The issue of population, or more accurately overpopulation, is a really, really sensitive subject, so I want to state from the outset that this article is not directed to those people with children, rather those that are considering having children; be it their first or adding to their clan. What’s done is done, what’s not can be prevented.
Knowledge is wonderful, but with it comes a heavy responsibility.
Jonathon Porritt, an advisor to the UK government, believes that green groups are betraying the interests of their members by refusing to address population issues due to the topic being “too controversial”. He’s right, it’s the elephant in the room many of us are trying to ignore for fear of backlash. I had touched on the topic briefly and gingerly in the past with some interesting feedback.
At the age of 27, I decided that it was important that I did not have children and took the appropriate steps to ensure it didn’t occur. At that stage, it had more to do with genetics than environment, but as I get older I’ve discovered the side benefit was my decision is likely my greatest gift to the planet.
It’s a decision I have never, ever, ever regretted, so I certainly can’t claim it was a huge sacrifice and be eligible for any martyr awards. The thought of my progeny running about planet Earth sends chills down my spine to be quite honest :).
For me to perpetuate the line would have contributed so much additional environmental strain, even if my kids missed getting hit by the genetic boogeyman. For example, the average life expectancy of Australians, Canadians, folks in the USA and UK is between 77 – 80 years. At an average of 11 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, the average Aussie will generate more than 880 tons of carbon emissions in one lifetime. That doesn’t include all the other harm we do.
But what if I didn’t stop at one child and had two or more? Or what about my child’s children, their children and so on. What if some of them became heavy tobacco smokers like me? The mind boggles at the potential environmental impact if I had decided to have kids. It could potentially have many thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic waste within a few generations. Even if I reduced my personal impact by 75%, that could be wiped out by me introducing a single mini-me to this planet.
Here’s a few stats gathered from Mother Jones about the carbon footprint of children:
– One child in the USA generates as much CO2 as 106 Haitian children.
– In the region of 223 trees would be needed to offset the CO2 generated by a child watching 3 hours of TV every day for 18 years.
– In 2006, volunteers collected 68,720 lbs of toys and 33,469 lbs of diapers during global beach cleanups.
– The average student bins up to 90 lbs of lunch-box leftovers and packaging each year.
Sure, I could have taken steps with my kids to avoid some of those things, but that doesn’t mean they would have continued it. My parents warned me about drugs, but that certainly didn’t stop me losing a decade of my life to them. The machine of marketing is in kids’ ears for so much of their lives and it’s incredibly pervasive and persuasive. I know because I’m part of that machine.
The other thing that constantly springs to my mind for those of us who fully understand where humanity is at – why would you want to bring children into a world that’s falling apart environmentally? We can’t guarantee their survival, nor can we even be confident in it. Are we offering them the “gift of life” or a terrible curse? Some talk about their “right” to children. But where does that “right” come from? Mother Nature issues us with no such right.
Are we listening too much to our animal instincts but using our “superior” intellects to rationalize our having children rather than facing the fact this planet needs to be fixed before we can continue expanding, or even just maintaining current population levels? Many say even at current levels, the population is unsustainable long term. We really need to think long and hard about why we have children.
The finger is often pointed at developing countries regarding their tendency to generate massive broods, but I feel those folks have a better justification than most of us do. They don’t have the education we do and it’s their survival strategy for when they get older. With mortality rates so high in many country they need to have more children. Until we address their poverty, nothing will change there. But in order for us to maintain our comparatively lavish lifestyles, they must stay poor. It’s sadly just how the system works for now and it’s a system doomed to fail.
Let’s face it; we humans aren’t exactly an endangered species and no matter what types of controls are put in place, be they from government or nature throwing devastation our way, it’s unlikely everyone will stop procreating all at once and for humanity to disappear from the planet altogether.
Let me play the devil’s advocate here – even if it did, why would that be so bad? Why is it so important in the grand scale of things that our species continues to survive forever? Seems to me that the way we are going it couldn’t be – we appear to have some sort of collective, subconscious death wish.
If it is so important, what’s wrong with Africans taking over the world for example? Or Chinese, or Indians? Who cares as long as it’s an element of the species that by that time knows how to look after the darned place.
Our societies and commerce systems are based on the false assumption that infinite expansion is realistic. Deep down, most of us know that is insane. Knowing is one thing, experiencing it is another. We, and the next couple of generations are going to quickly see that this is not the case. Not only the environment, but our own financial systems have turned against us already.
For those of us with the education and knowledge of the perils of overpopulation, it’s up to us to make what for some will be a huge sacrifice – to not have any/more children. That doesn’t stop us from teaching the current and next generation about our mistakes so that they may avoid them. Want kids or something to nurture? Adopt. Consider getting a recycled pet even.
For the others who don’t fully understand the danger we our now facing with overpopulation and the environmentally generally – continue to eat, drink and be merry by all means, but if you do, just don’t have kids – that can be your contribution; there’s nothing further you need do or understand. Going green for you can be that easy. Sounds like a fair trade for not having to compromise your lifestyle don’t you think?
Let’s just give churning out kiddies a bit of a rest for a while and see how this mess pans out.