Friday, August 7, 2009

The Planet Has a Fever! Stop Having Babies!

Thanks for ruining our planet, Olive! A new study by statisticians at Oregon State University (those of the Beavers and not the Ducks), that I first saw in the New York Times, concludes that:
“the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives – things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs.”
(Note to self: never let Al Gore babysit).

Not sure how I am supposed to take this. I mean, my daughter wears recycling onsies -- isn't that enough! My wife and I do frequently debate the pros and cons of having more children. We talk about lots of things and sometimes we do discuss the micro resources (family budget, time, draw on our own hopes and dreams, etc) and macro resources (impact to the world at large) required for another child. I also know and respect people who choose not to have children for good and varied reasons. But I am pretty sure that the carbon footprint of a child is going to swing the pendulum one way or another for me.

Really, there isn’t much new in this study. I mean, simple math tells you that more people equals more resources consumed. But it is interesting in some respects. For example, one of the reasons that having a child makes such an impact on the environment is the likelihood of that child having children and so on and so forth – and where that child is born makes a huge difference. A child born in the United States is the Hummer of the world in terms of environmental impact. This is partially due to how much Americans consume day-to-day and also because we tend to live longer than someone in, say, China. In fact, the study claims that:
“ the average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh.”
Which begs the question: is moving your children to Bangladesh the best thing you can do for the environment?

This study has my mind churning though with all sorts of Swift-ian thoughts: Maybe we should allow fewer people into the US since the average American’s environmental impact is so high? Maybe we should encourage the human race to let itself die off by not having children? Maybe we should call people who have more than two babies “irresponsible” and use abortion and contraception to limit growth?

Even me, the cloth-diapering, air-drying, public-transportation-loving, backyard-organic-gardening, environmentally-conscious hippie that I am has come to the conclusion, after only four months of fatherhood, that my daughter rocks way more than global warming sucks. No apologies there. I think I’ll stick with her and try some other ways to reduce my impact.

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