Climate activists: Pull it out before the earth puts out.
Have you ever wondered why a baby’s first steps are so precious? It’s not because they have mastered the art of walking; but rather, it’s the first thing a parent has to hold over their head. From a young age, we are told to feel indebted to our parents for giving us life, for there is no greater gift than the gift of life itself. And so we grow up, ever grateful for that time they had sex. It’s only upon becoming an adult that we realise we were fed a fallacy. For life, as a grown up at least, is a pain in the arse. And now, according to climate activists, it’s a death sentence for the world.
Excuse the ghoulishness, but climate change waits for no man and, if you’re an activist, that’s a good enough reason to stop inviting people to the party. In environmental terms, that means having fewer or no kids at all. Indeed, industry voices (some, not all) are adamant that a decrease in reproduction is the most effective way to help the environment. It’s not that humans are bad, they say - it’s just… they’re alive.
(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
By the first of August, humanity had blown through earth’s annual resources budget. We used more ecological resources and services in seven months than nature can regenerate in a year and must see out 2018 operating in overshoot. What’s more, international research company Global Footprint Network (from whom the date derives), estimates we will have consumed 1.7 Earths by the year’s end - and it see no signs of our consumption slowing down. Unless the population decreases, that is.
A study by Environmental Research Letters, a renowned environmental science publication, concluded that having one fewer child could reduce carbon emissions by an average of 58.6 tonnes per year for developed countries. More significantly, it would provide the same level of emission reductions as 684 teenagers who chose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives. Apropos population, there would be four billion fewer people by the end of the century if the average family was half-child smaller, i.e. if every second family has one child less. Such a reduction in family size would result in 50% more biocapacity per person in 2100, which would make it easier for those who are alive to thrive within the means of the planet (statistics from Global Footprint Network). Of all the behaviour we could adopt - recycling, living car free, eating a plant based diet etc -a smaller family would certainly have the most remarkable impact on earth. And yet, it is seldom postulated as an solution. Perhaps the problem remains too abstract to concern us, not least because we have tangible issues to deal with daily; or perhaps we cannot fathom denying our most primal instinct, namely to reproduce, and the mere thought of such is a stain on our ‘morality’. But what if pronatalism has already stained our souls?
That is the stance of Antinatalism, a growing philosophical movement which argues that it is cruel to bring sentient lives, doomed to suffering and to causing suffering, into the world. They see child-rearing as detrimental to humanity and question the moral compass of a person who would create life while sat on the front row of society's descent. While some antinatalists equate reproduction with stealing resources from our fellow man, others think it has become so natural to have a family, that the decision do so is no longer made consciously. As a movement, however, they agree that humanity needs to reassess what it means to be meaningful, as it may find that parenthood is not the sole source of purpose. For climate activists who do not identify with the movement (which are most), the worry is overpopulation. It took humans 200,00 years to reach a billion people. Following that, it took us 124 years to double to two billion, 33 years to hit three billion, and 15 years to make it to four; and since then, each subsequent billion has only taken twelve years. No amount of electric cars, plant-based diets, or recycling programmes can counteract the effect of an overpopulated earth, meaning environmental degradation, resource depletion, and climate change are inevitable. They suggest having no more than two children, who will ultimately take your place on earth, or adopting one of the millions of children who need a home. After all, it is your children and grandchildren who will benefit from a slowing rate of growth, they say. But that places humanity at an impasse; for who must go childless so other children may thrive?
(Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images)
And who must adopt so others can reproduce? That is not to say adoption is a punishment, but more often than not, couples want a family that is biologically their own. Our instinct is not merely to reproduce, but to do so with a mate of our choosing. We want a child that takes after us; a wondrous mix of mom and dad, with hints of close relatives. That very same instincts intensifies once we have a family. Our vision narrows to our immediate kin and all decisions are taken in their interest. We become self-absorbed and care less and less for the woes of others. This does not apply to everyone, of course, but it explains the lack of urgency people feel when it comes to climate change. The demise of the world is just not as exigent as problems that exist in the here and now; and highlighting the effect it will have on future generations is not sufficient to stir action. We cannot grasp how our kids will suffer because we cannot know the severity of our actions - not to the extent activists do. And to call on our better nature is forget that humanity is not at the forefront of our thoughts. We are. And we want a family without conditions. Quite rightly, say activists who do not subscribe to family planning as an answer to climate change. So how do the other half live? Avowedly, in a world where industry and infrastructure are the real threats to the environment, and more tellingly, where the suggestion of a child limit is socially bankrupt. They are of the established opinion that change must come from policy and system level reform and urge people who think otherwise to seek perspective. Why take climate change into your own hands when humanity can hold it en masse, they posit?
For a prospective parent, having a family come down to one thing; will my children be happy and healthy? There is no denying that the world is falling apart, and we take solace in the fact that we will die before the worst of it. Our children, who we chose to create, will not. They will live through a climate, environmentally or politically, in turmoil and it will be because we willed it so.
When our generation sees death as a welcome escape, can we really consider life to be a gift anymore?