Is it unethical to have kids in the era of climate change? | The Tylt

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Is it unethical to have kids in the era of climate change?

In an Instagram Live video in February 2019, freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioned whether or not young people should have kids, acknowledging that lives of children will be increasingly difficult as a direct result of climate change. According to Ocasio-Cortez, it is a moral question for millennials to consider. 


NPR's Jennifer Ludden looked to Travis Rieder, a philosopher with the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University, to explain why having children amid the consequences of climate change is unethical. As Rieder notes, the days of protecting the planet "for our grandchildren" are no longer far-off, what-if scenarios; they are here. Ludden reports:

[Rieder] cites a study from 2010 that looked at the impact of demographic change on global carbon emissions. It found that slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid that potentially catastrophic tipping point.

Ludden notes that a decrease in birth rates due to climate change would not be an unprecedented phenomenon. Birth rates in the U.S. declined during the Great Depression, and "many also must have thought twice amid warnings of overpopulation in the 1960s and '70s, and under the threat of nuclear holocaust."

And for those who say there are many other ways individuals can reduce their carbon footprint other than suppressing the desire for a child, Rieder has an answer for that too:

Oregon State University researchers have calculated the savings from all kinds of conservation measures: driving a hybrid, driving less, recycling, using energy-efficient appliances, windows and light bulbs.
For an American, the total metric tons of carbon dioxide saved by all of those measures over an entire lifetime of 80 years: 488. By contrast, the metric tons saved when a person chooses to have one fewer child: 9,441.

Regardless of the consequences of climate change listed by the IPCC, many people feel quite justified in their desire to have kids and to have as many as they want. After all, one of those kids could play a key role in finding a solution to the massive problems the planet is facing.

Independent's Jessica Brown points out that even a prominent climate change organization, Conceivable Future, says refraining from having kids is not the answer:

Founders Josephine Ferorelli and Meghan Kallman, however, argue that the question shouldn’t be whether people have fewer children because of their future carbon footprint, but why we live on a planet where there is such a carbon cost to having a child.
'It’s preposterous to think a bunch of people deciding not to have children will solve climate change. I could...remove myself as one of around seven billion people, and climate change would continue. It’s a socially and morally bankrupt argument,' Kallman says.
'It’s not about individuals choosing to do something or not do something, but about people coming together.'

The New York Times' Maggie Astor reported on interviews with more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43. Astor found that most held some concerns about reproducing due to the imminent consequences of climate change. According to Astor:

The people thinking about these issues fit no single profile. They are women and men, liberal and conservative. They come from many regions and religions.

One participant, Maram Kaff, said that she was deeply affected by reports that parts of the Middle East may be too hot to be livable by 2100. Kaff, a resident of Cairo, said:

'I’ve seen how Syrian refugees, who are running from a devastating war, are being treated,' Ms. Kaff, 33, said in an email. 'Imagine how my children will be treated if they have to flee their country due to extreme weather, drought, lack of resources, flooding.'

The prevalence of this ethical debate is beside the point; it remains illogical. Vox's David Roberts claims the framing of the situation–that one's individual choice to have or to not have a child–misses the point.

The premise [is that] if you have the kid, you’re responsible for [their] emissions.
But a moment’s thought reveals that such an accounting scheme is utterly impractical. If I’m responsible for all my kids’ carbon emissions, are my parents responsible for mine? is a counterfactual. It would be like saying the best way to eat less is to not have a kid—you will thereby have avoided eating an entire lifetime’s worth of food.
There is no reasonable system of carbon accounting that attributes people’s emissions to their parents. There is a point to be made about the connection between population and emissions, but reducing it to the individual-choice frame only distorts and unnecessarily moralizes that point.
Is it unethical to have kids in the era of climate change?
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