Ask G

The baby dilemma: Do we or don’t we?

Tanya Ha’s comments on the discussion over bringing more people onto an already over-populated planet.

My husband and I are thinking about having a child. Just one! But how do you fathom bringing up children in the (scientifically confirmed) disaster world of the future? How do you rectify the guilt that comes with introducing another human being to what may be the most difficult circumstances ahead? Perhaps we shouldn’t have a child.
– Guilty Anon.


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Normally, I like to answer readers’ questions with evidence and expert interviews. But there is no ‘right’ answer to this question. Science can’t tell us how to make choices between values, so I’ll respond with my personal story.

For starters, I’m biased, as I have two adored children. Numbers-wise, my husband and I have replaced ourselves. Our reproduction will result in neutral population growth. While this sounds rational, it wasn’t a dispassionate decision. I always knew I wanted to have children.

I spent much of 2013 researching the transition to motherhood and environmental behaviour. The cold, hard truth is that increasing your household size increases your ecological footprint. Some researchers describe our reproductive choices and their ‘carbon legacy’ as the most significant environmental choices we make. However, I also found that, to some degree, motherhood can inspire greener behaviour in women. For many parents, children make the future tangible.

I had my first child before finishing university. While sustainability always made sense to me, I can trace my career in the environment movement to the passion that was ignited when my daughter was born. Suddenly, ‘the future’ became ‘her future’.

Will life be worth living in an uncertain, but certainly challenged, future? William James, the ‘Father of American Psychology’, once said, “Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.” This is a guy who lived through the American Civil War, before the age of antibiotics and who had several physical and mental health problems. It illustrates how humanity is capable of joy and resilience in the face of hardship. We may be on the verge of collapse, but I can’t confidently say future generations won’t value what life they have, however difficult.

It sounds harsh, but there are plenty of rats breeding more rats to join the rat race. I love democracy, but it’s tougher when selfish people out-number the community-minded. I hope the children who will be tomorrow’s leaders will be raised by thoughtful, planet-minded parents (perhaps like yourselves).

We need the parents, aunties, uncles and mentors of tomorrow’s leaders to teach them respect for biodiversity, responsibility and the importance of community. We can also teach them resilience, practical skills and self-sufficiency.

I wish you and your husband a happy future. Whatever choice you make, we can all do our best to live (and vote) in better balance with the natural environment in the hope that future generations will be able to, also.