On paper, pop superstar Miley Cyrus and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don’t have much in common, to say the least. Yet both public figures have openly addressed an ethical dilemma that plagues much of the world’s younger generations – whether or not to have children.
It is no secret that if the human population does not make major changes to its lifestyles very soon, the lives of future generations will be increasingly difficult. From powerful storms to rising global temperatures, humanity’s uncontrolled impact on the planet has already demonstrated disastrous results. The concern is legitimate: why give birth to a child whose life risks being doomed from the start?
In recent years, birth rates have fallen in many of the world’s most populous countries, including the United States, China and India. Analysts at global investment bank Morgan Stanley noted that “the movement not to have children due to climate change fears is growing and impacting fertility rates faster than any previous trend in the field of fertility decline”.
The creation of activist organizations such as Concevable Future and BirthStrike took the conversation further. The underlying belief of these groups is that more children will have a negative impact on the planet – causing more consumption, emissions and a whole pedigree of adverse climate consequences.
A 2017 Swedish study calculated that one fewer child per family could save around 58.6 metric tons of carbon emissions each year in developed countries. However, scientists argue that population reduction is not a solution to the climate crisis given the environmental pressures we will face in this decade.
Also, implementing strict population control is not a silver bullet. A 2014 study modeled various population control mechanisms and found that a one-child policy imposed worldwide would still result in a global population of between five and ten billion people at the turn of the century.
Although theoretical models cannot account for all the challenges, procreation is not as destructive to the environment as initially claimed.
Much of the world’s population growth is expected to occur in developing countries, while the majority of carbon dioxide emissions come from more industrialized countries with lower birth rates. We cannot ignore the imbalance in resource consumption between countries. The movement represents more than just a number of people; it’s about how we live our lives and how much natural capital we deplete.
The majority of activists who belong to groups such as BirthStrike and Concevable Future do not condone forced population control and encourage adoption, having joined the groups to promote dialogue. In other words, the questions they ask are more important than the answers.
Aside from the detrimental impact of negligible population growth, birth strike groups are also forced to consider the opposite – the potential ways in which the world we are leaving can harm our hypothetical offspring. Is it justifiable to bring children into a world where stable access to things like fresh water, nutritious food and viable shelter does not exist?
On January 5, Pope Francis spoke about declining birth rates during his speech at the Vatican, harshly saying that choosing not to have children is a form of “selfishness.” Although the birth strike movement may conflict with religious doctrines and the basic economics of the population, the choice to have children is a deeply personal decision that should not be supported by a sense of ‘obligation.
The earth inevitably has an absolute limit. However, the focus on birth reduction is a facade for a more complex issue, one that activist groups hope to normalize and bring to a larger stage. We have to ask ourselves: why is it so carbon intensive to have a child in the first place?
Population control is a red herring, a relatively inconsequential debate that distracts from the deeper and more complex infrastructural changes we desperately need to implement to address climate change.
Instead of sidestepping the uncomfortable truth with inconsequential individual life choices, we must confront our overuse of fossil fuels and overproduction of goods. The greatest progress will be made by focusing on policies and technologies that will change consumption habits, minimize carbon footprints and target the rising tide of natural resource scarcity, not by limiting procreation.
Choosing to have children can mean a commitment to a better future, but the business doesn’t stop there – it’s our responsibility as a society to leave this world a better place than we found it to be. the future generations.
Montana Denton is a senior who writes about environmental, sustainability, and social issues in her column, “Triple Bottom Line.”