Posts Tagged ‘childfree’

Childfree Greenies vs. Green Parents?

Is there anything more wonderful than being outside in a wide open space, without another human in sight?

After my post on trees, David Milarch of the Champion Tree Project stopped by and we had a nice chat by email. He’s actually going to be speaking in my hometown this Saturday at TedX, although I was disappointed to find that you have to be a member to attend. He reminded me that we should all get off our butts and start planting trees in our own neighborhoods (agreed). Then he said,

 I have a saying I use in everyone of my talks for a closing. ‘We are all working for our grandchildren and I invite you to do the same.’

I was struck by how much this idea failed to resonate with me. It actually turned me off a little. As a childfree person, I don’t have kids. I won’t have grandkids. In fact, I have no biological investment of any kind in the future of humanity. Although as a writer, reader, potter, and general creative mess, I have a deep appreciation for human creativity, I’m also less emotionally invested in whether humans make it as a species or not.  The roots of my environmentalism lie elsewhere.

All of which made me wonder: are childfree greenies motivated by fundamentally different reasons than green parents?

I think the answer, at least for me, is an emphatic yes. Plenty of people begin to care about the planet once they have kids and realize just what kind of world we’re likely to leave them, and that’s fine, but it’s not my story. Here’s the truth: I’m just not that into humans. Never have been. Age 5: examined and sampled just about every plant in my mother’s yard. Age 9: wore only shirts with animals on them. Age 13: rescued a cat who became my closest and favorite companion for the next 12 years. Age 14: joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Age 22: adopted a strict policy to donate only to animal or ecological non-profits. Age 24: stopped eating animals. And so on.

My environmentalism has everything to do with the wonder of the non-human world: the head-clearing loam of an old growth redwood forest, spongy with fallen needles and coastal fog. The poison a catalpa tree exudes that only affects cheater insects, not true pollinators. The weird and improbable life cycle of parasitic fungi that produces zombie insects. The breathtaking variety of life on this planet, our intricately linked and balanced ecosystems, Earth’s close shave from sharing the fate of its sister planet Venus — these things are what make me draw a deep breath in wonder and appreciation. I feel lucky to be alive on a planet so interesting, unexpected, and vibrant. The urge to protect everything I love most about it is intensely visceral.

I do want to save the Earth. Not for humans — though I’d be delighted to see us develop a less parasitical, more healthy role on this planet — but for its own ineffable beauty, wonder, and complexity. I want to save it from humans.

Humans are a fascinating species, and I have no doubt that our culture, music, literature, and philosophy are unique in the universe. It would be a tremendous shame if our civilization went down. But I also believe in taking responsibility for our actions, and if that means that humanity has to take it in the teeth for burying our heads in the sand when we knew better, my sense of fairness is fundamentally okay with that. I just don’t want to take everything down with us, leaving behind a barren rock with cockroaches and plastic debris. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way; I came across this Grist article just today. Paul Kingsnorth, thank you for taking a stand for a less anthropocentric, more ecocentric view of the planet. I’m with you.

I want life to flourish on a stable, healthy planet. Not just humans, not necessarily humans.

If you’re a childfree greenie, what motivates you? And if you’re a parent, are your kids and grandkids your primary motivator, or do you identify with more ‘ecocentric’ reasons to protect the planet?

Being childfree: not an excuse for green smugness


Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

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.

Why green parents should support the childfree

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that I’m a fairly outspoken childfree person. I like kids. I just prefer to come home to a cat. (See all my previous childfree posts here.)  I joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement as a precocious teenager and have never looked back. However, childfree posts don’t end up on this primarily green blog much for two reasons:

  1. The relationship between population and sustainability seems fairly obvious. Sure, there are other factors at play, including how we use resources, but not having children means that my considerable impact as a citizen of the developed world ends with me and is not multiplied over x number of generations. As it turns out, contraception is five times cheaper than low carbon technology.  Nothing too complex for my brain to chew on.
  2. It makes the green parents who read this blog defensive. I get this. If I were a parent, doing my damnedest to raise low impact kids, I would totally throw something at the smug childfree person who boasts about how she will always win the low impact contest. It’s not encouraging, it’s not achievable for parents to raise zero impact children, and I keep coming back to the idea that making people defensive is a terrible strategy for promoting your cause. (Read the comments on this post for a real life example.) With that in mind, I’m asking for your patience with this post. I will attempt to avoid smugness.

I found out about the childfree movement maybe a year ago. I was initially excited that there were other people like me who saw that their lives would be better without having children. Since then, however, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that being childfree is not in itself a good reason for me to like or respect you as a human being. I’ve come up against stridently anti-child childfree people. Childfree people who treat parents offensively. Snobby childfree people. And (possibly worst of all) whiny childfree people, as highlighted in a recent article on Grist about whether coming out as a childfree person is like coming out as being gay. (It’s not. Suck it up.)

While we may not be a particularly likable bunch, I’d like to appeal to green parents to support us anyway. I get that our reasons for caring about the planet may come from very different sources. I care deeply about biodiversity. I don’t want a world without orangutans, amur leopards, manatees, and all the wonderfully weird animals, plants, and habitats that are on this planet. You probably care more about your children’s security in the future — clean water, clean air, enough food, some natural beauty for them to enjoy. That’s fine. But please recognize that supporting people who make childfree decisions is one way to support a common goal of greater sustainability. And — five little words to sweeten up the deal for you: More. Resources. For. Your. Kids.

My goals as a childfree person are very moderate. I’d like to see increased worldwide access to cheap, effective contraception (particularly IUDs and voluntary sterilization — if there were cheap spay and neuter days for humans, I’d be the first in line). And I’d like to see more social support for the decision not to have kids. Are you a green parent? Here are a few ways you can support the childfree:

  • Advocate for continued/better access to contraception. If you haven’t noticed, Planned Parenthood isn’t doing so well these days. The Democratic Party has its issues, I’ll give you that, but it at least seems to place women’s reproductive rights over religious beliefs most of the time.  
  • Respect the childfree decisions of the people you encounter. Don’t try to talk them out of their decision or put social pressure on them to change their minds. Please don’t assume we’re pedophiles, psychologically damaged, sexually aberrant, or likely to grow out of it.
  • Don’t exclude us. I recently attended a green Twitter party and had absolutely nothing to say in a conversation that ended up being all about eco-friendly Easter baskets and other child-centered issues. Yes, green parenting brings up a lot of concerns that will not interest people without kids, but choosing more general interest topics for a discussion that isn’t specifically designated for green moms would reach out to a bigger sector of the green movement. Inclusiveness is good.
  • Consider sustainability in choosing how many children to have if you are planning your family or thinking about having more children. Oh…I know I’m going to get crap for this one. I don’t support coercive child policies like China’s. I’m not going to attempt to limit your reproductive rights. I see that one more child will not destroy the planet. But if you are concerned about the environment and your own impact on biodiversity, I’m asking that you weigh that concern in your decision.

Now it’s your turn. Green parents, what could the childfree do to earn your support? And if you’re already childfree, what are your thoughts on the relationship between green and childfree? 

Lessons from the cat about being green

Amazing green kitty

Lynn from Upcycled Love recently posted an entry on what her cat Smokey has taught her about personal connections, and it  made me think: non-human animals teach us a lot we’ve forgotten on the long road to opposable thumbs and so-called higher intelligence. And when it comes to low impact living, even your average spoiled housecat is a model of greenness.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember an earlier, maybe slightly snarky post on why my cat is greener than your baby.  

I’m ready to turn that into something a little calmer now.  In no particular order, here are five lessons that my small blind rescue kitty has taught — is teaching — me about being green.

Lesson #1: Simplicity is sustainable. Cats will not put up with accessorizing. Nor are they acquisitive animals. I have never met a cat that liked to shop. Although Brie likes her fuzzy blue blanket and her scratching post, her quality of life would not be seriously affected by their loss. (The carpet, however, would suffer.) With the exception of her food bags and plastic litter box and scoop, just about everything Brie consumes or produces is either biodegradable or recyclable. Now there’s a good example for us humans.

Lesson #2: The best toys in life are improvised, upcycled, and free. When I first got the cat, I bought her a stream of crinkly, crawly, bouncy, and jingly toys. Her enthusiasm for each had the longevity of your average toddler’s attention span. However, her fascination with biodegradable packing peanuts, fallen leaves or branches from my houseplants, and random things we drop on the floor seems to be endless. I will probably never need to buy her another toy. Do kids really need plastic play kitchens? Do I need electronic gadgets? Probably not. After all, I prefer playing around in the mud. (Clay, that is.)

Lesson #3: Being a biological dead end is OK. Like most rescued cats, Brie is spayed. She will never have a litter of baby Bries running around her. But honestly? Brie seems content to miss out on motherhood. Judging by the way she reacted to the last foster kitten, she has zero maternal instinct. Her life is calm, quiet, and slow to change, and she seems thoroughly happy. It’s well-established that sterilized animals are healthier, less aggressive and longer-lived. If we could get this message that it’s OK not to reproduce out to humans, maybe we could make some progress in stabilizing our growing population.

Lesson #4: It’s necessary to adapt to changes and challenges. Brie has been blind for several years due to toxoplasmosis. I don’t know whether she remembers being able to see or if she misses it, but I do know that she gets around handily, catches her toys by sound and smell, and has all the sunny spots in the house memorized. (Cats remember that sunlight is always better than electricity.) Regardless of what we humans do about the environment at this point, we’re not going to be able to prevent climate change. We might be able to mitigate some of the worst effects, but mostly we’re going to need to adapt to new, perhaps less pleasant, circumstances and try to make smarter choices in the future. No whining allowed.

Lesson #5: Happiness is 90% being loved and being content with what you have. This isn’t directly about environmentalism, but I think it addresses an underlying issue of our rabid overconsumption of resources. Maybe we’ve forgotten that stuff doesn’t really matter, doesn’t really make us happy. I think our pets remind us every day that quality of life has little to do with the acquisition of stuff. Certainly, watching Brie loll around on her back in a big puddle of sunshine, I think she’s on to something.

What have your companion animals taught you?

Balancing the Costs of Being Childfree

A while ago, fellow childfree blogger Piper Hoffman posted a rather brave entry about the disadvantages of not having children. She listed a few that I personally don’t find compelling (disappointing my family — eh, it’s practically a hobby, alienation from peers — hey, I’m already a misanthrope!). I’d like to argue that the primary disadvantage, the only one that holds any weight for me, is the voluntary forsaking of a relationship and set of experiences that have the potential to be deeply satisfying, rewarding, and important.

Note the key word in that sentence: potential. For all the people who find parenting a wonderful experience, there are also plenty who find it frustrating, stressful, and limiting, plenty who have unhappy, complicated relationships with their kids, and plenty who wish they had never bothered. And for that potential return, they pay very real and essentially unavoidable costs of time, energy, resources, and money. There’s no return policy if it doesn’t work out, either. Sorry.

Let me concede that the desire to have children or not isn’t fundamentally a rational one, subject to ROI (return on investment) calculations and carefully thought out reasons. I declared I didn’t want children when I was ten, and while I have subsequently considered that decision from a rational perspective, it didn’t produce that gut level conviction that I never wanted to be a mother.

However, if you’re on the fence, I think it’s worth weighing the costs of having children against missing out on a potentially rewarding experience. These are the costs, as I see them.

  • Free time. My life at present is relatively slow-paced, quiet, and calm. I have time to cook from scratch, time to splurge at the pottery studio, time to play with lonely shelter kitties, time to read, time to blog, time time time. I love my uncluttered, contemplative life.  Because I live with two other essentially self-maintaining beings (Kevin and Brie), my time outside work is essentially mine to do with as I please.
  • Headspace/energy. Although you can be a mom without having a Twitter handle like @crazymommyblogger and think and talk about other things besides your kids, plenty of women don’t succeed. I don’t think it’s due to any lack of intelligence. It’s just that kids take up a lot of your finite energy and space to think, and I’d rather put them towards other things.
  • Money. Kevin and I don’t make a lot of money, but we have low expenses and enjoy a good quality of life and the occasional luxury without feeling the pinch. Now consider that middleclass Americans spend about $250,000 to raise a child to age 17. That’s without college tuition.  Yow. Goodbye, local organic produce.
  • Environmental resources. As a concerned global citizen, one of the most impactful things I can do is to be an evolutionary dead end. I accept this. I’d rather have a future with pandas and amur leopards than one with my biological descendents running amok.
  • Other relationships. Kids take up so much of your resources that it’s almost inevitable that other important relationships — with your spouse, your friends, your pets — get neglected. Plenty of studies show that childfree couples are happier than parenting couples.

Are kids worth this significant price of admission? No doubt for some people they are. But the next time someone asks me why I don’t want children, I’m tempted to answer, “I’ve done a cost analysis study, and I just don’t think the return on investment is there for me.”

My cat is greener than your baby.

I try to be a fairly respectful and tolerant individual, but sometimes I lose it when I hear women with a lot of kids bragging about how green they, their families, and their babies are. This post is my ‘Fawk You Friday’ (yup, it’s Tuesday; I suggest you deal with it) to all those smugly self-satisfied ‘green mommies’ and their designer organic onesies, eco-cupcake stands, recycled plastic sippy cups, and far too many babies. Wake up.

10 Ways in Which My Cat is Greener Than Your Baby

  1. Brie has reached her adult weight of around seven pounds. She will never become an average 164lb American woman who devours 6oolbs of dairy products or more each year.
  2. As an indoor cat, she uses sustainable Feline Pine that will neither leave mounds of plastic diapers or e coli in public washing machines. I admire the principle behind cloth diapers, but…eew.
  3. Brie requires minimal stuff. This equals major savings in plastic, raw materials, transportation fuels, and other such things. You: sippy cups, strollers, breast pumps, child seats, pacifiers, educational toys, teething rings, BPA-free bottles, bibs, walkers, onesies, booties, diaper bag. Me: litter box, litter scoop, kitty tree, food bowls, pet carrier.
  4. The cat satisfies my [minimal] maternal instincts at a fraction of the carbon footprint. Huge childfree win.
  5. The average lifespan for an indoor cat is around 15 years. The average lifespan for a human is 70+ years. Guess who will consume more?
  6. Brie has never taken a single tub bath or shower, leading to gallons of water savings every day.
  7. She will need, on average, two to four car trips per year. The amount of gasoline expended on her behalf will be minimal.
  8. Brie is a master reuser of aluminum foil, crinkly packaging, bubble wrap, and twine. The best toys in life are, apparently, free.
  9. Brie creates minimal laundry, for considerable water and energy savings over her lifetime.
  10. Kitty is spayed. She will not contribute to feline overpopulation. Her carbon footprint ends with her. Most parents can’t say the same about their children.

6 Things You Say that Annoy the Hell out of Childfree Women

Childfree: adj. describing someone who has opted not to have children; often used in conjunction with the term GINK.

It’s hard to be a childfree individual in this society. Admittedly, it’s gotten a lot better in the past few decades, but people, especially women, who have opted not to have kids still deal with plenty of crap. First are the suspicions of lesbianism, sexual anomaly, and/or child-hating misanthropy. Next are the stream of impertinent questions — often from people who barely know us — about our reproductive choices.  Here’s a list of six things you say that really piss us off. Please. Stop.

1. Kids are great/wonderful/fantastic/fulfilling! You should reconsider.

Imagine that I went up to a pregnant woman and said, “Hey, the childfree life is fantastic! Why don’t you reconsider?” This is what it feels like when you tell me to reconsider my decision to be childfree. I respect your decision to have a child and am willing to accept that you have good, valid reasons for doing so. It’s your turn to return the favor.

2. You’ll really miss out by not having kids. I feel so fulfilled by having produced genetic offspring.

I can see why this would be true from your perspective, but I’m not you, and what I find fulfilling may be very different from what you find fulfilling. In fact, what I find most satisfying – reading, writing, going out for solitary walks, spending time with animals – would be significantly hindered by having a child. Moreover, there are so many different experiences that an individual could find fulfilling that it is entirely possible to lead a highly fulfilling existence without all (or even many) of them. Maybe I’d find skydiving fulfilling and enriching if I just tried it. Thanks, but I’ll pass.  

3. Having a child is an essential part of the female experience.

Rubbish. I don’t believe in gendered experiences; I believe in individual experiences. Having kids may well be a part of your individual experience, but that doesn’t make it essential or even rewarding for other people. Not following one particular biological imperative doesn’t make me an inferior, incomplete, or unfulfilled person.

4. But you’d make a great mother, and we need more smart/conscientious/whatever people.

We don’t need more kids in the world; we need to make sure that the kids already here have supportive,  affectionate adults around them and access to the resources and education that will make them conscientious and thoughtful adults.

Morever, it’s pretty clear to me and the people who see beneath my mild-mannered facade that I wouldn’t be a good mother. I’m unabashedly self-centered, a few cents short of a dollar in the empathy [for humans] department, and savagely territorial about my independence, time, and space.  I have no maternal instincts to speak of and am at a total loss when presented with a baby. (Not fuzzy enough to be cute, and not conscious enough to have an intelligent conversation with.) There are plenty of people who should never be parents. I am one of them.  And even for people who would be good parents, they don’t owe it to anyone to make that decision.

5. Don’t you like kids? 

Of course I do. I work with them (ages 10 and up), and they are some of the coolest and most interesting people I know — kind of like adults without the smarminess and social posturing. But there is a striking difference between enjoying working and interacting with kids and wanting my own child, for whom I would be responsible 24/7 for years. I would go completely crazy. Relationships don’t work for me unless they’re with other, mostly autonomous individuals.

6. You’ll change your mind later.

Don’t patronize me — and that refers to doctors, too, who refuse voluntary sterilization to women with no children. Most people who don’t want kids have known forever that they didn’t want them. I figured it out years ago when I joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and have become increasingly certain that I neither want kids nor would be a good parent. I’m willing to bet you anything that I know myself better than you know me.

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