Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them.
We need to stop pretending kids don’t have environmental and ethical consequences.
by Travis Rieder / Nov.15.2017 / 7:17 PM ET
A startling and honestly distressing view is beginning to receive serious consideration in both academic and popular discussions of climate change ethics. According to this view, having a child is a major contributor to climate change. The logical takeaway here is that everyone on Earth ought to consider having fewer children.
Although culturally controversial, the scientific half of this position is fairly well-established. Several years ago, scientists showed that having a child, especially for the world’s wealthy, is one of the worst things you can do for the environment. That data was recycled this past summer in a paper showing that none of the activities most likely to reduce individuals’ carbon footprints are widely discussed.
Consider a different case: If I release a murderer from prison, knowing full well that he intends to kill innocent people, then I bear some responsibility for those deaths — even though the killer is also fully responsible. My having released him doesn’t make him less responsible (he did it!). But his doing it doesn’t eliminate my responsibility either.
Something similar is true, I think, when it comes to having children: Once my daughter is an autonomous agent, she will be responsible for her emissions. But that doesn’t negate my responsibility. Moral responsibility simply isn’t mathematical.
I am certainly not arguing that we should shame parents, or even that we’re obligated to have a certain number of children. As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t think there is a tidy answer to the challenging questions of procreative ethics. But that does not mean we’re off the moral hook. As we face the very real prospect of catastrophic climate change, difficult — even uncomfortable — conversations are important. Yes, we should discuss the ethics of making babies with care and respect; but we should discuss it.
Travis Rieder travels the USA lecturing at universities, trying to convince students not to have children for the sake of the planet. Rieder frequently speaks of his own daughter in the context of the moral dilemma of having children.
I believe Rieder when he claims he opposes the shaming of parents, but some of the people he preaches to might not be so restrained. If Rieder convinces enough students that parents are destroying the planet, if the small minority of students who are unhinged violent activists get excited about this issue, this anti-child philosophical ugliness could end with far worse than “shaming”.