Before we had our own little one, my husband always accused me of being baby-crazy. Despite the reality of the planet’s limited carrying capacity, I never really considered not having children, and I scaled back my plans from 3 kids to 2 kids, to stay below the 2.2 children/woman average for not increasing the world population. (I’m pretty sure this 2.2 is a legit figure, but I can’t find a reliable source for it at the moment.)
Sure, I would use green practices, like cloth diapering, avoiding unnecessary baby/kid “stuff,” and buying used, and I would raise my child(ren) to respect the earth and its resources. Still, the reality is that a baby born in the United States, no matter how “green,” has a big carbon footprint that will almost certainly persist throughout the lifetime.
When I was five months pregnant, I read Beth Terry’s “I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids” post, and, despite the fact that she explicitly states that she made her decision to not have kids because of personal goals rather than environmental concerns, I started feeling a little guilty. And then there were the quotes she shared from others about not wanting to bring new life into this mess of a world. Gulp. Did I mention I was already five months pregnant at this point? Perhaps not the best reading material.
So, here I am, seven months later, with a three-month-old son. The last three months have certainly seen increased resource use — water and energy washing diapers, trips made in the car that would have otherwise been made by bicycle — but at this stage, his needs, and therefore his eco-impact, are relatively minimal. We’ve managed to purchase almost all large items second-hand (as well as keeping total purchases to a minimum), and he’s clothed mostly in hand-me-downs. But still, having a baby is not exactly green.
As the years pass, his resource consumption will increase, but in some areas it may decrease, at least for awhile. Once he’s just a bit older, we plan to travel by bike more than by car, and he won’t be in diapers forever. As he grows, we’ll do our best to foster an appreciation for sustainable living and respect for the earth and its resources, values that we hope he will carry with him. While I don’t buy the argument that this approach justifies having large numbers of children, it does offer some middle ground for raising a child, and sometimes, that’s as good as it gets.
You know… here’s my opinion on the topic. I do think that human population is the biggest environmental problem that we face, but I DON’T think that people who really want kids should not have them for environmental reasons. The truth is that the population problem is really not here in the developed world… it’s in other places on the planet where people don’t have the choice to control their family size because of either lack of access to birth control or because a large family is required to ensure financial security. At least that’s part of the issue… another part is that girls are often denied access to education so they end up without the resources to be financially independent, and hence, end up in the role of wife/mother whether that’s what they wanted or not. And don’t even get me started about the attempts by a certain political party in this country to restrict access to reproductive health services!
Perhaps I am just naive, but I truly believe that if we could just allow people to choose the size of their families based on what they really, truly want… not on a whole host of other factors (including access to birth control, financial security, and social expectations) then the population problem would solve itself.
Unfortunately, in terms of environmental impact, population growth in the developed world is a huge problem. Some numbers that help illustrate the impact of one American, versus one citizen of another country, from http://darwin.bio.uci.edu/~sustain/bio65/lec24/b65lec24.htm
“The U.S., with only 4.7 percent of the world’s population, consumes 25 percent of the world’s resources and generates 25 to 30 percent of the world’s waste. Compared to an average citizen in India, a typical person in the U.S. uses: 50 times more steel; 56 times more energy; 170 times more synthetic rubber and newsprint; 250 times more motor fuel; 300 times more plastic.
Each American consumes as much grain as five Kenyans, and as much energy as 35 Indians, 150 Bangladeshis (a whole village!) or 500 Ethiopians.”
I think it’s right to understand what it means to bring a baby into this world, this country, this time–as best we can. But I don’t think the environmental impact of the average American is the only consideration in the decision to have a family, and to have your own biological children.
This, of course, is all true. But I fear the gap is narrowing each and every year, and it’s not because we Americans are shrinking our footprints! I actually read somewhere that even a homeless person in this country uses more resources than the average Indian or person in China simply due to their share of our “shared resource use”. That was a frightening statistic!
But… in terms of pure numbers, the birth rate in the US, along with most developed countries is plummeting. http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html This doesn’t mean that our population isn’t growing, but it’s mostly growing due to immigration, and one could certainly make the argument that population growth due to immigration from poorer countries has pretty much the same environmental effect as people in poorer countries adopting a more western lifestyle.
In fact, some people in places like Europe and Japan are pretty darned freaked out about their dwindling populations… not to mention the “strife” caused by the fact that many of these countries are dealing with a large immigrant population for the first time.
I’m not saying I know what the answer is… truth is it sort of looks like humanity is headed over a cliff from my perspective, but it’s been shown over and over that the only thing that reliably lowers birth rate is bettering the standard of living. Of course, there’s no way the planet can handle 7 billion people living like we do, but what that statistic says to me is that when a society gets to the point that reproducing is really, truly a conscious choice, the birth rate tends to fall below the level of replacement. Since I’m a believer that the planet can really only handle about a billion people at a time over the long haul, I guess I think the only way to solve the population problem is to find a way to give people (women) control over their reproductive decisions pronto!
Good points and discussion on what is clearly a complicated issue, possibly one without one, clear “right” answer. The numbers are pretty sobering.
Now that I’m on this end of having a child, I more than ever think it’s not something that should be entered into lightly, and it will definitely change your lifestyle, altering what goals you can achieve, or at least how easily you can achieve them.
Well… it may alter what goals you can achieve, but don’t forget that raising a healthy and happy child is a HUGE achievement in its own right.