• "...we aren’t living in normal times, in which we have the luxury of discussing only ‘easy’ environmental option." (Photo by Volker Hartmann/Getty Images)
A baby bring both joy and increased carbon emissions into the world.
By
Shannon McKeogh

12 May 2017 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 12 May 2017 - 12:42 PM

A single baby can bring a lot of joy into the world. Their soft and chubby features, their innocence and curiosity. But this joy is not without a burden, with the delivery of every new life, comes a huge environmental cost.

Every minute and a half a new bub is born in Australia. During their life-time, through their consumption and use of resources, each Aussie baby will contribute 26 metric tons of carbon emission each year. emissions

This is the same as 20 cars driven for one year, or the annual energy use of 10 homes. In a world already struggling to find enough resources, and with the very real and current threat of climate change – do we have a moral and environmental obligation to seriously re-consider having kids, and save what’s left of our world? 

Your carbon legacy– One baby increases your carbon footprint by six times

“Having children is a sacred cow in most countries,” Travis Rieder, Research Scholar at the John Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics tells SBS about the unpopularity for moral or policy discussion of this issue. “However, we aren’t living in normal times, in which we have the luxury of discussing only ‘easy’ environmental options.”

Rieder, who has been called a ‘baby-hater’ for his research and views, says everyone should consider the environmental repercussions of having a child, especially focussing on your carbon legacy, in which you bear some responsibility for the future emissions of all offspring.

“The decision to have a child is likely to be the most significant act that one can take in terms of environmental impact,” he says.

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Based on research from Murtaugh and Schlax, Rieder says each procreator should be responsible for the emissions of his offspring, approximately to the degree that he shares genes with that offspring (so responsible for half of the emissions of each child, a quarter of the emissions of each grandchild, one eight the emissions of each great-grandchild, and so on).

“With this view, if emissions were to remain constant for the near future, the decision to have a child would increase one’s lifetime carbon footprint by nearly six times.”

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The future - what kind of world will it be for a child?

As well as reducing one’s environmental footprint, many women have chosen to not have kids due to the catastrophic effects of overpopulation and climate change.

Amanda Turnbull, a writer and content producer says: “we're already seeing large numbers of people displaced around the world and migrating because of war and conflict, in addition to water insecurity, extreme weather and food scarcity.

“I fear that this will become considerably worse in the future and lead to more violence, more extreme inequality and more refugees.”

This view is supported by Jessica Ivers, Digital Specialist. “I’m terrified that in another 50 years, if my hypothetical child was all grown up, what would our world look like?”

University student Ingrid Bunker says her reasons for not wanting kids are justified in western countries, but when travelling to other cultures environmental reasons are never considered.

“Having a large family is a status symbol … In these cultures, mothers receive a large amount of respect just for being a mother, and this respect increases with the number of children,” she tells SBS.

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Affluent countries – more money, more consumption

Rieder says that while many people see issues like overpopulation as another country’s problem (usually African or Asian), the real environmental burden is felt from affluent countries: especially Australia which has the highest per capita emissions in the OECD.

“The highest fertility countries in the world are also some of the lowest resource users.  Niger, for instance, has an average fertility rate of 7.6, but the average annual emissions of each individual is less than 0.1 metric tons.

“… The largest resource users actually contribute most to overpopulation when they procreate,” he says.

“I suppose mostly, I just hope that my daughter is overall glad to have existed.”

A case for optimism – having kids for the greater good

While the discussion for not having kids is a controversial one, the universal and evolutional need to continue our genes will remain strong.

But it’s also more than that, says Rieder, having a child is an act of optimism.

“It’s the creation of a being, who you will most likely love more than anyone else, and who will hopefully outlive you.”

It is due to this optimism, that Rieder and his partner had a daughter. 

“We believe each person has the moral permission to pursue this great good (if they see it as a great good), so long as they understand and try to mitigate the costs to the future.”

He admits it may be a costly decision especially as his optimism is decreasing, “[I will] try my best to raise her to be a net positive on the planet, rather than a net negative.

“I suppose mostly, I just hope that my daughter is overall glad to have existed.” 

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @shannylm Facebook @shannonmckeoghfreelance

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