As a father of four kids, I am sometimes asked whether my wife and I “intended” to have “so many” children. They say, “I don’t want to be rude, but…” Well, the answer is yes; we did intend to have so many children. While it is very challenging, having a large family has many benefits, both for us and, especially (we hope) for our society. We strive to raise our kids to be thoughtful, productive Christians, who will impact culture in many positive ways. And we hope that they, in turn, will have many kids of their own who do the same. This is the way cultures are renewed, and we aspire to be a link in that causal chain in our own culture, which so badly needs renewal.
However, I occasionally encounter people who take a very different view of the matter. The Earth is already overpopulated, they tell me, and having children only adds further stress to the planet. Each kid means one more massive carbon footprint, a net loss to Earth. Thinking themselves conscientious environmentalists, they suggest that the path my wife and I have chosen is actually irresponsible. While these conversations rarely turn into debates, I am prepared to show my skeptical friends the flaws in their thinking.
First of all, such thinking assumes that our kids will be environmentally irresponsible, which we are working hard to prevent. None of our lives need be a “net loss” to the planet. In fact, if our kids turn out to be as environmentally responsible as we hope they will be, then we can expect net gains because of them. For one thing, we practice a form of vegetarianism which has tremendous environmental benefits. In terms of reducing greenhouse gases, abstaining from meat is one of the most significant contributions that one can make. And we expect that our kids will likely continue this family practice into adulthood, perhaps teaching their own progeny to do the same. On top of this, there is the potential that one of our kids will become an environmental scientist and make a profound contribution to the field. The reasoning of my skeptical friends rules this possibility out of hand a priori.
This brings up another point which is rather exasperating. None of the no-kids-because-of-the-environment folks I know are vegetarians. They are so concerned about the planet that they refuse to procreate, but they refuse to do this very beneficial thing for the environment: abstain from meat. For a while this puzzled me, but then it hit me. The refusal to have kids and indulgence in meat have something in common-both choices are easy and convenient. Raising kids and maintaining a vegetarian diet, on the other hand, are difficult and inconvenient.
Finally, and most disappointing from the standpoint of moral reasoning, the no-kids environmentalists are (or tend to be) guilty of one-track thinking when it comes to family planning. By making environmental concerns the single overriding factor in their choice not to have children, they make this a moral trump card. But even if environmental concerns did support the small family approach, why should we ignore the many other considerations which support the opposite perspective? What about the countless ways that well-trained children can benefit society when they become adults (or even while they are still young)? When there are so many other significant factors to take into account when doing family planning, a purely environmental approach seems narrow-minded and, well, irresponsible. In fact, it makes me suspect that something other than environmental issues are at play here. But, of course, this is not something I would ever say to the no-kids environmentalists. I wouldn’t want to be rude.