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Population Taboo

Independent Chips Away at Population Taboo / Childfree Celebrated

It’s easy to like Simon Ross, chief executive of UK-based Population Matters. This is a class organization, and Ross is one of the most articulate spokespersons for the sustainable population movement. Today we honor on the Wall of Fame this recent op-ed published by The Independent:

People Who Don’t Have Children Benefit Our Environment More Than Any Campaign – It’s Time to Celebrate Them

I applaud Simon Ross and I thank The Independent for enabling this important conversation. Good-hearted people with a conservation ethic are changing their light bulbs, recycling obsessively, and trading in their Chevrolet Suburbans for Toyota Priuses. This is all well and good, and – multiplied by millions (or even billions if we’re lucky) these actions make a difference. Unfortunately, that progress is quickly negated by the 200,000+ new humans we add to the planet every day. Rarely do we hear or read about the most effective green behavior of all – conceiving fewer children.

“In the UK our electricity use per capita is 5,407 kWh – it’s nigh on impossible to make up for the environmental footprint of having a child by remembering to switch off the lights.”

Lately I’ve been seeing a slight uptick in mentions of the connection between population and climate change. Ross and Population Matters are certainly among those leading the charge.

“Our numbers have doubled in the last 50 years, transforming Earth into a ticking time bomb. Climate change is one devastating symptom of this surge. Population growth increases the number of wealthy carbon emitters and poorer climate change victims, while hampering mitigation and adaptation efforts.”

In this op-ed, Ross also echoes another message beginning to bubble up into the media:

“Women are now as likely to be childless as to have three children. As social norms shift, a childfree lifestyle has become increasingly attractive, with career taking centre-stage for many thirtysomethings. Add to this rising living costs and you can see the clear benefits of not having children: the £250,000 required to raise each child is a challenge even for the most well-off.”

That’s good news, though it wouldn’t hurt to also see an increasing number of couples choosing childfree because they want a livable climate (among other things) for the children already romping the planet. I think Ross gets that, and he’s doing something about it by writing this op-ed. Doesn’t hurt to acknowledge public figures who say and do the right thing:

“Cameron Diaz: ‘I think women are afraid to say that they don’t want children because they’re going to get shunned. But I think that’s changing too now. I have more girlfriends who don’t have kids than those that do. And, honestly? We don’t need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet.”

Readers who aren’t up to speed on the overpopulation issue might wonder why Ross is holding up as an example someone in the U.S., where the fertility rate is near replacement level, far below the rate in exploding African nations. Simon to the rescue:

“While a global response is needed, industrialised countries like Britain, which consume more than their fair share of resources, must lead by example.”

I’m glad he includes that. A child born in an over consuming culture does far more damage to the climate (and all our ecosystems) than a child born in sub-Saharan Africa. If we aren’t doing our best to curtail that overconsumption AND reduce our own population (there is nothing magic about replacement-rate fertility when you’re already OVERpopulated). Of course, Simon offers a useful prescription:

“With the steady erosion of the childfree taboo, it is time to reopen the debate surrounding population growth and sustainability, educate young people about mindful consumption, and advocate improvements to family planning, sex education and women’s rights.”

Here, here. And he adds this nice addendum to that prescription:

“The people who wish to have children but cannot need our empathy and support. But society should also acknowledge that those who choose not to have children are making a valuable contribution to a sustainable future.”

Thanks, again, to Simon Ross of Population Matters, and especially to the UK’s The Independent for publishing this and helping to break the “population taboo.” This is a welcome trickle; now we need to open the spigot and let the conversation flow.

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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.

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