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Is it ethical to have children?
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Having children threatens the environment

Our planet is currently experiencing an environmental catastrophe with the drastic effects of climate change. These effects are driven by population growth to some extent. Therefore, having children would only damage the environment and the living people’s welfare even more.

The Argument

Having a child is unethical because of the child’s impact on the planet’s health. The world is already full of people. Those people are collectively using too many resources. Adding a new person contributes to this massive problem. The planet cannot sustain a population of more than 7 billion people.[1] This situation is evident from the drastic effects of climate change today, including rising sea levels, increasing droughts, and destroyed aquatic ecosystems. Population growth affects the Earth’s ability to withstand climate change and absorb emissions, such as through deforestation.[2] In other words, the climate crisis is a reproductive crisis. This argument receives support from scientific research. A 2017 study has found that the most impactful thing a human could do for the planet was to have one fewer child. Having one child instead of two would save 58 tons of carbon dioxide for each year of the parent’s life. That figure was calculated by combining the emissions of the child and all their descendants, then dividing this total by the parent’s lifespan. Another study from Oregon State University found that each child adds an even 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of each parent.[3] Additionally, other scientific research has shown that slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid the catastrophic tipping point.[4] Some philosophers argue that it is morally better to make people happy than to make happy people. Those who exist already have needs and wants. Protecting and providing for them is motivated by respect for human life. It is not a harm to someone not to be created. Since having children threatens the lives of existing people, childbearing is unethical.[5] Overall, having a child equals contributing to systematic harm that occurs as a result of overpopulation. Therefore, it is not ethical to have a child.

Counter arguments

It is possible to choose to have a child and reduce your family’s consumption patterns. If parents are engaged in environmental advocacy, they will raise their child in an eco-friendly way and teach them the importance of environmental issues. Once grown up, the child may also engage in environmental advocacy and influence even more people to become aware of methods for environmental protection. Therefore, parents can positively affect the outcome of the impact of having a child by reducing their carbon legacy.[3] Another counter-argument is that choosing not to have a child will not save the planet on its own. The people already alive today will use up the remaining carbon budget in less than ten years if the current fossil fuel consumption and patterns remain unchanged. Therefore, the first steps at preventing climate change are to step away from fossil fuels and to redefine our relationship with agriculture. Before discussing whether we should have smaller families to protect the environment, there are more important issues to focus on.[3] Besides, the argument that having children threatens the environment arouses anti-natalist sentiment. Anti-natalism is the philosophy that each birth has a negative value to society. Viewing children as solely negative externalities to the environment is not ethical. This view is also vulnerable to exploitation by racist groups who want to limit “less desirable” people.[6]



Rejecting the premises


This page was last edited on Monday, 9 Nov 2020 at 04:10 UTC

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