Is Having Children a Right? Procreation and Climate Change

“Should we be having kids in an age of climate change?”  Since hearing this report on NPR a few days ago, I have been thinking a lot about the question posed in the story, which basically argues that one of the easiest, and most effective ways we can positively reverse the negative impact of climate change is to stop having children [or at the very least drastically reducing the number of children we have.]  Listen to the story here:  
Should we be having children in an age of climate change?.

There is no question that population growth is putting a huge strain on the planet, in multiple ways, and that we are approaching a crisis point in carbon emissions [as well as environmental degradation, species extinction, etc.]  And, it also is clear that while children from the Global North contribute most to climate change, children from the Global South are the ones who actually suffer the effects the most.  The story cites a study that says reducing global fertility by even .5 child per woman would have a dramatic effect on climate change.  So, it seems like it’s a pretty good idea, isn’t it?

Standing against all the science & logic, however, is the passionate, visceral [and some would say, self-evident] argument that having children is a right–and some would argue that even having as many children as one desires is a right.  Leaving aside that last argument, which I think is much harder to make [even and especially for those who argue that they will have as many children “as God wants to give them.”  Right. I think that is just ridiculous and entirely illogical–as though God’s main job is family planning….], I really struggle with the argument that procreation is somehow a basic human right.  Now, obviously, my own background affects my position here:  I don’t have children myself, nor have I ever felt a pressing need to have them that other women describe as almost biological.  Also, I am adopted, and so I always have felt uncomfortable and fairly frustrated with people saying, “Yes, adoption is fine but I want my own children.”  [Don’t even get me started….]

So, as kind of an “outsider” to this issue, I have to be honest:  it seems to me contradictory in the extreme that there are extensive requirements for families who want to adopt a child, for example [and there are even requirements for families who want to adopt a dog or cat], but if you are physical able to get pregnant, you automatically are green-lit for parenthood.  And, there is no limit on the number of children you can have except the limits you choose for yourself.  Can we step back for a moment and ask if this is right and good?  

Now, trust me, I know all of the pitfalls here, and all of the potential problems.  No one [I included!] wants a society where only the privileged majority can have children at all, and only the rich can have more than a specific number.  Issues of race, class, gender, disability, etc. quickly become issues in these conversations and reveal the serious challenges to any kind of practical policies that might be legislated.  And still…..I’m not willing to give up on a concept just because it is difficult and fraught; and when the entire planet, every single one of us, is in peril, the time for more radical proposals is upon us.  [China already went there, of course, with quite mixed reviews.]

I don’t have any solutions, and again, in my own thinking I have come up with more questions than answers, including theological questions of dominion, anthropology, and ethics, of course.  But I’ve also been thinking about what it means to be part of a larger “body”–like the body of Christ; and I firmly believe that all of us are called to willingly cede some individual privileges for the sake of the whole: for example, this is why Gettysburg Seminary uses only gluten-free bread for communion [which, I just have to say, isn’t all that tasty], for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are gluten-intolerant.  You get the idea.  Is this one of those things, too?

Again, I don’t have any great answers here, but I think the issues involved are of critical importance, and require some deep thinking and hard conversations.  Time is running out.

2 thoughts on “Is Having Children a Right? Procreation and Climate Change

  1. I'm just getting caught up on your blog but I appreciated this post. I think you've hit on some really good points, especially in relation to the cost and restrictions on adoption in comparison to the ease of achieving pregnancy (for most folks).

    On the other hand, as you pointed out, any sort of legislating of reproductive rights (in this case restricting the opportunity for folks to conceive) is complicated by the questions about agency and decision making.

    Beyond the ethical questions, there are many practical ones particularly around enforcement of any policy.

    To me, this seems like one of the issues where it is and should continue to be a “right,” but one that should be carefully exercised and continually discussed.

    One point that you alluded to but that I believe warrants more attention is the expectation of parenthood as a vocation for all who are able to conceive. We are each called to different vocations and parenthood is one of many, many, ways to live out our identity as God's children.

    This is problematic for a variety of reasons, but particularly in the face of the global warming and resource challenges that under-gird this post. Even if we continue to consider child-bearing a right, folks that choose not to exercise this right should be commended for this socially conscious choice instead of being pressured into contributing to the problem.

    Thanks, as always, for a thought provoking post!


  2. Hi, Patrick. Thanks so much for your helpful comments. I also think the concept of “parenthood” can be expanded to include more people than the biological or legal parents of a child [the concept of “allo-mothers,” for example, is really interesting in this context]. I also agree with the overarching point that this is something we just need to continue to talk about & not assume is either sacrosanct or off-limits.
    Thanks again for your thoughts!


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