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Is it okay to have kids during the climate crisis?

Here is the original script of the video for your reading pleasure.


So Miley Cyrus says she’s not having kids until we solve climate change. This puts me in the uncomfortable position of suddenly rooting for climate change.

Just kidding, Miley. I know you’re an ally. Feel free to burn me back. Go ahead, burn me harder than your private jet burns fossil fuels. 

But Miley Cyrus isn’t the only one not having kids because of the climate crisis. There are  a growing number of would-be parents, myself included, whose reproductive decisions consider what it means to bring a child into a destabilizing climate.

So the Big Question is: Is it now morally wrong to have children because of climate change?

Welcome to The Gigawut, where we try to answer the big environmental questions. 

But first a quick thanks to our sponsor: Babies. They’re soft, loud and will make you proud. Babies: the earth human’s favourite choice of procreation since 1997.

In this video, we’ll explore where the question of “is it okay to have kids?” came from, then we’ll take a look at some arguments for why it might be wrong to have kids, then we’ll reveal why, frankly, it’s not really the right question to ask. And I’ll give you my take on whether or not you should personally have kids. 

But let’s get something straight: Right now, I don’t want kids. But I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for you. Environmental concerns are just one part of the equation for me. Another part? I live in a big city, my rent is too high, I don’t make a lot of money, and my work situation is precarious. In other words, I’m your typical 30 something millennial! Plus, if I had kids, my dog would be supes jealous and my succulents would be hella sad.

This topic is controversial. I’m going to review some arguments, and I don’t necessarily believe all the things I’m saying. This video is meant to get you thinking. If you disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments. And for God’s sake, at least try to address my arguments when you threaten to kill me for being a satanist trying usher in a one world government.controlled by George Soros. 

So, let’s begin! First question: Why are people even asking the question, “is it wrong to have kids?” is the first place?

It’s a weird question: For most of human history, having children wasn’t even really a question. Sex happened and then oops babies.  

And If you didn’t have children, or couldn’t, society generally pushed you to the fringes with scorn and derision. “How dare you be different!” the townspeople would say.

The thing is, for most of human history, you had to have a bunch of kids to survive as a family. First of all, there were no social programs, so kids were your old age security, and secondly, when 3 of every 10 babies died within a year, and even more died from what are now easily preventable childhood diseases, you needed multiple children just to make sure at least one survived into adulthood. 

Modern medicine changed all that, especially with the invention of pharmaceutical birth control in the 1960s. Suddenly women could reliably choose when to get pregnant. Finally, rocking the bedposts didn’t necessarily mean rocking the cradle. 

My point? Even asking the questions “is it okay to have kids” suggests family planning, which is a huge luxury of our time and place. 

Our technological progress allowed us to live in a world with an exploding population and a growing appetite for consuming the plentiful fruits of extractive capitalism and fossil fuel energy. It allowed us to live objectively easier lives and create more freedom to do whatever we wanted. All of it purchased at the expense of the environment.

And it’s not just climate change. To borrow from David Wallace Wells, climate change is the backdrop in which human environmental devastation plays out. We also have plastic pollution, deforestation and habitat loss, mass extinction, chemical spills, ocean acidification, fresh water scarcity, invasive species, and a list of other severe problems so long I could literally make an entire video just listing them.

But it was all worth it because we got Beyonce and the iPhone, right? 

The question of the morality of having children really came to the fore in 2017 when a study published in Environmental Research Letters tallied the personal choices individuals can make to combat climate change. Their conclusion? Having one fewer child was far and away the most impactful decision a person could make. Almost twenty times more impactful than recycling, going car free, and eating a plant based diet combined. 

So, to any smug vegan mommy bloggers on Instagram, check ya selves.

This study kick started the “is it okay to have kids” conversation as we know it today. 

How did they reach this conclusion?

The math is simple, really. Think of the average carbon footprint in your country. Then assign each parent half of their offspring’s life-time climate footprint, and then a quarter of for their grandchildren, and so on. So, if your two kids have two kids, you’re personally responsible for an extra person and a half’s worth of carbon consumption. That keeps going for as long as they live. Even after you die! At least, that’s how the logic of this study goes, assuming you don’t all die from climate change at the same time first. Ha ha! 

Obviously this isn’t meant as an accounting system. It’s more to illustrate the point that the best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to stop making more feet. 

Weird question: does getting excited about small carbon footprints make me a foot fetishist? Let me know in the comments! 

But just because something increases a carbon footprint, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. So let’s take a look at some moral arguments for the claim that it’s wrong to have kids.

There are two main lines of argumentation. The first one is related to what we’ve already talked about – over consumption – so let’s start there.

You could say the following: 

  1. The Earth’s human population is collectively over-consuming natural resources and disrupting the climate 
  2. Adding more people will add to the overconsumption
  3. It is wrong to choose to unnecessarily add to the over-consumption of Earth’s resources.
  4. It’s not necessary to have a child, because you can choose to have a child.
  5. Therefore: Having a child is wrong given the staggering environmental crises we face. 

Right away I’d like to point out that the second premise is not necessarily true. You can add people, but we can also collectively consume less. Those are both possible at the same time. 

People think overpopulation is the problem, when it’s really overconsumption and waste. Remember Miley Cyrus’s private jet? Fun fact: a three-hour trip on one of those things burns through the annual carbon footprint of 30 Haitians. 

But, yes, in general, under our current economic arrangement, adding people adds to collective consumption. 

Aside from that, the argument rests heavily on the assertion that it’s wrong to add to overconsumption unnecessarily. 

Some obvious counter examples, like what if you bring a child into the world and raise them to respect the earth and they inspire millions to do the same, like Greta Thunberg’s parents? Was it wrong for them to bring her into the world? Was she unnecessary? Oh can’t wait to read your hot takes on that one! 

Or you might say, having a child really doesn’t add that much in the grand scheme of things, and it’s possible that having a child could really bring a lot of joy and fulfillment to the lives of others. You can’t know that ahead of time, so shouldn’t that possibility count for something?

On the other hand, they could also end up to be a dictator: the next Khan Noonian Singh 

A more extreme question to ask would be: Okay, just how wrong is over-consumption? If it’s wrong enough to justify stopping people from bringing a child into the world, could it also justify murdering egregious overconsumers? Is there a point where waste actually trumps a single human life? 

To which I say, “No! Please don’t murder Miley Cyrus. I was only joking around. Murder wrong!” 

The next argument has to do with the welfare of the life you’re bringing into the world. That argument might go like this: 

  1. If you choose to have a baby, you are responsible for their life.
  2. It is wrong to be wilfully negligent toward a child you are responsible for.
  3. It is negligent to knowingly put someone you are responsible for into a dangerous situation. 
  4. A destabilized future under climate catastrophe is clearly a dangerous situation. 
  5. Therefore it is wrong to choose to bring a child into a world of climate disruption. 

This one’s a little tougher. 

Honestly, the best counter to this I can think to the previous argument of is to point out that life has always been full of suffering. A medieval peasant child would have a much worse life than your child living now in a technologically advanced, ecologically collapsing global civilization. Does that mean your medieval ancestors were wrong for bringing children into their world? It’s hard to say yes, because that would imply your existence is also somehow wrong.

Really believing this argument comes down to whether or not you believe the predictions of climate scientists.

As an aside for any “skeptics” watching, before dismissing scientific predictions out of hand, as I know some of you are want to do out of tribal habit, consider the fact that climate change isn’t just sea level rise, droughts, fires, visibly melting ice caps, floods and extreme temperatures. There’s also the far more terrifying human element. 

The Pentagon calls climate change a threat multiplier, blaming it in part for the Syrian civil war, after a long drought gripped the nation. The refugees from that conflict pushed Europe to the brink and now the UK is leaving the EU! This is just the beginning. Unrest is growing. The number of refugees from natural disasters and climate fueled conflicts is only expected to rise. There is no new normal waiting for us if we don’t act immediately to stop it on a global scale. 

Is that the world you want to bet your children’s life on? 

Alright! Put that baby on 21 black! 

If you’re wrong, and the scientists are even just partly right, then your children will rightly blame you, especially if you got in the way. 

All of these arguments circle around a philosophical position known as anti-natalism, the belief that it is wrong to bring children into the world. Period! Full stop. No mention of climate change. There’s perhaps no stronger advocate of this position than David Benetar. 

I’m not going to spend much time on him, because he’s a huge bummer, and it’s only tangentially related to the environment. 

In my darker moments, I’ve had my own bouts with his position, and he makes well constructed, if profoundly pessimistic, arguments. You should read him only if you want to feel deeply, deeply depressed. 

In the end, for me, it comes down to an emotional decision, and I choose a morality that is life affirming. My life, your life, and the life threatened on this planet; It has a right to be here, and we have a duty to ensure that life on earth flourishes.

And that’s especially true for the cute animals!

But this question of whether or not it’s okay to have kids during the climate crisis is a bit moot. People are going to have kids regardless of whether or not you decide it’s wrong or not. The moral imperative is to create a better world for them to live in. 

According to project drawdown, in the places that are expected to have the greatest number of children in the coming decades, there are two things we need to do. 

Educate women and girls and provide access to family planning services. 

Right now there are 62 million girls around the world being denied their right to education. That’s like seven Switzerlands! 

As Project Drawdown puts it: 

“Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will.”

Cuz, yeah, that still happens on Earth. 

The second part is family planning. As they put it: “225 million women in lower-income countries say they want the ability to choose whether and when to become pregnant but lack the necessary access to contraception. The need persists in some high-income countries as well, including the United States where 45 percent of pregnancies are unintended.”

All told, education of women and girls and providing family planning services, just to the women who say they want it, saves the equivalent in over 100 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. 

Beside being good for the planet, it’s the morally right choice that respects human rights. This is how we make a better world. Not population control, not armies, not thanos snapping his fingers. It’s teachers, doctors and human dignity. And that includes a woman’s right over her own body. 

Okay, cue death threats from the “right to life” mob.

But if you clicked on this video wondering what my take was on if you, personally, should have a kid, here’s my handy guide in two steps.

Step One: Ask yourself, “Do I want kids?” If the answer is anything other than, “yes, absolutely,” then don’t have kids.

Step two: Ask yourself “Would I be a good parent and be able to provide a reasonably decent life for my children?” If your answer is anything other than, “yes, absolutely,” then try getting your shit together first and repeat step one.

In the meantime, don’t let your parents, or your family or your peers make you think that you’re less of a person just because you don’t have kids. Especially the ladies watching this. Your value doesn’t come from making more people come out your vajayjay. To the men and women, and everyone in between watching this, you have value intrinsic to your life and you have something valuable to contribute that doesn’t necessarily involve changing diapers and 3am feedings. 

In short: It’s not necessarily wrong to have kids. But it is necessarily wrong not to do everything in your power to fight for a future for them that doesn’t look like…

[Cue disaster movie]

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See you next time!