I’m An Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids

BlogHer Original Post

It would be easy for me to feel self-righteous about my decision not to breed. According to many thinkers, population is the number one factor driving such problems as global climate change, pollution, and hunger. And children born and raised in affluent nations have a significantly higher impact on the planet than those born to more modest means. As one of my blogger friends put it, population “relates to everything – including the amount of plastic crap circulating in the ocean.”

So it would have been mighty selfless of me to deny my maternal instinct for the sake of the planet, right? But honestly, my decision not to have children had nothing to do with environmental concerns. I looked at my life, my goals, my physical and emotional resources, and despite my love for cute little babies, I realized there were other things I wanted to do with my life and that bringing a child into the world was not for me.

Of course, we’re all looking for outside validation of our choices, right?

So it was with great interest that I read Stephanie Weiss’s latest piece in the Huffington Post, “My Uterus Is Officially Closed for Business and I Have No Regrets,” in which she explains that despite her own baby cravings, she’s going to adopt someday instead of having her own kids. For environmental reasons.

At first, Stefanie’s plan sounded reasonable to me. I appreciated her non-judgmental approach to the issue. Instead of turning her piece into a rant about overpopulation, she calmly explains how she’s decided to take responsibility for her own impact on the planet, without judging anyone else’s decisions. In fact, she acknowledges the pain of childless women who do want children and have been unable to conceive, but then goes on to analyze how society pressures all women to have children and states,

Imagine, for a moment, if the option of not having kids were talked about in home economics or health classes in high school, just like everything else. If all our children were truly conscious decisions, perhaps we’d have a much happier, psychologically healthier world. And that’s not even counting what reducing the population would do for Planet Earth — making all our lives, the ones we’re living right now, safer from the ravages of climate change.

So, I posted the article on my Facebook page and got some comments that really made me think. One of my friends thought Ms. Weiss’s piece was premature, since she hasn’t actually adopted a child but simply plans to do it someday.

I feel like this would be a more compelling piece if this woman… had already gone through the adoption process. The truth is, adoption is HARD. Super super hard. And expensive. Having sex is… well, free. And… pretty easy. The barriers to adoption often stymie the most well-meaning intended adopters.

Hmm… good point. I wonder if Weiss will actually follow through with her plan. Here are some thoughts from someone who actually did follow through. BlogHer CE, Shannon LC Cate, wrote me:

I won’t say I decided not to have bio children to reduce the population, but rather that I am so pessimistic about the future I couldn’t bear the guilt of bringing new people into this mess. It’s a terrible, sad way to think, but it’s truly how I feel. So when I decided I wanted to go ahead and be a parent, adoption was my go-to plan.

Adoption was the right choice to make a family for me and there is much more to it than it just being another way to have kids (which is what I thought, originally). Adoption is its own special needs parenting–even if you aren’t parenting kids with special needs, adoption has a package of issues every adopted kid has to handle in one way or another. So I wouldn’t recommend people just swap it out for birth when wanting children.

(Also, there are not enough healthy newborn infants for all the people who want them. To adopt ethically, most of the time you are going to have to consider taking the children all those other people DON’T want.) But for my family it has been an excellent fit.

Other friends of mine questioned the ethics of adoption as an alternative to bearing children (for those who are physically able to conceive).

Deanna from Crunchy Chicken wonders if adoption “creates a market and you end up pushing the 'trauma' of childbearing off onto the poor. In other words, the rich no longer have to go through the burden of carrying and bearing babies.”

And another friend worries that overseas adoption will promote dangerous situations. She writes,

[What if it promotes] the activity of selling children? There are countries… where religious organizations pressure parents to give their kids to “rich Americans” so that they can have a better life. Of course they tell the adoptive parents all sorts of horror stories about how that child was abandoned or starving, etc when in reality that was that was not the case.

Betsy from the blog Eco-Novice doesn’t believe population is the problem in the first place and does not think population control is the answer to our problems. Instead, she thinks procreation

…is a biological and psychological impulse, part of being human. Like needing to connect with the natural world. Humans have always wanted to perpetuate themselves. I personally think the fact that so many people do not want to have children now is what has been indoctrinated through our current culture.

And Betsy adds,

When lots of people choose not to have children, a society becomes more hostile towards children. Think of the dirty looks parents get on airplanes and in restaurants…. And while environmentalists worry about population growth, demographers are worrying about the dire consequences of population collapse.

Regardless of your opinion about whether overpopulation is the cause of our environmental woes, Abby at The Green Phonebooth wants us to at least be able to talk about it. In her piece, “7 Billion Elephants in the Room,” advises readers to:

1. Reduce your consumption… of everything. About 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of the resources and has the most impact on environmental degradation….

2. When you need to buy something, buy fair trade….

3. Support programs and organizations, politically and/or financially, that promote women’s rights, education, and family planning in the developing world….

But most importantly, let’s talk about the population issues. As environmentalists, let’s stop ignoring the environmental elephant in the room.

So what do you think? About population, procreation, adoption, and women’s reproductive decisions? Is adoption a more eco-friendly alternative to procreation? Or does it just create a whole new set of problems?


After I posted this article on my own blog last Friday, my readers responded with many interesting points of view and links to further information about the topic of population and environment. Some of them challenge the idea that population in itself is the problem. Here are a few useful links:

Hans Roling's TED talk on Global Population Growth

Conservation Magazine: "Be Fruitful and Multiply?"

The Economist: "How to Deal with a Falling Population"

Beth Terry
Living plastic-free since 2007 and blogging the heck out of it at My Plastic-free Life
Facebook: MyPlasticfreeLife
Twitter: @PlasticfreeBeth


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