. The truth is that hormonal birth control wreaks havoc on our bodies, creating many other long-term issues… not to mention all the plastic and waste that is produced in every packet of pills, etc. and the effects of hormones that get into the environment as a result.

    Family planning is great, but doing so in a natural way that allows women (and men) to understand how a woman’s reproductive cycle works is much better for everyone, and the planet. When people take the time to really LEARN about how to work with their body’s natural systems rather than just stifle it with chemicals, then they are TRULY empowering themselves!

  90. Annette says:

    Thought provoking! I had two daughters (was on the pill both times) and tied my tubes once K15 was born. I was not planning to have children only bcz it did not fit into what I wanted to do with my life. That and the responsibility of children scared the dickens out of me. Now I would not give them up.
    I have, sadly, witnessed women having children only because it increased the amount of money they were given from the state and these additional souls allowed them to qualify for state programs. These children will grow up in some horrible family conditions (emotional abuse). Yes, I personally know two families with this attitude. =/

  91. Ashley says:

    I don’t think adopting children has much of an impact seeing as they are already born so no sense arguing whether their birth will have an affect or not. I think people should adopt through legit organizations and there needs to be education so families in other countries are not lured by giving away their child to get that “rich American” lifestyle. For those who want to adopt a great way to start is by fostering local children from their state. This way you get to see what it is actually like taking in a child from another home that may or may not have issues from their previous home or situation. That way at least in the mean time you are temporarily giving a home to a child who desperately needs a safe one. I have a child, if I ever get married I hope to have more, and either way I want to foster and adopt. Parents need to be educated on consuming less and reducing the massive use that is typical with raising children. Disposable diapers should just be banned all together, that would reduce TONS of waste and possibly appease those who look down on us for having children. Let’s find ways to reduce use, fight to ban things that are disposable and wasteful, teach parents that less is more, teach them skills to create things themselves so there is less consumption of manufactured products – rather than looking down on them and judging them for wanting to give live to a wonderful child. If anyone looked down on me for having a child I would likely punch them in the face. No one has room to judge another, especially not when it comes to a thing like parenting. We each have the right to make our own personal decisions, because it is a personal decision. That being said, I feel contraception should always be provided for those who do not want children, or are too poor to raise children. This way they don’t have to have children or create more of a strain, and those who want to have children responsibly can.

  92. Jason says:

    I kind of lashed out a bit on this after a few beers so I sound a little jerky, but I think it’s about right:

  93. ruchi says:

    Oh sorry, I meant to call you TAFKAFPF. ;)

  94. ruchi says:

    Okay, Fake Plastic Fish, you’ve got me thinking again. I’ll try and get a response to your post up on Monday. But, great post … this is a lot of food for thought!!

  95. Melissa says:

    Good article! Grist has talked about it a lot and come up with the term GINK – Green Inclined, No Kids. As they mention, the great thing about being gink is you can be a great aunt/mother’s best friend/whatever when your kidless. I don’t have kids but I plan to be a good environmental influence on my friend’s baby. (Guess who’s getting a klean kanteen sippy cup!!)
    I’m going to have to disagree with Betsy, I only glare at *misbehaved* children on planes & restaurants.

    The ethical question is a good one. I’d like to see that addressed.

  96. Kate says:

    I’d argue with Betsy on her point. If we’re to look at collapse, true collapse, it’s true that over population IS a problem, particularly with the additional pressures global warming is putting on our environment. More people means more needs for food, water, and energy. My husband is an archaeologist studying collapse and regeneration. Over population and over consumption of resources go hand in hand and they are at the heart of every large collapse in humanity’s past.

    But on the other issue here, I think it’s a shame that women who choose not to have kids have to defend their decision when we don’t ask the same for women who choose to have kids. We tried to have our own kid (our plan was for only one and to adopt a second) and now we’re trying for adoption. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. We’ve got a lot going on in our lives. None of my friends who have kids — some of whom have given up academic careers that really were making a difference in the big picture to have those kids — are asked to defend their decision. It’s just ‘natural’ that they’d want kids. Why can’t it be equally natural to choose not to have kids? I think it’s only fair.

  97. Melissa says:

    Good article! Grist has talked about it a lot and come up with the term GINK – Green Inclined, No Kids. As they mention, the great thing about being gink is you can be a great aunt/mother’s best friend/whatever when your kidless
    I’m going to have to disagree with Betsy, I only glare at *misbehaved* children on planes & restaurants.


  1. […] 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 […]

  2. 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 […]

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

  4. 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 […]

  5. […] 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. […]