It would appear that being childfree got something of an image boost about a week ago, when the cover story of Time tackled the issue. That article requires a subscription to read, however, so I can’t know exactly what it says myself, but a piece posted on Grist mentions that the author “discusses the immense social pressure to have kids, and some of the upsides for those who resist that pressure”. However, that same Grist article states clearly that the Time story unfortunately misses the most important aspect of being childfree, namely the environmental one, focusing solely on what can be considered the selfish benefits of being childfree instead.
Admittedly, if any sort of argument has any chance of persuading anyone not to have children, emphasizing those selfish benefits is probably the better choice, especially since those who do care about the world as a whole in any way and are willing and able to put their brains above their gonads already know that having a child is probably the single worst thing they could do. However, the decision to have children isn’t a rational one, because if it was then hardly anyone would be having them, so that large majority of people who listen to their most basic instincts above anything else will not respond to any arguments, instead being far more likely to see such an article as evidence that not having children is an extraordinarily selfish decision, when in fact it’s the other way around.
The sad part is that I ended up learning about the Time story and the Grist article from a dreadful one posted on TakePart and included in their newsletter, which I’m actually still not quite sure how I ended up subscribed to but may occasionally include something interesting. I rushed to read it the moment I noticed a title like “If You Love the Environment, Is It Still Okay to Have a Child?”, only to be sorely disappointed by the actual content, the author’s blatant selfish attitude and his utter dismissal of the issue in spite of admitting that not having children “is perhaps the most effective individual choice” for an environmentalist. He even basically mocks those who actually do take this seriously, by ending with: “If that flavor of honesty gets my pass to the eco-tree house revoked for the rest of the summer, well, so be it.”
At the same time, a surprisingly high percentage of the comments posted so far on this article appear to be from people who are childfree and strongly advocate the concept, at least in large part for environmental reasons, so there is some good to take out of the bad. In addition, a little searching also proved that TakePart can post blunt articles that tackle the issue and reach the right conclusion as well, or at least they could in 2011. Even if it’s quite tongue-in-cheek and mentions a maximum sustainable population of 4.4 billion, which is some 50% above the most optimistic number I ever saw in any serious study taking renewable or fully recyclable resources, a decent standard of living for all humans and the well-being of other species into account, and dozens of times above the particularly pessimistic values, if I wouldn’t have found this article and the few others that at least tentatively attempted to start a debate on the issue over the years, I was seriously considering unsubscribing and forgetting about the site after such a demonstration of “thinking” with one’s gonads.
Getting back to the Time cover story, while it apparently doesn’t even mention the main reason why the vast majority of people shouldn’t have children, it seems to shine an at least passably positive light on the concept. Seeing as mainstream media, when it doesn’t ignore the population issue completely, usually does nothing but spew forth alarmist articles written from the point of view of those who support the current economic system and describing lower birth rates as a huge threat, that’s good news in itself. Add the fact that it also seems to raise awareness about the immense social pressure and even the discrimination that the childfree face and you could say that it’s a good start… Unfortunately, it’s more than half a century too late for a mere start to have much relevance anymore.
Still, it may be the best moment to bring up the issue once again in quite some time and we should quickly figure out how to make the best use of it, although there’s little room for hope when you remember that even all those leading scientists who were pointing out throughout the ’70s that we were already well past any sustainable population limit were silenced when the topic became taboo. A better opportunity might have been provided by the series of articles published throughout 2011 by National Geographic, but that proved to be nothing but a huge slap in the face by taking the “official” line, namely that further population growth is inevitable and not that big of a threat, at most acknowledging the idea that a drastic reduction of the global human population is necessary before any other efforts will be anything more than a waste of time only to quickly dismiss it with nothing but superficial arguments and focusing only on painting the supposed solutions aimed at mitigating some of the problems caused by overpopulation in bright and happy colors.
What all who claim to care for the environment and the other species we share this planet with must realize is that all their efforts are largely wasted unless we’ll first solve the overpopulation problem and that, while simply being childfree doesn’t necessarily make you an environmentalist, not being childfree certainly means that you can’t truly be one. And what all those who are serious about solving the overpopulation problem, most preferably without killing people or allowing them to unnecessarily die due to lack of access to needed resources and services, must realize is that a mix of basic instincts and shortsighted economic interests conspire to make the vast majority of people from all walks of life vehemently oppose the very idea of doing so, that few of those people will ever respond to reason and that education, awareness campaigns and voluntary measures have always been, are, and will always be little more than a drop in the bucket compared to what’s truly needed to tackle such a problem. Yet tackle it we must, by absolutely any means necessary, perhaps less for ourselves and more for all the other species we share this planet with.