Why Do We Focus on Plastic Bags, Technology and Consumption, When it’s Fewer Children That Will Save the Planet?


This is a really tricky one for me and for my carbon conscious but baby loving friends! 

I am a hypocrite who has yearnings for a large family and I’m also about to imply that my Eco-warrior friends with multiple children are also hypocrites… 

For example I have friends who are described as very “earthy” or “hippy” or as “carbon conscious”. They make choices with the protection of the planet in mind in all sorts of areas – nappies, plastic toys, recycling, vintage clothes shopping, carbon efficient car buying, water usage, vegetarianism and so much more. They are amazing and inspiring in their commitment to caring for the environment, of that there is no doubt. 

BUT, these same people think nothing of planning five and six children. 

Even though having fewer children is the biggest gift you could give the environment.

I’m not judging, I don’t have any children but in my ideal world I would have quite a few. I’m open to the idea of adoption but that wasn’t based on climate worry. I would, in a perfect world, one day have a few children. A few… not one. 

So am I selfish? Can I still proclaim to make good carbon choices when harbouring wishes to make the worst carbon choice of all in having a child – or worse, children? 

Am I kidding myself on that by raising carbon conscious kids, I’ll help mitigate the impending climate doom? 

I think I probably am. That’s not to suggest I want any Chinese style laws enforced but I do think there should be a bigger media focus on this issue than on plastic bags. People have often mentioned to me feeling guilty about carbon related behaviour but nobody has ever mentioned it in the context of motherhood and I find that interesting. 

An eminent family planning expert has warned that we ought to be focussing on the substantial cost of an increasing population on climate change, and choosing our family size accordingly. 

With climate change already dangerously close to the tipping point, decisive and swift action is required to reduce our carbon footprints. A large part of that reduction could come from having fewer children. 

John Guillebaud, renowned professor of family planning at University College London, argued the case for minimising family sizes in The British Medical Institute.

Guillebaud has stated that most climate change discussions are misdirected and focus solely on technology and our apparently out of control consumption. He says that it’s important to acknowledge the fact that 45 per cent of the world are located in places where total fertility rates range from 2.1 to five children, and 9 per cent where the number of children per household exceeds five.

The UN’s latest median world population projection of 11.2 billion by 2100 allows for the assumption that fertility rates will continue to decrease.

According to Professor Guillebaud, if women have birth to one fewer child, a woman could reduce her carbon footprint by 9,441 tonnes: which is a staggering 20 times more than would be saved by any other action she could take, or combination of actions relating to consumption and technology or anything else! 

Urgent action on the control of population growth as well as damage limitation efforts concerning technology and consumption are obviously essential in ensuring that our carbon legacies are streamlined and that projected disaster can be minimised and mitigated. 

It’s food for thought… 

What do you think? How do you feel about wanting children but also wanting to do right by the planet?