38 votes

Having children is one of the most destructive things you can to do the environment, say researchers

37 comments

  1. [6]
    Sahasrahla Link
    This is a misanthropic argument that devalues everything about being human. It looks at the potential of an individual and ignores their future friends, their lovers, any art they will create, any...
    • Exemplary x2

    This is a misanthropic argument that devalues everything about being human. It looks at the potential of an individual and ignores their future friends, their lovers, any art they will create, any discoveries or inventions, the intrinsic value of their experience and inner life as they live on this Earth—and instead only sees humans as machines that generate waste. I reject this view in the strongest terms. The urgency in fighting climate change isn't to save some polar bears a thousand miles away, it's to save ourselves. To say that people are bad and we need fewer of them misses the point.

    And, speaking of missing the point, in a practical sense this is still a terrible solution. It tries to prevent a Malthusian apocalypse that never materialized. Most rich, industrialized nations (who are the ones contributing the most to climate change) are already at or below replacement level in terms of new births. If they are growing at all it is only because of immigration. It's also too slow of a solution: less potential pollution amortized over the next 80 years won't do much to help us when we desperately need solutions now. If we find a way to switch to clean and sustainable energy sources then the impact of a new child on the environment will be negligible, and if we can't do that then we're doomed anyway.

    26 votes
    1. [5]
      nic Link Parent
      How does "One fewer child per family" devalue everything about being human?

      How does "One fewer child per family" devalue everything about being human?

      8 votes
      1. [2]
        Sahasrahla Link Parent
        The simple calculus of "one person equals X tons of carbon waste" ignores the potential value and contribution of a human life. To be clear though, I'm speaking more in the context of the wider...

        The simple calculus of "one person equals X tons of carbon waste" ignores the potential value and contribution of a human life. To be clear though, I'm speaking more in the context of the wider discussion on this issue rather than just the article linked. This idea has been tossed about since at least 1798 when Malthus's essay on population and resource depletion was first published but very rarely do I see any consideration of what is lost by having fewer people. It is assumed that there is nothing of value to balance out the environmental impact of a person's life; to put it more directly, we consider what is bad about a person without considering what is good. That's what I mean when I say the way this issue is presented 'devalues everything about being human' because, quite literally, the positive value of a human life is not considered.

        4 votes
        1. nic Link Parent
          There is also huge positive value of a diverse ecosystem.

          There is also huge positive value of a diverse ecosystem.

          3 votes
      2. [2]
        Sahasrahla Link Parent
        Sorry about the double reply, but I was still thinking about this and wanted to take the chance to talk about why I think this solution wouldn't work, irrespective of any meta discussion about the...
        • Exemplary

        Sorry about the double reply, but I was still thinking about this and wanted to take the chance to talk about why I think this solution wouldn't work, irrespective of any meta discussion about the framing of the issue.

        At its heart it seems like a simple, logical, and common sense solution: too much carbon is being put into the atmosphere, the carbon is being put there by human activity, therefore fewer humans means less carbon and not as bad a problem. Some issues become apparent though when we consider how this would work over time.

        Short term it does nothing. Like a slowly growing investment the carbon saved by this approach takes time to build up to anything meaningful. We can't retroactively apply this approach to make there be fewer people now (genocide is obviously off the table despite the popularity of the recent Avengers movie) so this doesn't do anything to help with current pollution levels. Long term, on the scale of multiple human lifetimes, we'd still be putting too much carbon into the atmosphere—it would just take longer to get to harmful levels. That wouldn't be true if we develop a carbon neutral economy where each person's lifetime pollution was equal to zero, but in that case, the number of people wouldn't matter as much anyway.

        The real benefit would possibly be in the medium term: slow down the rate of climate change to give us a bit more time to find a permanent fix. But, that has problems too. People are living a lot longer past the time when they can work and supporting them is expensive. Right now we handle that as a society by using the economic weight of the younger generation to support the oldest generation, e.g. by contributions to social security, taxes paying for other programs, direct support with children paying their parents' nursing home bills, economic growth buoying retirement and pension funds, etc. With fewer young people the burden on them to support the elderly becomes proportionally greater which hurts everyone: the elderly get worse care, there's less money for all social programs (or fighting climate change), younger people are more burdened, etc. The greater the reduction of potential carbon pollution the worse the demographic problem and its effects.

        Then there's the problem of implementing this solution. As a voluntary grass-roots campaign it would be difficult to get significant numbers participating. As a (benignly or otherwise) coercive campaign, the rich nations that produce the most carbon already have low birth rates and the simple fixes (e.g. educating women) to reduce the birth rates in other nations would likely come along with a raise in the standard of living—which, in turn, increases their carbon footprint. (And that's not even touching the neo-colonial issue of a bunch of rich westernized nations telling African nations, where much of the world's current population growth is happening, that they should stop having so many kids and give up any hope of a western 'middle class' lifestyle.)

        Mostly though, I think this whole debate is masking another issue which is much more fundamental: do we solve climate change by reducing our energy consumption, or do we solve it by changing our energy consumption to carbon neutral fuel sources? Long term, if we want to avoid passing off this problem to future generations, we'll need to pick one path or the other since a slow and steady release of carbon would catch up to us eventually.

        The first path, greatly reducing energy consumption, would require the effective end of industrialization or a drastic reduction in the number of people far beyond what a humane population control scheme could achieve in so short a timeline. Though, it wouldn't really be an either/or since industrial agriculture is necessary to support so many people on Earth. This solution, in my opinion, is the stuff of sci-fi dystopias. Assuming we are still ruling out genocide we would need draconian population controls that would make Mao blush and we'd be left with a large mass of people currently alive who simply couldn't be supported. And that's even assuming that everyone around the world is happy to go back to a pseudo-18th-century lifestyle without resistance. Maybe we could find a balance: gradual reduction of energy use and gradual reduction of population, but we don't really have time for whatever value of "gradual" would be humane.

        The other path, changing our energy sources to be carbon neutral, is what I believe is needed. There are still challenges (it's expensive and would hurt politically powerful groups who would oppose the change) but those challenges should be possible to overcome. This path would also allow people to keep a comparably high standard of living.

        Of course, I'm at a risk of straw-manning here: there's no reason technological change (if that is the path we take) can't be complemented by personal reduction in energy usage. In that case having no or fewer children could be an option. However, I'm not really sold on it. The scale of technological change necessary, and the speed at which it must be adopted, would utterly dwarf the effects of large scale voluntary lifestyle changes. There would still be a place for those ideas, especially since the energy available on Earth is finite, but that's a separate issue entirely from the current emergency we're trying to address.

        1 vote
        1. nic Link Parent
          New technologies often have unforeseen circumstances. Fossil fuels are raising temperatures. Plastic in the ocean is killing sea life. Pesticides on our land are killing of insects. Antibiotics in...

          New technologies often have unforeseen circumstances.

          Fossil fuels are raising temperatures. Plastic in the ocean is killing sea life. Pesticides on our land are killing of insects. Antibiotics in our food are creating super bugs.

          Frankly, I don't see how any of this ends well.

          3 votes
  2. [3]
    Spel (edited ) Link
    A potential counter-argument that I would like to see someone adress is that having children and raising them is the way we have the most impact on society. If environmentally conscious people to...

    A potential counter-argument that I would like to see someone adress is that having children and raising them is the way we have the most impact on society. If environmentally conscious people to a higher degree choose to not have kids it may mean that the people of the future society are brought up mostly by people who don't care as much. This future population may as a result of this also care less and be less likely to behave in a way that is environmentally friendly, meaning that we end up worse anyway. Any thoughts?

    19 votes
    1. Rocket_Man Link Parent
      There's value to the influence environmentally conscious people have on their kids. They'd probably care more than a typical kid. But kids are more than their parents. A comprehensive education...

      There's value to the influence environmentally conscious people have on their kids. They'd probably care more than a typical kid. But kids are more than their parents. A comprehensive education would likely result in kids caring about the environment. With the exception of kids who's parents are extremely anti-environment.

      That's why I think reducing population in general is more effective than raising an environmentally friendly kid. The mechanism for reducing populations is unclear however, I don't like to shame people for their basic desires.

      10 votes
    2. nic Link Parent
      I think a more interesting question is; what were the sort of people that tended to have more children in our past?

      I think a more interesting question is; what were the sort of people that tended to have more children in our past?

  3. [6]
    Catt (edited ) Link
    As someone trying to lower my own consumption, and currently with a new born at home, here's my two cents. And as I mentioned, I do have a new born, so this might be a bit messy... For me, I...

    As someone trying to lower my own consumption, and currently with a new born at home, here's my two cents.

    And as I mentioned, I do have a new born, so this might be a bit messy...

    For me, I honestly find the don't have children for the environment really close to the practice absence to prevent abortions line of thinking. To live is to consume, and the line will differ for each on what "to live" means. For many, myself included, living includes building families (which can also include pets). If your idea of a complete family does not include children, that's fine, and if it does, that's fine too.

    Next, I generally find the over population argument kind of a red herring. The consumption of a single child in a first world country, like Canada or the USA, is somewhere between 4 - 10 times that of a child in a less privileged part of the world. There are also differences in child of different social and economical backgrounds within a country itself. So I believe we need to address the huge disparity and waste that comes with living ...

    I also really dislike hearing the "just adopt" sentiment tossed in quite frequently. That point is often loaded with either ignorance or privilege. Adoption...

    Baby waking up...To be continued

    17 votes
    1. [2]
      mat Link Parent
      "Just adopt" like it's that simple. It's tonnes of paperwork and checks and waiting and assessments and all sorts of things. My aunt adopted and it took her five years and countless bits of...
      • Exemplary

      "Just adopt" like it's that simple. It's tonnes of paperwork and checks and waiting and assessments and all sorts of things. My aunt adopted and it took her five years and countless bits of administration and costs. She got married even though she didn't want to (long-term boyfriend and her were both fairly anti-marriage) because that improves your chances. A cousin of mine just got turned down as a candidate despite being young, healthy, intelligent and in full employment with great prospects for the future. She'll try again but there's no guarantee of ever getting approved. I'm not sure if I'd qualify either.

      Children aren't like dogs, there aren't shelters full of them waiting to find a forever home (adopt your pups yo!). There are children who need homes but many of them have special needs, emotionally. Foster carers are skilled people, it's so so different from "normal" parenting, and adoption can be the same. It's not a case of showing up at the hospital and choosing a baby you like the look of.

      Anyway, hope you're getting some sleep! Our little dude is coming up on six months and he's just about letting us have 4-5 hours straight now...

      16 votes
      1. Catt Link Parent
        You've covered my thoughts exactly (and better than I would have). I think people have this image that couples can just wander into an orphanage and pick the cutest child and take them home, or...

        You've covered my thoughts exactly (and better than I would have). I think people have this image that couples can just wander into an orphanage and pick the cutest child and take them home, or fly to China and being back an exotic baby. In reality, it's so much more. I'm so glad your aunt managed to adopt. The sad thing is, five years is considered average where I am, and like you mentioned for your cousin, there are no guarantees. And you have so little control over all of it, from how they birth mom managed her health while pregnant and onwards. One thing that really stuck with me was a social worker stressing that "love isn't always enough" and adoptive parents needed to be honest with themselves about their tolerance and limitations. Every child deserves love and parents that can physically and emotionally support them the way they need, and not all of us have what it takes.

        Ah I'm still counting down to the magical three month mark everyone keeps telling me about... Can't wait for six, when he can hold his head reliability and hopefully sit up nicely. Currently he's in the alert and knows boredom, but can't physical do anything phase, lol.

        5 votes
    2. Nmg Link Parent
      Not to mention, in the adoption world, babies are in high demand, while older children definitely are not. People want to shape another human with their own values. If a Western couple adopts a...

      Not to mention, in the adoption world, babies are in high demand, while older children definitely are not. People want to shape another human with their own values.

      If a Western couple adopts a baby from a developing country rather than pro-create naturally, then, just as you put it, the only climate impact savings are that of one human in the developing world, which is just a fraction of a Western person's impact. So it does certainly make a difference (and is awesome for reasons outside of environmental protection), however could only be a single prong as part of a multi-pronged appoach.

      5 votes
    3. [2]
      SimpleProgrammer Link Parent
      I am one of those people who has chosen not to have children based on my concerns about the future global ecosystem. I haven't chosen this path because of over-population, food shortages, or any...

      I am one of those people who has chosen not to have children based on my concerns about the future global ecosystem.

      I haven't chosen this path because of over-population, food shortages, or any of the usual suspects. My belief is a simple one, we don't have enough time to erode self-interest and greed at the level where people are influential. I especially do not believe this can be achieved before our ecosystem reaches a tipping point that we cannot recover from without some serious changes in quality of life.

      My personal view is that I would be selfish to bring a child into a world where I don't believe that child will enjoy a standard of living equal to or better than my own.

      Please do not consider this an attack on future parents. My pessimism of the future is not shared by everyone and it's great that people can be optimistic about our future. I don't hold anything against new parents or those planning to have kids. I truly hope the great minds of this planet come together to solve the greatest threats this species has ever faced.

      1 vote
      1. Catt Link Parent
        I totally get this. It's actually something I do think about a fair bit too. Somewhere between the distopia stories that I seem to love and learning that nothing is really recycled and how we are...

        My personal view is that I would be selfish to bring a child into a world where I don't believe that child will enjoy a standard of living equal to or better than my own.

        I totally get this. It's actually something I do think about a fair bit too. Somewhere between the distopia stories that I seem to love and learning that nothing is really recycled and how we are pretty much past the point of no return, I think I cracked... Now, I'm pretty much whatever will come will come. I will try to make the changes that I can sustain and kinda just accept that I have very limited control. And strongly hope that my kid isn't completely screwed...

  4. [3]
    MeMeBebop Link
    I don't particularly like this line of thinking because it seems to lead far too easily into eugenics territory. Not to mention that changes that individual people make to their lifestyle...

    I don't particularly like this line of thinking because it seems to lead far too easily into eugenics territory.
    Not to mention that changes that individual people make to their lifestyle ultimately don't have much of an impact.

    Remember that just 100 companies are responsible for approximately 70% of emissions.
    We really can support our current population, the problem is with distribution of resources and power. It's all well and good suggesting green lifestyle changes, but megacorps will continue doing whatever they're doing no matter what changes to your lifestyle you personally make.

    Not that I'm saying everyone should have kids, mind. It's a decision people should make for themselves. Mostly that it ultimately won't have much of an effect, because the largest causes of climate change are on a more systemic level.

    12 votes
    1. [2]
      Nmg Link Parent
      This reminds me that as I was starting my freshman year at university, a peer said "I know it's fucked up to say, but I am kind of glad that the holocaust happened, because there are way too many...

      I don't particularly like this line of thinking because it seems to lead far too easily into eugenics territory

      This reminds me that as I was starting my freshman year at university, a peer said "I know it's fucked up to say, but I am kind of glad that the holocaust happened, because there are way too many people in the world."

      As you can imagine, not only was I incensed due to his remarks about the holocaust, what he said was absolutely wrong.

      Turns out, killing people is a pretty crappy way to reduce their population. Educating women and supplying access to birth control is better.

      8 votes
      1. MeMeBebop Link Parent
        That's fair, yeah. I agree completely. I unfortunately see a lot of similar sentiments to that remark about the holocaust. Not that it's ever the holocaust that's named, just that I'll bring up...

        Turns out, killing people is a pretty crappy way to reduce their population. Educating women and supplying access to birth control is better.

        That's fair, yeah. I agree completely.

        I unfortunately see a lot of similar sentiments to that remark about the holocaust. Not that it's ever the holocaust that's named, just that I'll bring up how climate change will end up killing or displacing many people, especially in the underdeveloped world, and people may not be willing to take in refugees (though I really hope that they will) and a common response is that it might not be a bad thing since we have too many people anyway.

        I do agree with the point that people should probably have less children, though. But I also think that looking at things at a more systemic level is more important, at least for now.

        1 vote
  5. [6]
    Spel (edited ) Link
    This kind of thing is only detrimental to the climate change debate (not over whether if its exists or not, but how we should solve it). Yes, people not existing is a solution but the truth is...

    This kind of thing is only detrimental to the climate change debate (not over whether if its exists or not, but how we should solve it). Yes, people not existing is a solution but the truth is that there are ways that we could have vastly more people on earth without it being a problem (and odds are that we're very close to hitting peak-human anyway, after which the human population will dwindle until the last human dies). It's a much better idea to focus on other solutions rather than something like this, much for the same reason that if you're pro-euthnasia one of your arguments shouldn't be the financial benefits.

    10 votes
    1. [5]
      Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
      There is no way the human population will drop to zero merely from a falling fertility rate. There are other ways we might go extinct, but that's not it. There will always be people making babies....

      odds are that we're very close to hitting peak-human anyway, after which the human population will dwindle until the last human dies

      There is no way the human population will drop to zero merely from a falling fertility rate. There are other ways we might go extinct, but that's not it.

      There will always be people making babies. There might be fewer humans, but not zero.

      5 votes
      1. [4]
        Spel Link Parent
        I didn't say that it was only from the fertility rate.

        I didn't say that it was only from the fertility rate.

        3 votes
        1. Kielyr Link Parent
          Are you hinting at AI girlfriend/boyfriend robots? I'm quite excited to see how that future pans out.

          Are you hinting at AI girlfriend/boyfriend robots? I'm quite excited to see how that future pans out.

        2. [2]
          Algernon_Asimov Link Parent
          Maybe you could explain what you think will cause this to happen... ... so we don't have to guess?

          Maybe you could explain what you think will cause this to happen...

          odds are that we're very close to hitting peak-human anyway, after which the human population will dwindle until the last human dies

          ... so we don't have to guess?

          1. Sahasrahla Link Parent
            I think the parent comment is suggesting that as global birth rates decrease (e.g. from education and better opportunities for women) we'll soon reach a record that will never be broken in terms...

            I think the parent comment is suggesting that as global birth rates decrease (e.g. from education and better opportunities for women) we'll soon reach a record that will never be broken in terms of how many people there are. Declining birth rates will mean a declining population and we'll hit a new normal well below the peak, at which point it might fluctuate up and down but never reach the record high that was set. The "dwindle until the last human dies" part isn't from any imminent disaster, but more of a recognition that humanity is guaranteed to die off in the long term (sun turning into a red giant, heat death of the universe, etc.) and before that happens the soon to be set maximum-population-ever record won't be broken.

            Personally I'd like to think that humans will figure out how to live in space or other worlds and we'll end up with many more of us before this is all over (if it ever is), but that's a completely different topic.

            2 votes
  6. HanakoIsBestGirl Link
    I just commented about this in another thread! Another point to make is that children are going to make more children, who are going to make more children and I think you get the point. Im against...

    I just commented about this in another thread!

    Another point to make is that children are going to make more children, who are going to make more children and I think you get the point.

    Im against having kids, but im not going to stop anyone from doing so. Consider adopting instead. Or getting a pet.

    5 votes
  7. [3]
    Dovey Link
    Well, I did my bit. No children, and I don't drive or fly anywhere. I struggle with giving up meat. No, to be honest I've just given up and am not struggling at all right now, just eating the...

    Well, I did my bit. No children, and I don't drive or fly anywhere. I struggle with giving up meat. No, to be honest I've just given up and am not struggling at all right now, just eating the stuff regularly, after several periods of my life when I've been vegetarian or fully plant-based. I guess it's time to work on that again, and maybe get to at least part-time vegetarian.

    Adding: I don't condemn people for having children, since I understand there are some biological urges that I was happily free of but are very powerful for others, but I do judge people who have huge families.

    4 votes
    1. [2]
      Nmg Link Parent
      I feel bad for the children of huge families. They don't benefit from the undivided attention of their parents. In my experience, it is religious families (Catholic, Jewish, Mormon) who tend to...

      I do judge people who have huge families.

      I feel bad for the children of huge families. They don't benefit from the undivided attention of their parents. In my experience, it is religious families (Catholic, Jewish, Mormon) who tend to have so many kids. Compare that to Chinese children, who are quite literally the entire focus of their family -- it isn't uncommon for grandparents to literally only ever have one grandchild. They have two generations of supportive adults to help them make the most of their life.

      2 votes
      1. Sahasrahla Link Parent
        I'm not planning on having children but if I were I think my goal would be a medium sized family (say, three or four kids). As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate my siblings and family...

        I'm not planning on having children but if I were I think my goal would be a medium sized family (say, three or four kids). As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate my siblings and family more. Even close friends can come and go as people change and move but the link with a sibling, even if it's not always close, is always there and it's lifelong. They're people who understand where you came from and how you grew up and they can be a source of support, especially when trying to take care of aging parents. Having a few siblings means there's a better chance of having a good or close relationship with at least one of them and it can be a mini-community of people with different strengths for supporting each other. Having more kids also increases the chance of getting better care in your old age and of having the social bonds and support of your children, grandchildren, sons/daughters-in-law, etc.

        That's not to say that there aren't advantages to being from a smaller family, or that every family will be good, or that people can't find community and love and support in other ways. But, still, there's something to be said for having more than one or two kids just so they can be there for each other later in life.

  8. Fin Link
    Quite frankly I'm choosing not to have kids because of all the mental illness that is in my family. I wouldn't want to put an innocent person through the shit I have gone through and almost all of...

    Quite frankly I'm choosing not to have kids because of all the mental illness that is in my family. I wouldn't want to put an innocent person through the shit I have gone through and almost all of my family members.

    3 votes
  9. PepperJackson Link
    For some reason, this has never crossed my mind as a means to prevent climate change. I've been interested in adopting for some time, and this is another weight on the "do not have kids" side of...

    For some reason, this has never crossed my mind as a means to prevent climate change. I've been interested in adopting for some time, and this is another weight on the "do not have kids" side of the balance.

    I think I'm a bit shy of a decade away from a point in my life where it makes sense to raise a child, which would put my partner at risk for advanced maternal age related issues anyways. I think we are getting to the point where it's ethically questionable to bring a child into the world because of its tenuous stability.

    I find issue with telling people that they can't have children, but it feels like something we ought to do. I wish I had the philosophical tools and education to think about it more completely.

    2 votes
  10. letterbee Link
    This kind of seems like an obvious point, one that doesn't really need an entire article dedicated to it. Want to fix poverty? Tell the poor people to stop having kids. Non solution to a serious...

    This kind of seems like an obvious point, one that doesn't really need an entire article dedicated to it. Want to fix poverty? Tell the poor people to stop having kids. Non solution to a serious problem probably just trying to piss people off for clicks.

    2 votes
  11. CrazyOtter Link
    The paper is open access and available at https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/pdf I find it very annoying when news organizations don't link to the original study.

    The paper is open access and available at https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541/pdf
    I find it very annoying when news organizations don't link to the original study.

    2 votes
  12. [3]
    EscapedYank Link
    I have, quite intentionally, made this my first post on Tildes. Interested to see if this topic unleashes the same level of vitriol as it receives on some other platforms . . .

    I have, quite intentionally, made this my first post on Tildes. Interested to see if this topic unleashes the same level of vitriol as it receives on some other platforms . . .

    6 votes
    1. HanakoIsBestGirl Link Parent
      My experience here is that people are much more open to discussion and will tend to respectfully reply to those they disagree with instead of just throwing insults. But I've only been here for a...

      My experience here is that people are much more open to discussion and will tend to respectfully reply to those they disagree with instead of just throwing insults.

      But I've only been here for a few days so maybe im a bit inexperienced.

      8 votes
    2. nic Link Parent
      I look forward to your second post with great eagerness.

      I look forward to your second post with great eagerness.

  13. lazer Link
    One of the many reasons I'm opting out (or rather not opting in...)

    One of the many reasons I'm opting out (or rather not opting in...)