Environmental reasons for not having children

The other day I was listening to a podcast of a woman that was speaking on a certain topic but then went off on a tangent about all the environmental reasons not to have children. The decision on whether or not to have a child is a very personal choice and certainly validated by a number of reasons, but I couldn’t help but find myself ready for debate when she brought up her environmental concerns. Basically, she was saying that too many people exist on this planet, which puts a huge strain on resources, and that this should be a serious discussion point for anyone considering to have a child.

First of all, I think that women should have a choice when it comes to having a child. It shouldn’t be a given that all women have mothering instincts or want to have a child. This also extends to men. Second, I believe that there are numerous reasons for wanting or not wanting a child, and that women shouldn’t necessarily feel the need to offer these reasons or even explain themselves for not wanting children.

However, I wholeheartedly disagree with the “too many people on this planet” argument as a serious reason for not having children or limiting the number of children. While there are a lot of people on the planet, and this certainly puts a strain on resources in some regions, the brute number of persons living here on Earth isn’t necessarily relatable or directly correlated with environmental distress. By this I mean that across the planet, given the country and region, people consume a vastly different amount of natural resources and pollute the environment in very distinct ways. A child in Africa is probably contributing very little to environmental pollution (or in potentially different ways) versus a wealthy child in a developed country, which due to different or higher levels of consumption may indirectly contribute to the degradation of the primary resources necessary to fabricate consumer goods and end products.

On the other hand, if we make a shift towards sustainable food systems and environmentally beneficial activities, then the brute number of people living on this planet becomes irrelevant. The Earth’s carrying capacity could become infinite if all processes were sustainable. In this sense, I think the population argument is undirected, because it isn’t addressing the root cause of the problem. The root cause is essentially that production systems are based on the degradation of natural resources and the use of fossil fuels, which may or may not be correlated with population counts as brute numbers. Yes, obviously consumption must increase with increasing population, yet this relationship is not easily measurable and highly context dependent. I believe that the population argument would only be viable if environmental degradation were directly correlated with population counts (and not by association) or equally distributed among the population.

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