Climate Calculations and Family Planning

On an average day, each individual one of us will burn a few gallons of fossil fuel and throw a significant amount of plastic into the trash, and we do this even with the full knowledge that the plastic will never decompose and the burning of our fuel will release carbon into the atmosphere that can’t be removed.

On some level, we all get used to this. For most of us (all of us, really), there’s just no other path that will take us through the day. We need to work, eat, and interact with others, and all of these require a certain daily level of consumption and environmental exploitation—Even if we do our best to recycle and limit our driving time. To date, we simply haven’t yet found a single safe route past the snarls of plastic and waste and consumption that mark our progress from sunrise to sunset and year to year.

But some of us are starting to recognize a functional alternative that might come close: If we can’t reduce our own footprint, maybe we can do the next best thing and reduce the footprint of the following generation by not having children.

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Logically, we know that resources are limited and the carrying capacity of the planet is finite. And we understand that this carrying capacity has been reached and exceeded—Climate change is no longer looming in a hypothetical future; it’s a proven reality that’s having a measurable impact on the world around us as we speak.

If you’ve ever engaged in a thought exercise along these lines or tried to mentally run the numbers on each hypothetical child you might or might not have (or may or may not have had already), you’re apparently not alone. This concept and this exercise are actually more widespread than you might imagine, and according to the results of this small but diverse survey, a growing number of people are factoring the future of the planet into their family planning decisions. For a large segment of the population, this logical intrusion appears to be serving as a countermeasure against a biological drive to procreate. 

Will the trend continue? And if so, how will it shape our cultural and economic landscape in addition to our environmental landscape? For a variety of reasons, birth rates are already slowing in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Will environmental concerns be added to the list, and if so, will these concerns bring measurable changes over the next few decades?