December 17, 2009
With climate change talks on the verge of achieving next to nil in Copenhagen, it’s not too early to start thinking of new ways to rescue our ailing planet.
One of the easiest things we can do is also the most salubrious and that is to give parenting a rest. Don’t have children. Just don’t. Seriously. At least for a generation or two, we could use a movement of people who reason: as strong as my maternal or paternal drive may be, as much as I yearn to pass on my genes and devote myself to a precious little bundle of joy, as much as I fear not taking a conventional path, I am going to put the world first for a change. And while it’s nice to think that I can teach little Bobby to be a good little environmentalist, the truth is he will still leave a footprint. Trees will be cut and oil burned and water polluted to sustain his life(style). Besides, for every tree-hugging Bobby, there will be 500 who live a life of indifference. And with income and consumption levels rising around the world, humanity’s overall carbon footprint is all but sure to enlarge, regardless of how many plastic bags we recycle, no matter how many gas guzzling cars we send to the junkyard.
The crux of the problem is and will continue to be that there’s just too many of us.
Everyone, at least nominally, recognizes the problem of overpopulation (there are 6.8 billion of us and 9 billion are expected by 2040). But when it comes to doing the one thing in our control to address the problem – not have kids – the bulk of us pass the buck, communicate in effect, it may be our problem but go on, you fix it.
It’s easy to miss the egregious hypocrisy because parenting is held up as an act of selfless sacrifice. Of course on our congested planet that is a distorted reading. And yet barring an environmental meltdown, the human race will all but surely continue churning out newborns en masse, for the impulse to have children is mostly rooted in discontent – the pursuit of happiness, societal and family pressures, a fear of loneliness, a desire to have something cute and cuddly to call your own, the rest assurance that one’s genes have been advanced*, and so on.
Cultural and institutional factors are also impediments to depopulation. The Singapore government has been offering cash incentives to couples who have more than two children, while the global media often predict economic doom for countries with ageing populations, and religions preach of the need to be fruitful and multiply.
Fewer children would mean fewer traffic jams, better weather, and cleaner rivers for the remaining children to swim in. But the biggest consolation I can offer to would-be parents comes by way of studies showing that childless adults may in fact be happier than people with kids.
It means that in making the world happier you make yourself happier in the process. Can it really get any better than that?
*Admittedly, I am in the rare and fortunate position to have reproduced my genes without having fathered a child, as my identical twin brother is a father of three.