In a provocative new essay, NBC News Think claims that science has proven that having kids is bad for the environment and therefore “having many children is wrong, or at least morally suspect.”
In an article titled “Science proves kids are bad for Earth: Morality suggests we stop having them,” bioethicist Travis Rieder argues that having a child “is a major contributor to climate change” and thus “everyone on Earth ought to consider having fewer children.”
In an ominous warning to parents, Rieder declares that we “need to stop pretending kids don’t have environmental and ethical consequences” before comparing the decision to have children to that of freeing a convicted murderer from jail.
Consider this case, Rieder proposes: “If I release a murderer from prison, knowing full well that he intends to kill innocent people, then I bear some responsibility for those deaths — even though the killer is also fully responsible.”
“Something similar is true, I think, when it comes to having children,” Rieder continues. “Once my daughter is an autonomous agent, she will be responsible for her emissions. But that doesn’t negate my responsibility.”
— NBC News THINK (@NBCNewsTHINK) November 15, 2017
The unarticulated supposition behind this line of reasoning is that the environment is valuable for its own sake, rather than the sake of the human beings who inhabit the earth. Therefore, if humans cause dangerous climate change, fewer humans is a good thing.
Similar arguments were famously employed by Paul Ehrlich, author of the 1968 doomsday bestseller, The Population Bomb, which spawned mass hysteria over the future of the world and the earth’s ability to sustain human life.
To allow women to have as many children as they want, Ehrlich said, is like letting people “throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.”
As a logical consequence of his position, Ehrlich has defended mass sterilization, sex-selective abortion and infanticide, since by his worldview human beings are the enemies of the planet. For the religion of environmentalism, overbreeding is a mortal sin while population control by any means is a sacrament.
Although Ehrlich’s apocalyptic thesis proved to be spectacularly wrong, it has shown remarkable resilience, as Wednesday’s article in NBC Think demonstrates.
Ehrlich sold the world the idea that mankind stood on the brink of Armageddon because there was simply no way to feed the exponentially increasing world population, while climate alarmists now say that the environment cannot sustain the procreation of little carbon dioxide emitters. The earlier thesis focused on consumption while the newer version underscores output. The conclusion is the same.
Rieder claims that the science behind his contentions “is fairly well-established,” since scientists have shown “that having a child, especially for the world’s wealthy, is one of the worst things you can do for the environment.”
While I recognize that this is an uncomfortable discussion, Rieder concedes, “I believe that the seriousness of climate change justifies uncomfortable conversations. In this case, that means that we need to stop pretending the decision to have children doesn’t have environmental and ethical consequences.”
The author goes to make a further provocative comparison, that some parents might find somewhat offensive, by likening children to consumer luxury items.
People who care about the environment “might eventually admit that having many children is wrong, or at least morally suspect, for standard environmental reasons: Having a child imposes high emissions on the world, while the parents get the benefit,” Rieder writes.
“So like with any high-cost luxury, we should limit our indulgence,” he concludes.
“If having one fewer child reduces one’s contribution to the harms of climate change, the choice of family size becomes a morally relevant one,” he says.
While generously suggesting that his arguments don’t necessarily mean coercion should be applied to force parents to have fewer children, not much imagination is required to connect the dots.
“As we face the very real prospect of catastrophic climate change, difficult — even uncomfortable — conversations are important,” Rieder writes.
The history of the twentieth century would suggest that such “uncomfortable” proposals will often result in unspeakable evils committed against real people.
Humanity forgets this to its own peril.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome