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Prince William, Kate Middleton and their children

Royal Couple’s Third Child a Missed Opportunity

I felt a pang of sadness Monday when Britain’s Prince William and Kate Middleton announced they’re expecting a third child. A day later I was glad to learn others shared my reaction. Wait, what?!

That’s right. Today I honor on the Wall of Fame the non-profit Having Kids, for starting a conversation we should have been having for the past hundred years. In a public letter to the Royal couple published July 25, co-founders Anne Green and Carter Dillard wrote:

“…we wanted to offer a few thoughts for your consideration. As you know and appreciate, the example the British Royal Family sets is extremely influential. Many studies also show that public figures serve as effective role models when it comes to family planning. Your discussion of having a larger family raises compelling issues of sustainability and equity. Large families are not sustainable.”

More and more people have been learning, of late, that the scale of the human enterprise has outgrown the planet. The carbon footprint and overall environmental impact of family-size decisions has been getting more discussion and media attention. But until now, it’s been extremely rare and difficult to take the next step, openly advocating that couples choose to conceive fewer children than they might otherwise.

ltr to royals smallThe organization’s announcement explained:

“Today Having Kids sent a letter to Prince William and Kate Middleton, respectfully urging the royal couple to lead by example and consider forgoing having a third child (as they intimated they might). The letter also suggested the couple might use the opportunity to highlight the importance of family planning and to work with other families to plan better starts in life for their children.”

Of course, the letter was too late. On September 4 the couple shared the news that number three is on the way. Far too many celebrated, and far too few grieved. More from Dillard and Green’s letter to William and Kate:

The letter apparently sparked a wide range of reactions. In a follow-up, Anne Green wrote:

“Our supporters have wondered whether a larger royal family is really the problem and whether our efforts would be better directed towards regions with higher birth rates and levels of infant mortality. Having Kids is focusing on the royal family because:

  • Given their public stature, they can lead by example to impact family planning decisions around the world.

  • The impact the wealthiest families have on the environment dwarfs the impact of children born in the developing world.

  • Given exponential growth, large families – wherever they may be – are simply not sustainable.

  • The royal family has the resources to cooperatively incentivize other families to plan a fairer start for their own children.”

Another follow-up provided more detail:

“Much of the reaction to our letter fell into these categories:

1) Racist and eugenicist rants about why white and wealthy couples should have lots of kids to compete with birth rates in parts of the Southern Hemisphere. It’s hard to think of a more immoral or lose-lose proposition.

2) Commentators who think royal family size shouldn’t be of interest to those from other countries. This ignores the global nature of climate change, which does not recognize antiquated national borders….

3) Bloggers who seem creepily obsessed with celebrity babies, and who would subject the rest of us and our kids to a hotter and more crowded world so they can gawk at other people’s newborns. This seems almost too hard to believe, which explains why the blogs are sponsored by companies that sell baby products. These bloggers will have to tell their children, on one of the hotter days in the future, that they were more interested in the royal offsprings’ clothing than the degradation of the world’s atmosphere.

4) Some asked why we didn’t write to enormous and less admirable families like the Duggars? The simple answer is that we did. But given the massive swings in population that even small changes to a typical worldwide fertility rate of 2.5 would create, the question of role modeling is best raised in the context of couples considering a second or third child rather than marginal families like the Duggars.

5) Those who feel the right to have children is totally unlimited, and should not be publicly discussed. The fact is that bioethicists and legal scholars have obliterated all arguments for such a right, and instead shown that the right to have children is more akin to the right to speak freely, which is limited in a way that protects others’ rights. Governments have simply not acted because they benefit from growth, and continue to shuffle the problem off on future generations.

At the core of the responses, however, was this message: Focus instead on would-be parents who won’t be able to give their kids a fair start in life. That is exactly our point.”

Having Kids’ Carter Dillard wrote in another follow-up:
young couple

“Caring and thoughtful parents are not going to stand by and ignore the fact that better family planning is quite possibly the single best way to mitigate climate change. These more responsible parents are not going to sit back and enjoy the last of nature while condemning their kids to a denuded, dangerous, crowded, and overheated world simply because people like the Duggar family get famous by having kids. These more responsible families are speaking out and moving us towards better family planning. They are not waiting for the government.”

Please note that the folks at Having Kids issued congratulations to Prince William and Kate upon hearing the news. Most of us advocating sustainable population want to encourage informed, responsible family-size decisions, but we aren’t interested in shaming those who made irresponsible decisions because they were unaware the world is overpopulated.

Some of the more polite backlash to the Having Kids letter included this, from Nicole Fabian-Weber on the motherhood website, CafeMom:

“Having a big family obviously comes with its environmental and economic impact, but telling — publicly telling — a couple how many kids they should have is in pretty poor taste and it oversteps all sorts of bounds. The number of children a couple wants to have is a personal choice — and hopefully said couple will make an effort to mitigate the effects each child will have on the earth.”

That attitude is exactly what has been keeping our society from making the fast progress we need on achieving a sustainable population. It is NOT in poor taste to recommend loving, compassionate family-size decisions that will help ensure a decent life for the world’s children. In a well-written blog post about the controversy, The Morals of Having Children, author Anna Hughes put it very nicely:

“We should all be free to make those decisions. But we should also be informed to make those decisions responsibly, with regards to the impact they have on those around us. Everything we do in life affects the environment to a greater or a lesser extent. People consume resources. By bringing a child into the world, we are creating a person who will need food, water, clothes, stimulation, and all the other resources life demands. We are already consuming far more than this planet can provide, a worrying trend that will only continue to rise.”

I particularly like Hughes’ sentiments in the conclusion to her blog post:

“The news made me sad and slightly frustrated. While I am against forcibly restricting people in their fundamental freedoms, I wish we could be better educated to make better choices. I’m frustrated because Kate and William are in the public eye; it could be enormously influential if they had chosen to have no more than two children. When I tell people of my decision not to have a family, and explain the reasons why, they are interested, and admit to never having thought of it like that. It is difficult to present limited family size as a positive choice, but it’s an important argument to make, and one that would benefit society and the world for generations to come.”

This is what it’s all about – educating people (and encouraging them) to make better choices. This is just the beginning.

couple smiles in front of their "stopped at one" auto decalIf you want to do your part to change the norm from celebrating large broods to pride in choosing a small family, I recommend displaying a Small Family Sticker on your auto.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

Comments (5)

  • Avatar

    Rob Harding


    Hey Dave,

    I got in touch with Carter at Having Kids this week and was looking back at this post. One thing you said raised a question for me.

    You said, “Most of us advocating sustainable population want to encourage informed, responsible family-size decisions, but we aren’t interested in shaming those who made irresponsible decisions because they were unaware the world is overpopulated.”

    I agree. That said, my question is: what about shaming (or simply voicing clear, public disappointment towards) people who make irresponsible family-size decisions when they are already fully aware the world is overpopulated? Prince William appears to be a prime example:


    • Avatar

      Dave Gardner


      It’s a very fine line, Rob. Because people are so sensitive about procreative decisions it behooves us to be sensitive in this work, however with each passing month ignorance is becoming less and less an excuse. I think the folks at Having Kids handled this perfectly. I feel they stopped shy of absolute “shaming.” They first encouraged the royal couple to set a good example, then they congratulated the couple but expressed disappointment they had not chosen to lead in this area. I’ve tried to do the same – to express disappointment but not to denigrate or shame. Let me know if you think I walked that line successfully. Being mean about it is probably not going to be an effective means of enlisting support and leadership on small-family decisions.


  • Avatar

    Brian Sanderson


    Good call Dave.

    In my view, no one gets a free pass on this issue.

    The privileged Royals have had every advantage and there is no need for them to assume that their advantages should extend to getting a free pass for being population hogs.

    Overpopulation causes poverty and inequity. Thus, the logic is that anyone who argues that the poor should get a free pass to overpopulate is also arguing for ever more deprivation. I would wish better for my planetmates, be they primate or otherwise.


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