Why you shouldn’t tell an environmentalist to ‘choose life’

Over the weekend, I saw two things that really pissed me off:


Hi. I’m one of those nutty left wing liberals you fear hate. And I’d like to remind you of a couple things. You’re telling us to choose life, yet most of us (death choosers?) are passionately against the death sentence. Most of us are anti-war, especially unnecessary wars that have cost us obscene amounts of life, energy, and money. Plenty of us are vegetarians or vegans because we don’t limit the definition or value of life to humans. I’d say that pretty much all of us are interested in preserving life where it has connections and quality, even when that means prioritizing the lives of adult women over a small cluster of fertilized cells.

From an environmental perspective, we’re not talking about a couple of babies versus a couple of trees. Environmentalism is about choosing life over increasing ocean acifidication, loss of habitat, fresh water shortages, and massive extinctions of both plants and animals. (And hey — we’re on the food chain, too. Being at the top just means being the last to starve.) We choose to preserve the life of our planet because our own species, as well as every other species, depends wholly upon it.

For us, choosing life means caring about things beyond our immedate lives and species. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that a growing human population is not going to be compatible with a future world that we want to live in, maybe even a future world we can all live in. Contraception and education, and to a lesser extent the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, are necessary components to our long term ability to live sustainably and thrive on this planet.

Treehuggers choose life all the time, every day, in everything we do to lead greener and lower impact lives. We just do it on a larger, longer, and perhaps less anthropocentric scale than you do. (And what do you do to choose life, other than take away reproductive rights from women?)

Tell us to choose life? I don’t think it means what you think it means.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for putting this a whole lot more coherently than I can when faced with ‘pro-life’…


  2. Wow … you have tackled this sensitive subject in an eloquent, educated fashion. Thank you!

    In my mind we either choose, now, to control our population or … it will be done for us when there is no longer enough food and water. Choosing now means that we opt for life … a quality life. If we refuse and the decision is taken from us … the population will be controlled in the most awful way … through disease and starvation. I don’t have children but I’m pretty sure that no parent would want to see their child starve to death. And, in my opinion, it is pure folly to think it could never happen to us.


  3. I chose life by having a life-saving abortion 🙂


  4. Posted by Elizabeth Creely on 11/16/2010 at 12:29

    Really glad to see this. I am a committed environmentalist and a woman who has chosen to have abortions.

    I am happier to explain my decision to abort by describing my overall maturity. I didn’t have the ability to parent effectively. My decision to abortion was not spurred on or motivated by fears of over population.

    This is the thing: I am aware that political justification for my abortions may be found within environmental movement in greater quantities than in other movements. I could be lauded for choosing to serve life -as described above- (the critically connected systems of earth/water/air) by environmentalists with far less hesitation than from the communities that shaped my attitudes towards my body and my physical future.
    Women who abort typically keep quiet about it, for “safety” reasons.

    But within the context of “over-population”, I could talk about aborting. This act, so horrific to some, could be seen by others as a rational act of an informed person who cares deeply about the health of the environment. I’ll take the deduction, physically so that our admittedly over- taxed lakes , rivers and watersheds don’t have to.

    Would I accept this cover? this justification? Things are bad from reproductive rights. Doctors are being murdered. I have been mildly threatened for publicly discussing my abortions. It’s just a matter of time before an aborter like myself gets killed for admitting her abortions. (I hate to say that.)

    But I don’t participate in discussion about zero population, or population control. I find aspects of that discussion to be under-informed and some distinctly racist (not casting aspersions on the posting above, just to be crystal clear).

    In which community is my decision to abort- not just to NOT have children, but abort- most at home?

    Interesting dilemma.


    • Good question. Not something I’ve thought a lot about, since it falls outside my range of experience. I will admit that I am less comfortable with abortion than I am with contraception (I agree with something Clinton said once about how in a perfect world abortion would be legal but seldom needed), but at the same time, I don’t think you need a cover or a justification for making an intensely personal decision about the direction of your own life. Full stop. I find it interesting that you label yourself an aborter, though. I’m sure you’re much more than these particular decisions.

      I disagree with you about zero population growth. I think it’s a conversation most of the world has avoided because it can easily turn racist or elitist, but as our resource crunch tightens, it’s vitally important that we start talking openly about our population issue, see it as one of our most challenging environmental issues, and come up with solutions. I’d really like to see a world in which having fewer or no kids is socially and financially encouraged, and in which we prevent as many unwanted births as we can through education and the increased availability of effective low-cost contraception.


  5. Posted by Elizabeth Creely on 11/16/2010 at 13:10

    Contraception is where its at, unless it isn’t due to social attitudes, lack of health care or crappy dictates issuing from abstinence only advocates, which is something, hopefully that died with the Bush Administration (probably not, but a gilr can hope)

    “Aborter” is a bit tongue in cheek 😉 “abortion having” is another term I’ve used! Anything is preferable to murderer, of course.

    I have concerns about consumption, which is where i enter into discussing the human impact on earth/air/water systems. I just got into a Facebook discussion of the water diversion from Northern California’s Delta that’s being proposed to satisfy the water-greedy and eater- abusing southern portion of the state. Traditionally, the manner in which over population gets calculated is by a metric which is productively challenged by Betsy Hartman, director of Population and the Environment, in a book called “Dangerous Intersections” which has writings that inspect the intersection of repro rights/ population concerns and the environment. It’s good stuff and totally worth reading and has really helped refine my environmental perspective.
    Cute kittie!


    • I’ll check out the book. Sounds like it would be an interesting read! Non-expert opinion, but I blogged a while ago about how both overpopulation and overconsumption are problems here. On this issue I concur wholeheartedly with David Attenborough, who says, “I’ve never known an environmental problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder or ultimately impossible to solve with more.” I think expecting the first world to voluntarily, drastically cut back its consumption is actually quite a bit less feasible than increasing access to contraception and weakening social taboos against not having children.


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