Going green / being childfree – what’s the connection really?

The environmental impact of having children is one of the top reasons that people give for not having children. It’s an answer that we’ve heard quite a bit from people participating in our research too. There are online groups that support this ethos, for example the facebook group Green Incilations, No Kids (GINK) and the more ‘extreme’ Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT), which proposes that “Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth’s biosphere to return to good health. Crowded conditions and resource shortages will improve as we become less dense”.

Some people give a kidcentric answer, citing that it’s not fair to bring a child into a messed up world. Others are equally, if not more, worried about the planet, like the folks at  VHEMT. What exactly is the link between child-freedom and the environment? Does it really make a difference? I invite those clever folks who know about demography, climate change and similar to comment on the issue.

Is overpopulation a problem?

Many people cite ‘overpopulation’ in their arguments (as I myself have done). I’ve overpopulation1been told, however, that this common-sense argument is not valid, and chatted to a demographer to try to find out why. According to my demographer colleague, the birthrate in general has been declining for some time now, and overpopulation is not a concern. A lay-person in this area (like me) might ask ‘then why does the total number of people on the planet keep rising?’ *Insert confused face here* The demographer believes that if

there is any concern at all, then it is to do with the use of resources, rather than distribution and consumption. He is conccerned with greedy wealthy countrys who consume resources at the expense of others. Is he right?

Climate change

Many who advocate childfreedom for environmental reasons point out the impact that thermometerhaving a child has on one’s so-called carbon footprint. In a fairly recent article in the academic journal Global Environmental Change, for example, Murtuagh and Shlax (2008) report that having just one child increases a person’s direct life-time emmisions by nearly 6 times. For each child that one produces, one can add about 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to one’s carbon legacy. This worries me, but how many people would have to stop procreating to sort this out? What is the magic number of children that one could have in order to avert disaster?

According to Murtaugh and Shlax (2008) “A person’s reproductive choices must be considered along with his day-today activities when assessing [her or] his ultimate impact on the global environment”.  Without starting any nonsense debates of the ‘reality’ of climate change, could some learned friends to weigh in on this issue for us?

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