Growing up, I always expected to have two children. I even had it in my head that I would maybe want more than that, but biologically I knew I would be done at two so that I wouldn’t do more than replacing myself and my future partner on this earth. Before I had any clear idea of becoming a parent myself, my environmental beliefs were getting shaped in a real way.
Once I had my son though, things changed. We had a really rough first year, and both of us working more than full time hours was just part of it. Cutting back to 80% time made a huge difference, but we’ve continued to stay firm that one child is right for us. I plan to write a separate post about all the reasons why that is true, but as to not detail today’s post from A Purple Life, the focus here is on the environmental reasons to have no – or one fewer – child.
Of all the reasons we have to stop at one, the environmental piece is the easiest black and white part of the puzzle. If the decision was based 100% on the planet, we wouldn’t have had any children, let alone one. We did very much want and plan for our son though, and it was absolutely the right decision for us. When making choices about if or how many children to have, having all the facts is important. And the environmental impact is too important to ignore.
With that, I’ll hand off the rest of this post to my good friend, A Purple Life. She is childfree by choice, and I love that she wrote this post out for me. In a world where women in particular are pressured to become mothers – and then pressured to have more children – it’s important to amplify the very real choice to remain child free. Clearly there are many reasons why she has chosen this path, but today the focus is on the environmental reasons. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I do whenever she writes what’s on her mind.
The Environmental Impact of Having Fewer Kids
Let me be blunt: I’ve never wanted kids. Interestingly the decision not to have children is one of the few things in life that you have to defend NOT doing. Now that my age group has moved past a barrage of weddings we’ve entered the “baby making” phase and I now get more questions about why I don’t want kids than any other decision in my life (including my plan to retire next year at 30…).
My answer to this constant question is unfortunately quite unsatisfying: I just don’t. I never have. I personally have no interest in being pregnant, passing along my genes or raising the next generation. I don’t have a ‘real’ reason – I just don’t want that for myself. I understand that having these thoughts goes against our very purpose as organisms to perpetuate our species so I do get why it can be surprising to people, but that’s how I feel and have always felt.
Our society is a strange place. Many people in it seem to mindlessly encourage and expect you to follow a standard life script straight out of a 1950s sitcom: get married, buy a house, have kids (yes – multiple) and work until you die – despite the fact it’s 2019 and there are so many examples of other life choices. This sitcom script is not your only option.
I’ve already mentioned on my blog the rude assumptions people have made when I respond to “WHEN are you getting married?” With “We’re not.” The responses I’ve received after I answer “WHEN are you having kids” with “We’re not.” are at times even more extreme and have included:
“You’ll change your mind – just wait until that biological clock starts ticking.”
“You might want to reconsider soon – you’re not getting any younger!”
“But your mixed race babies would be so cute!” (Ummm…😒)
“You owe it to the world to spread your beauty and smarts!” (Do I though???)
“But then your genes will die with you!” (Yeah…so?)
I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I personally don’t want to have children and I do not judge anyone who does want kids, but I do believe children should be had by people who want them wholeheartedly – and that’s not me or my partner.
So if you’re waffling on having another kid or on having kids at all: Welcome! Let’s explore another reason you might want to err on the side of fewer kids if you’re on the fence: the environmental impact of doing so.
‘Low & Moderate Impact’ Environmental Actions
Just to preface “Low Impact” and “Moderate Impact” is in industry term. I’m not passing judgement on any of these actions and do them myself despite the label. ‘Low & Moderate Impact’ environment actions include driving less (hello carfree living!), driving a hybrid, recycling and using energy-efficient appliances, windows and light bulbs (they should add toilets and shower heads to that, right Angela?).
Oregon State University researchers calculated the metric tons of carbon dioxide saved from these kinds of conservation measures and concluded that for an American, the total metric tons of carbon dioxide saved by all of those measures over an entire lifetime of 80 years was 488. By contrast, the metric tons saved when a person chooses to have one fewer child is 9441.
To put this into context a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters explained “A US family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives.”
I was personally surprised to learn that the impact of these actions we take everyday are not as big as I thought to decrease carbon emissions, but I didn’t say all this to imply that we should not do them. I think of this similar to how we tackle our budgets after starting down the path to financial independence: you start with the big stuff (housing, food and transit) and then start working on the smaller budget items.
It’s still important to analyze if those smaller pieces of the budget pie (like a daily latte😉) bring you happiness and adjust accordingly, but tackling the expenses that take up the majority of your spending deserves extra focus. Let’s dive into what those big items are in an environmental sense.
‘High Impact’ Environmental Actions
So let’s cut to the chase. What actions have the most impact on reducing our contribution to climate change? You guessed it: Having children. Check out this awesome infographic and notice how the y axis jumps from 4 to 60 – just like the graphs we see of the stock market’s performance in the last 100 or so years – this would be a lot more dramatic if it was to scale.
Source: The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions, Environmental Research Letters, 2017
According to a new study that sought to identify the most effective ways people can cut their carbon emissions, “the greatest impact individuals can have in fighting climate change is to have one fewer child.”
As you can see in the diagram above, the next best actions are living carfree, decreasing your number of long flights, and eating a vegetarian diet. Right now I’m 2/3 here, which isn’t horrible (guess which one I’m not currently doing…#keto). Also in this graph you can see the relative influence of some of the ‘low impact’ actions I mentioned, such as recycling and hanging clothes out to dry.
But overall if you’re waffling on the decision to have children and are concerned about your environmental impact (which I assume you are since you’re on this blog 😉), deciding you want to pass on an additional child is the most environmentally impactful decision you can make as one person.
“You’re Selfish For Not Having Children”
Yes – I have unfortunately been told this multiple times. I’ve been called selfish because I don’t want to pass on my genes, (apparent) beauty or (supposed) intelligence to offspring. I don’t understand this argument. In fact, I have the opposite point of view.
I don’t think me choosing to not have children is selfish, but I do think it’s silly to make any life choices based on what random people say to me or the judgement they pass on my life choices.
(Angela: I would argue that having children is actually one of the most selfish things you CAN do, especially when you look at the environmental impact of introducing an additional person on this planet)
Adoption Is An Option
So far I’ve been discussing having biological children of your own, but there are of course other options such as adoption. I’ve been fortunate that my partner’s family has adopted several family members and I’ve been able to see how fostering and adopting children can change lives. If you know you want children they do not have to be biologically yours. In 2018 there were 153 million orphan children that are already on our planet and are looking for a home.
Above All Else – It’s Your Choice
Deciding to have a child (or more than one) is one of the most important decisions you will make in your life and it’s completely valid to make your own choice. No other voice matters in this instance – it’s your life and your future.
We as a society need to stop being judgmental about other people’s choices and lives. Someone else’s choice isn’t incorrect or less valid just because it doesn’t align with our own (and I mean this on both sides: deciding to have or not have kids).
Every decision in life is a choice and I believe you should make choices that make you happiest. I personally have never been tempted to have children – even with the weird social pressure that exists in our culture around having them, but in case I ever am tempted personally, knowing the negative environmental impact of my choice will help me carefully consider the decision and all possible options in addition to biological children. In case you’re waffling on the decision I hope knowing some new facts will help you make your choice – no matter what that choice may be.