Being a happily childfree person does not mean that I agree with all childfree attitudes, and there’s one that’s been cropping up recently that I don’t like at all. It goes something like this: “By not having kids, I’m already reducing my footprint so much that I don’t have to do anything else to be green.”
Wow. That annoys me, and I don’t even have kids.
Here’s the thing. If you chose not to have kids mostly or even solely for the sake of the environment, that would be one thing — a true sacrifice if you were someone who always wanted kids. But I don’t know any childfree people who chose to be biological dead ends for primarily environmental reasons. Instead, most childfree people are childfree because they don’t want kids or the responsibilities that go with them. Full stop. The environmental benefit is a nice little bonus and might strengthen our resolve, but even if having kids were the best thing I could do for the environment, I wouldn’t do it.
The environmental impact of having children is hard to deny. My grandmother had seven children, who went on to produce 13 grandchildren and I don’t even know how many great grandchildren (we’re just reaching our mid twenties and thirties), many of whom live in the US or Taiwan and lead fairly typical and cushy lives as consumers. Although my entire paternal side of the family is deeply dysfunctional, the family tree isn’t going to end with the great grand children. In relatively few generations, my grandmother will have been partially responsible for a hundred or more new people, most of whom will still be alive. And that’s just one family. I look at family reunion photos and am amazed at how two people created so many more. How many fewer people would there be if she’d stopped at two? How much lower would the total impact of this family be? (I wouldn’t exist, but that’s OK — it’s not like I’m going to find the cure for cancer or anything.)
If you want the stats, Oregon State researchers conclude,
[T]he carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.
Not bad, huh? I totally think talking about population and making sure every fertile person in the world has easy access to reliable contraception and sterilization options is a huge and often overlooked piece of the climate change puzzle. I love the way the childfree movement is gaining momentum and population is starting to creep into more mainstream discussions. But.
Not doing something you weren’t going to do anyway does not give you mad
brownie greenie points. To me, saying that being childfree means you’ve done enough is like saying that not flying a private jet to work every day reduces your impact so much that you’re totally off the hook. I try not to impose my version of what it means to be green — to think about all my choices in terms of total impact, to strive to make both small everyday changes as well as effect bigger ones — but I can’t help but think that you may be missing the point if you think being childfree is a get out of jail free card for everything else you do.
I don’t think there’s ever a point at which we can sit back with a satisfied smile and say, “Great! My life is now totally sustainable!” I’m a vegetarian, I cook from scratch, I’m childfree, I heart reusable everythings…and there’s still so much more I could be doing. And there always will be, because this is one big, messy, all-encompassing problem, and compromise is inevitable.
Childfree anything is controversial. What are your thoughts on the intersection between being childfree and being green?
P.S. You can read more of my childfree entries here.