GINK: n., Green Inclinations, No Kids. As coined by Lisa Hymas at Grist in her article Say it loud: I’m childfree and proud.
The most powerful way to reduce your impact on this small and rather fragile planet is not to recycle. Ride a bike. Compost. Add solar panels to the house. Nope. Want to be really green? Don’t have kids.
According to the NY Times, greening other aspects of your life can’t even begin to offset the carbon footprint of having kids: “If [a hypothetical American woman] had two children, the researchers found, her carbon legacy would eventually rise to nearly 40 times what she had saved by those actions.”
Skyrocketing carbon levels, water shortages, melting ice caps are not problems as much as they are symptoms of one major underlying problem: human overpopulation. When you have 6.8 billion humans (that’s 6,800,000,000 and growing) competing for limited space and resources while trying to become 1st world consumers, the results — for humans, other species, and the Earth — aren’t pretty. Fortunately, studies have shown that the cheapest and most effective way to curb carbon lies in population control through increased access to and use of contraceptives.
Even public, well-respected figures like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall have come straight out and said it: population needs to be curbed. True, consumption matters, too. But as David Attenborough puts it, “I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people. The same problem becomes harder, or ultimately impossible, when more people are involved.”
Increased access to contraceptives and education might make a significant impact in third world countries, but it shouldn’t make first world countries, where birth rates are already low, feel complacent: first world children have carbon footprints 7 times higher than their third world counterparts. But the majority of people who have children in the first world already have them out of choice, not biological accident, so the education & condom tack probably isn’t going to fly.
It’s pretty clear that people aren’t going to not have children solely because of the environment. Even some of my most environmentally conscious friends want two or more children. Species-wide, Earth-wide consciousness is not going to override biological imperative on any significant scale. Sorry. We’re not hard-wired to think in those terms. (Proof in point: we can accurately predict imminent environmental crisis and come up with ways to circumvent it, yet are unlikely to act collectively, effectively, and quickly enough to save ourselves as a species.)
Despite these difficulties, curbing the population needs to be a part of any green effort. Here’s where I think we should start: an attitude change. Currently, people who choose not to have children are subject to prying, familial pressure, and even outright social disapproval. Contrary to expectation, most people who choose not to have kids are not child-haters; they just have other priorities for their time, energy, and money. And that should be fine, even admirable. I’d like to see more acceptance of child-free-ness, and then social approval coupled with governmental incentives for having one or fewer children. Like tax benefits for people who voluntarily undergo sterilization after zero or one kids. Either that, or require parents to offset the carbon footprints of each of their offspring until age 18. (Take your pick!)
Next, let’s actively educate people who are unsure about kids about the true costs of having children (to your relationship, career, free time, and bank account) and promote satisfying alternatives like fostering, adopting, or joining organizations like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I think we’d end up with fewer but happier and better cared for children living in a healthier world. Surely that’s a goal worth working towards.
How many children you choose to have should not be seen as a purely personal choice but as a decision made in the context of a small, crowded planet. Please choose wisely, not only for the sake of humans, but also for the sake of the many species we share our world with and have pushed to the brink of extinction.
Speaking for myself, I have always known I did not want children. I announced it to my skeptical mother when I was 10, joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement when I was 14, and told my now-husband that if he wanted children, he’d better find another girl. I work with kids and truly enjoy their company. However, I don’t want them in my life 24/7, and know I require far too much space and quiet time to be a good parent. Equally important, I am a life-long animal person and vegetarian. Continuing to share my planet with amazingly diverse species is so much more important to me than passing on my genetic information. I look forward to being an evolutionary dead-end. I really do.
What are your thoughts on being green and having kids? Another oxymoron?