Recently there have been a rash of articles about millennials choosing not to have children for environmental reasons. Almost invariably they highlight people who were never particularly sold on having children in the first place, who have considered adoption but found it too complicated and are content having a dog instead. The tone of these articles is always congratulatory, as if this individual has made a first step in saving us all. In fact, it’s become so in vogue to not want children that some have decided it’s the only right choice.
I was at a birthday party, and the idea of having children came up. I casually mentioned that I’ve always wanted kids. This was greeted by a woman I normally like sneering, “Children are really bad for the environment, you know.” Of course this immediately halted the conversation altogether. I’d just been shamed for wanting kids because of their environmental impact.
Suppose I had said that I was pregnant, but was considering getting an abortion. If there had been a pro-lifer at that party who exclaimed that I was killing my unborn child, we all would consider that inappropriate and judgmental. Choosing to have a child and choosing not to have a child are both incredibly personal choices. Staying out of the reproductive organs of others means staying out of the reproductive organs of all others, regardless of what one chooses to do with that uterus.
This comment also assumed that I had not given thought to the environmental cost incurred when we create another human. It assumed that I hadn’t seen the many articles uplifting those millennials who choose not to add to the human population. This assumed that I was not aware that humans take resources. It’s appallingly condescending. In fact, I was aware of this, as are many who choose to have children, but we believe that children are worth the cost.
What this self-righteous partygoer was really saying is that she doesn’t believe children are worth the environmental cost, so other people shouldn’t have children. It was assumed that I had to make the same environmental valuations that she did. Never mind the fact that this person has traveled internationally on jets fairly often for her art. She had determined that the carbon required to inspire her work as an artist was more valuable to the world than my using carbon to support a child would be. It would be beyond her imagination to consider that perhaps raising a child could be my art, could be what I had always dreamed of doing ever since I was young. No, it’s costly from an environmental standpoint, and this isn’t a cost she wants to pay, so she will make comments in public about how I use my body.
The thing is, she’s factually right. Children do take environmental resources. As we move toward a greener future, the quest ought to be to ensure that we’re raising our children — and living our lives — in ways that minimize harm to the environment. Telling someone to not have kids for the environment is like telling high school students not to have sex before marriage: telling people that the only option is to deny a basic human impulse is not going to make them deny it, it’s just going to shame them about it. In both instances, the solution lies in working with the behavior that we are naturally designed to want to do.
Most humans want to have sex, some more than others. Most humans want to reproduce, some more than others. Shaming people at parties doesn’t make them change their actions, it just means they don’t invite you to the next party. It doesn’t matter how right you think you are, you still just end up being the rude.