Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fewer kids - save the planet?

"Fewer kids - save the planet?" is headlining the Wall Street Journal's Juggle Blog right now. In it the writer wonders aloud whether there's an ethical requirement to balance family size against environmental impact.

Blogger Katherine Meyer quotes a recent article in the Chicago Tribune that seems to argue favorably for population control in Western countries, citing such statistics as "each child born in a rich country like Britain or the United States is likely to be responsible for 160 times as much carbon emitted as a child born in Ethiopia."

British physicians are considering just that. A British Medical Journal editorial recently stated:

Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less child than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren? ... doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high carbon cars.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

Limiting family size is "the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren," the [British Medical Journal's] editorial's authors said. Family planning as a means to reduce climate change has been little talked about in international climate forums, largely because it is so politically sensitive. China's leaders, however, regularly argue that their country should get emission reduction credits because of their one-child policy, and many environmentalists—and even a growing number of religious and ethics scholars—say the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply" needs to be balanced against Scripture calling for stewardship of the Earth.

I agree that we're called to care for our planet and its creatures, but I have a serious ethical problem in saying we should issue population control for the sake of saving the environment. People are not cars. They are not patio heaters. They are individuals who have the power to make individual, positive impacts on our society and our environment through individual actions. And who is to say that one person should get that choice on who lives or not, based on a carbon footprint?

Shouldn't we be teaching us - and our children - how to better care and manage the resources given to us instead?

Writes Taiyyab Mehmood, Medical Doctor Trainee Surrey, UK/Riga, Latvia, on the BMJ's Rapid Response page:
...don't be shy to have babies. Educate them to not overbuy food (as in UK 25% food bought is binned) and not to overindulge one's desires and ego to have a plasma TV in every room with 4 cars per house - big engines also etc. But don't forget to give them lots of sincere love, protection, care and the gift of wisdom to be ready for the big world.

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