Why I’m Seriously Considering Not Having Anymore Kids — And Maybe You Shouldn’t Either.
Two words: 7 billion. That’s the number of humans our little world supports as of about 10:48 a.m. Pacific Standard Time today. You may remember 6 billion. We hit that in 1999. You may feel like you’re special, like your children are special, but we are each just one of billions of human animals on planet Earth. For example, when I was born in 1971, I became person number 3,793,257,443, according to the BBC’s package on this milestone. That right: in my 40 years on this planet, the world’s population has nearly doubled.
There are simply too many of us. Quality of life is suffering. Quality of life for other life forms and the natural resources upon which we depend for healthy life are suffering.
The United States is relatively lightly populated, but even so, in my lifetime, I’ve seen sprawl eat up orchards and farmland, creeks and forests. When I was a child we ran around in natural places near our homes, learning about both independence and consequences. Today many American children barely play outside. In places like India and China, with populations of about 1.2 billion and 1.3 billion, respectively, it can feel like you’re never alone. Across the world, people are fighting over limited resources, especially water.
People say we need to change the way we live, that the Earth can’t support 2 billion or 3 billion people who consume like Americans. And that’s true. Part of our problem is certainly lack of urban planning, a disposable mentality,meat as a central part of our diet.
The BBC authors wrote: “It is estimated that your group of the richest countries consumes double the resources used by the rest of the world. The U.N. estimates that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us.”
When American biologist Paul Ehrlich wrote the The Population Bomb in 1968, he projected widespread death and famine by the ’70s. That didn’t happen, thanks in large part to the “green revolution” in agriculture that allowed us to temporarily increase our output.
People say that human ingenuity will continue to save the day, as we figure out better ways to do the things we’re doing. It might help for a while, but there is no escaping the fact that we are biological animals and that our habitat has a carrying capacity. Resources are, ultimately, finite. When we go beyond that capacity, there are negative consequences.
Many animals stop breeding when they surpass the carrying capacity of their habitat, or when they sense that conditions are not beneficial to successfully raise their young, such as a monster drought. There is growing evidence that increasing infertility is linked to chemical and air pollution. The habitat is not conducive to successfully raising human young.
Part of human ingenuity, part of adaptation to a changing world, part of learning to do things better is to stop or greatly reduce breeding.
I’m not having kids because I can’t in good conscience contribute to the rapid diminishment of our world. If I were to have kids, their quality of life would be less than mine, and I don’t want to condemn them to that. Surprisingly, I’ve been told that I’m selfish, unwilling to share my life with a child. Look at it this way: I’m leaving more resources for your child.
Of course, talk of not having children is heresy in many circles because reproducing is a biological imperative and many people feel driven to do so. Fine. Have one. Two is the replacement number for you and your spouse, so having just one will get us on the path toward fewer people. If you want a sibling for your child, adopt.
Talk of curbing our population got a bad rap in the ’70s when India conducted forced sterilizations of some poor men and China instituted its mandatory one child policy. But there has been a lot of evidence since that giving a woman access to health care and education will result in her controlling her fertility. Indeed, birth rates are declining in many developed countries.
Giving women options can go a long way toward reducing our global population and leaving more resources for each person. But we also need to be honest and open about the topic of overpopulation and what to do about it. For decades it has been a kind of “third rail” that inspires vitriol when mentioned. Both culturally and politically, we need to not stigmatize and penalize people who have made choices like mine, but instead applaud and reward them.
Some thought-provoking coverage of the 7 billion milestone:
The Atlantic, a photo essay