Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Taking a middle path to save the world?

I wrote a whole post talking about population control and climate change.  But nervousness about the reaction I might get has stopped or delayed (I haven’t decided yet) me from posting it.  And as I was contemplating this issue, one of the comments I got on my Saving the World post made me think.

Amel noted that she had, in the past, bristled when someone (with no kids) said to her that the world had too many children anyway.  And I can understand that.  Because I see that reaction all the time in people who have kids.  They get defensive.  It’s natural.  And those of us who tried to have children could also feel that way, if we saw our choices as under attack.

Then I thought about the childfree-by-choice, who often (as Loribeth pointed out) use the environmental impact of having children as one of the reasons you might choose not to have children.  They are absolutely right.  I wholeheartedly agree with them.  But sadly sometimes some of the more vocal childfree-by-choice risk antagonising those with children.

And it struck me that there could be a leadership role on this issue for those of us who at one time wanted to have children – often wanted desperately to have children – but who now find ourselves without children.  We can relate to the parents, in terms of the desire to have children, and the choice to begin trying.  And we can relate to the childfree-by-choice, because we are living the same lives as them, without children.  And - after a bit of time (as Amel pointed out) - because we can step back a bit and look at the consequences a bit more objectively. 


Perhaps we could help forge a middle way, one that we could all support, whether we have children or not.  One where we were prepared to talk about population growth, and how it is killing our planet.  Where as a start we were prepared to examine our own desires and the ethics of that, had we been able to realise our dreams.  Because I think that is what is needed.  An honest examination of our motivations and the implications of those.  A start to the discussion (because it is not being discussed).  Without being defensive.  With our family and friends and (most importantly) the next generation. To save our planet.

Update:  I'm not going to raise this again here, as I don't think it really fits with what I want to say in this place.  I may discuss it elsewhere.

14 comments:

  1. it's funny how different my rational and emotional reaction are. cause yes, the hairs at the back of my neck go up. My brain wants to know things. things like 'is it the diapers that cause extra waste?' is it the extra food? [emotion: but my baby doesn't eat much!]
    My brain argues 'our population is actually shrinking' 'living with more people in a household is more efficient than living alone' but I guess this is what you are trying to avoid?
    But I agree, now even more urgent then before I have a personal reason to save the planet for the next generation(s)
    Looking forward to your posts. as always.

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  2. I was having coffee the other day with a colleague who works on climate change. Like many others, she's the first to point out how bleak the situation is. The problem is this is a complex issue. Yes, population size is a problem, but it is more than simply too many humans on the planet. There's also the economic demographic, the health risks, cultural influences about reproduction and even the simple fact that wealth has not traditionally been built in being economically friendly.

    What gives me pause with this is the mindset of people behind population growth and the impacts. Yes, there are issues that are already coming to light because of the increase (starvation is still the number 1 killer globally), so it is time to have this discussion and explore why there's still a drive for large families. But te flip of it is that I too hate this assumption that those who are not parenting should solely be responsible. That it you select family members to not reproduce, it will all even out. What I hope for instead is a multifaceted conversation that involves honesty about our current situation (which, again, isn't good) and a plan for how everyone can contribute.

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    1. Cristy, I agree it is a complex issue (my background is international politics and development), but my point is that a discussion is necessary. Particularly as those of us in the western world have by far the largest environmental footprints. Maybe in a tiny way, we're starting it now.

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  3. Very enlightening, Mali. :-) Never really thought of that possibility: forging a middle way. Such a beautiful way to put it - instead of being awkwardly stuck in the middle (this was what I have in mind sometimes).

    I think that perhaps parents would bristle (just like I did) because they believe that the children they have will be able to help the planet in many ways in the future (so more pluses than minuses - more of a treasure than a burden to the whole planet), although I also understand (more now than before) the POV of the childfree who believe that they're saving the environment by not having children.

    One of the sources that I found during my "berserk/confused" days of early infertility actually encouraged infertiles to really think about why they wanted to become mothers. Before finding that source (unfortunately I didn't save it, but if I can find it again somewhere I'll post it in my blog), I had never really thought about why I wanted to be a mother. I was never that motherly in the first place, so I was pretty shocked when the motherhood instinct kicked in and I felt like an obsessed woman hell-bent on becoming a mother (the term obsessed was also said to me by a close friend).

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  4. I heard an argument once that not having children was the worst thing a person could do for the environment because they are not concerned about leaving a healthy planet for their children. I thought it was a stupid idea when I heard it but I do find myself feeling less concerned about the future and more "in the now" since we gave up the idea of having kids. I do still want to leave a healthy planet for my nephews but I wonder if that motivation would be stronger if it were for my own children.

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    1. But still, if you look at your environmental impact (according to the article I referred to in a previous post - and many others), you're still having less negative impact than if you had children.

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    2. I know and I do take great comfort in that fact.

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    3. Yet since we gave up on the hope of having children, I've become more concerned with my "legacy", what I leave behind. I'm now looking at ways to be more socially responsible, either through volunteer work or career change. I don't think I would be doing that I was now caught up in parenting.

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  5. Reading the discussions above reminded me of that old feminist/pro-choice slogan: "Every child a wanted child." There are those of us who badly wanted children and yet (because of biology, finances, and/or other factors) have not been able to have any, those who have never wanted children & take definite steps to prevent pregnancy, those who may not want children but lack access to good birth control & family planning services and wind up with children they didn't really want to have, and those who dont' really think about it much one way or another until pregnancy is upon them & then deal with the situation (some better or worse than others).

    So -- in a perfect world, where every child was truly wanted and planned for (where there was better access to birth control, family planning AND fertility treatments, for those who want to pursue them), would our environment be better off? There might still be problems, but I like to think we'd be better off on balance.

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    1. As another old feminist (not that I'm implying you are one), I definitely can agree with that slogan. Oh yes, we'd definitely be better off.

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    2. Melinda Gates had a great talk about bringing contraception to women who want it and how to achieve that. It's a sad paradox that in parts of Africa, some women have more children than they want to have and other women are stigmatized because of "barrenness" (and it's always blamed on the women).

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  6. I for one would like to have this conversation because I think it needs to be had. I've always wondered where the conversation about the environmental impact of having kids (very negative) and the economical impact of not having kids (also negative, but less so?--I honestly don't know) meets. Is it simply, have as many kids as there are adults (for most families 2) so you perpetuate the work force but don't add an extra burden on the future resources of the earth? Because, while having kids does strain our resources and hurt us environmentally, we need those people for economy to function. I mean, clearly no humans on earth is best for the planet, right? So where is that line between what's best for the planet and best for our societies.

    Is really be interested in looking at all this, because it's really important and it has to be said, and heard, even if it's hard. Thanks for broaching the subject, despite reservations you may have had. It was brave, and necessary.

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    1. I want to add that I ask these questions curiously, because I don't know, and not defensively, because I want to defend having had children.

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    2. I understand. I didn't get into detail, but I think (personally - I stress I'm no expert) that a good way to start, so as not to cause economic and social upheaval, is to look at replacement levels - ie 2 kids for the 2 parents. It just appals me that I remember (I was at school) when the earth reached 4 billion inhabitants, and now we're at over 7 billion. No wonder we're in such dire straits. And this can't continue. Yet still there's really no global discussion about this.

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