Many people argue that having children in today's world might be morally wrong—and they have a point. But the issue is far more complicated than it appears.
Having children is a dream for many people around the world, and with good reason. There's an emotional and genetic drive for doing so. There are few things that are as beautiful or fulfilling as raising a child—with all the love and deep connection that entails. Yet, an increasing number of people are noting that there might be a problem with this particular aspiration.
There are many strong arguments against having children these days, most refering to global issues such as climate change and overpopulation. But perhaps there are some counterarguments as well for those looking to have a family in the 21st century. Surely, there's nothing wrong with that, right? Both sides have a point, so the question stands regardless: is it ultimately wrong to have children nowadays? Here are some answers.
On a related note: The Lazy Person's Guide To Saving The Environment From Your Own Home
Overpopulation and population growth
Only 200 years ago, there were fewer than one billion humans walking the planet. Today, we number above 7 billion, according to UN estimates. This increase is clearly unprecedented—and potentially dangerous. As the webpage Our World In Data points out,
"Between 1900 and 2000, the increase in world population was three times greater than during the entire previous history of humanity—an increase from 1.5 to 6.1 billion in just 100 years."
That's a ridiculous increase. And it's harming the planet beyond belief. It seems only obvious that there's enough of us on the planet already, so why would we add more? If this is the whole story, then it would be patently irresponsible to have children nowadays. Also, with so many orphaned or abandoned children in the world, if we want to raise a family, we might as well adopt. That seems like the most ethical option.
The rate of population growth has actually been going down since the 20th century. The peak of this trend was registered in 1962, at 2.1%, and has since fallen by nearly half. For centuries, we have seen an indubitable trend for accelerated growth, but that has ended since the '60s. To quote Our World In Data once again,
"Since peaking, the growth rate has systematically been going down, with projections estimating an annual rate of 0.1% for 2100. This means that while the world population quadrupled in the 20th century, it will not double in the 21st century."
Still, this doesn't mean that the rate won't pick up again and that we mustn't be careful about it. As we stand now, there's a big problem: we are rapidly consuming Earth's resources. In the time between now and a future where population stabilizes on a more sustainable number, we must be extremely cautious about how we interact with the world.
Though current overpopulation is not enough to demand others not to have children, we mustn't be so reckless as to have too many of them either. At least, not at the moment. Let's give our planet a breather in this regard. Consider that, even if the growth rate decreases, projections estimate there'll still be over 11 billion people on the planet anyway (if climate change doesn't get to us). That's a lot.
There's also the good point about adoption to consider. Maybe we should put great weight into this idea, but that doesn't mean we ought to abstain from having biological children altogether. Perhaps a middle ground is possible: one biological child and one adopted one, for instance.
Hey! Tell us what you think of this: Why Abortion Should Still Be Legal Even If Fetuses Are Persons
Regardless of what the future holds, right now, the world seems to be in chaos. The environment is worsening by the day, political tensions are rising, historical sites are burning. Society has seldom been more divided in our lifetime, it seems. Social injustice ravages nations across the planet, and fascism seems to be getting stronger. Why would you bring your kids into a world of suffering, only so that they can suffer themselves?
Though a healthy awareness of social and environmental issues is important to improve the world, we mustn't ignore the good things either. There are plenty of great factors at play around the planet right now: civil rights, though still a long way to go, have on average expanded across nations. Human rights too, as violations are harder to get away with.
Sure, there are many countries in which terrible acts are systematically committed, but it's not clear that this has worsened, rather than improved, in the past few decades. Crime rates are going down globally, and medicine has reached a golden age that only seems to be improving.
If your circumstances are such that your kid will suffer no matter what, then perhaps it's not the best time to have one. Otherwise, there's plenty of opportunity for your children to live a good life—especially if they work towards improving the lives of others.
Perhaps you'll agree: Why Men Should Be More To Blame For Unwanted Pregnancies Than Women
Overconsumption and unsustainability
There are of course other factors to consider. It's not only about how many of us there are right now, or whether we suffer or not, but also about how long each will be here—consuming and polluting the world. A big part of the reason for why population grew so drastically in the past century has to do with technology in general, and medicine in particular. For each pregnancy there is, more children are born than before, since miscarriages were more common before mothers had access to medical attention.
Likewise, for each child born, more of them reach adulthood now, since the rate of infancy death has significantly declined. Medical technology and general safety in the world also mean that more adults reach old age than in the past. All these factors contribute to social conditions that are far more demanding on the environment than previous centuries, and it's straining our planet beyond its capacity to recover.
Our current way of life, especially in Western society, is simply unsustainable in the long term. It has been famously estimated than in order to maintain our comfortable lifestyle, we'd need far more planets like Earth to produce resources continuously. And we of course have no more such planets at hand. Whether we like it or not, Earth is our only home, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. If we try to overextend what it can offer, we'll find ourselves in trouble.
This means having more children right now, who themselves will be raised and get used to living beyond the means of their own planet, can be potentially devastating.
The ideal solution to this problem would never be having no children at all. Instead, it's far more important for new generations to understand the consequences of their actions and get used to very different, healthier habits.
If newer generations decrease their meat and plastic consumption, for example—which account for a significant portion of contemporary environmental damage—and if they demand higher ethical standards from the companies they give their money to, then maybe, just maybe, the harmful effects of our current society can be countered. In fact, it would be better to have many environmentally-conscious children than few indifferent ones.
Also interesting: This Is Why Radicals Can't Recognize When They're Wrong
But no matter how aware we are about the effects our mere presence has on the planet, it's still the case that, the more people there are, the greater humanity's carbon footprint will be. Carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide (and other carbon compounds) emitted by any single person or group, mostly due to the consumption of fossil fuels and other related activities.
Each individual human being on the planet has a specific carbon footprint, and it's affected by the sum of several minor habits we engage in every day, from eating to traveling and going to the bathroom. There's no way around it.
So, if there are too many of us, no matter what we do, our carbon footprint will increase. And the greater our carbon footprint, the greater the harm to everyone—and everything—else on the planet. So, shouldn't we avoid having children on these grounds alone?
Maybe we should have no more than one or two kids. But the previous point still stands. It's better to have newer generations that are environmentally-aware than no new generations at all. As humans—with our ingenuity and technology—we stand to do more good than harm in the future, both to our own species as to the planet as a whole, if we get our act together.
So, in the end, it's not about not having children. It's about being responsible when doing so. This means not having too many kids, sure; but, and perhaps more importantly, it's about educating them well in order not only to counteract their own presence, but to positively contribute to the world in general.
By implementing better eating habits, for example, and outcasting companies that act against other living beings, we can eventually overturn this harmful environmental trend we're on. If (and only if) we raise our children to understand this, then perhaps there's nothing wrong with having children in this day and age after all.
(That is, of course, if you really want to. Otherwise, there's way too many reasons not to have children in the first place, so don't force it).
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The Lazy Person's Guide To Saving The Environment From Your Own Couch