Argument: If you worry about climate change, is it a good idea to have children?

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If you worry about climate change, is it a good idea to have children?

Professor Anne Hendrixson and journalist Erica Gies talk about the question.


Matt Smith under a Creative Commons Licence

Anne – yes, it is a good idea to have children


YES: Anne Hendrixson is the Director of PopDev. PopDev is a centre for critical thinking, learning and advocacy on peace, population and the environment at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, US.

Yes. If you are worried about climate change and you want to have children, you should have children.

Babies and future babies did not cause climate change. And families are not responsible for big reductions in carbon emissions. Of course, everyone should save energy so we do not need so much fossil fuel.

If we stop having children, that will not stop the people who are most responsible for climate change and carbon emissions – like the US military. Peace activist Pat Hynes tells us, ‘the military has 1.4 million people. This is .0002 per cent of the world’s population and they cause 5 per cent of climate pollution. The US military is the biggest cause of climate change and global warming.’ If you want to help climate change, you and your children should criticise the military.

Big business is also responsible for a lot of carbon emissions. In 2013 a report in Climatic Change says that 63 per cent of carbon emissions come from 90 companies. These companies include Chevron, BP, Exxon, and state-run companies. We should criticise these big companies for their actions and teach our children to do the same.

In Too Many People Ian Angus and Simon Butler explain that reducing population won’t help the problems for our planet: ‘Big business and armies aren’t polluting the world because there are “too many people”, and they won’t stop if we have fewer children.’

Erica - no, it is not a good idea to have children


NO: Erica Gies is an independent journalist . She writes about what we need for life: water and energy. She writes for The New York Times, The Guardian,Scientific American, The Economist, Forbes.

The US military and business cause a lot of carbon emissions. And children do, too.

In Global Environmental Change, they write that in the US, ‘for each mother a child adds about 9,441 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide . This is 5.7 times the carbon emissions she causes in her lifetime.’ So children make a big difference.

Children in the developed world cause a lot of carbon emissions. A child born in the US causes more than 160 times the carbon emissions of a child born in Bangladesh. And children born today will cause more carbon emissions than children in the past. This is because we use the easiest resources first. For example, the first oil in the 19th century was 18 metres below the earth. Now it is six kilometres below the ocean.

Also, people make the US military and businesses act. Halvard Buhaug of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo says that more people in the world means more violence and then the military must act. And big businesses make more products for more people. The products cause more carbon emissions. More people means more carbon emissions.

Anne – yes, it is a good idea to have children

It is not right that more children means more climate change. Last year there were fewer babies born - an average of 1.86 babies per woman. This was a record. At the same time, US carbon missions increased.

Some conservative thinkers say this is because of more immigrants. But do immigrants make climate change? In a report for the Centre for American Progress, Jorge Madrid says, No, the US cities with most carbon emissions have the smallest number of immigrants.

If more population does not mean more carbon emissions, what does? The answer is: money. In Environment and Urbanization David Satterthwaite says that the countries which caused the most carbon from 1980 to 2005 were the richest.

And rich people are more responsible. The richest 30 per cent of Americans make four times as much carbon as the poorest 30 per cent. It is not true that babies make more carbon. We should ask businesses to stop making so many products which make so much carbon. We should ask for more money for clean energy. This would be more positive than not having babies. And the US military is about oil, politics and power, not population size.

Erica - no, it is not a good idea to have children

Babies will be parents one day and of course they make more carbon. They need food, nappies, energy, and homes.

It is true that richer people use more resources. More and more people around the world want a Western life style. A good example is China where more people are buying cars very quickly.

But you are wrong when you say that using more products makes more carbon emissions than a bigger population. They are both responsible.

Paul and Anne Ehrlich are the authors of The Population Bomb. They say that when there is more population, at first they use fewer products per person. But then they start to use more products, such as in China now. The result is they use more resources and make more carbon emissions.

And yes, of course we should ask for products and transport with less carbon emissions. But Oregon State University found that, in the US the effect of one more baby on climate change is 20 times more important than other greener actions like driving a high-mileage car, recycling, or using electrical appliances that use less energy in the home.

And in the end people can’t control their children. When Apple makes something new in 2028, a child born today is going to want it. The child will not protest against it.

Anne – yes, it is a good idea to have children

In 2014 there was a UN Women World Survey on gender and sustainable development. It said that more use of unsustainable products and energy makes more problems for the environment than greater numbers of people.

You talk about the study at Oregon State University, but it forgets that people can make positive social and environmental changes. . And changes, such as a move away from fossil fuels, will make a difference to the carbon emissions from products people use. Yes, if incomes rise, people will use more products and energy. But if products, housing, and transport are environmentally friendly, this will not mean more negative effects on the environment.

Ii is important that people can choose to have children or not. And it is important that people who do not want children should not ask others to do the same.

We must look after sexual health and rights, including having children. And at the same time we should see who are making the most carbon emissions.

Erica - no, it is not a good idea to have children

Yes, we should work to make the economy less negative. But that doesn’t mean that billions of people’s habits will ever be sustainable. For example, think about California’s energy policy for electrical appliances in the home beginning in the 1970s.

Refrigerators today use just 25 per cent of the energy of those 40 years ago. It is the same for dishwashers, home heating systems, and air conditioning. But California’s population also nearly doubled, increasing by 16 million during that time.

The result: the state’s energy consumption stayed the same. It’s very good that it didn’t go up, but we need to really reduce energy emissions.

Yes, solar and wind are much better than coal and oil, but they are not the answer to all the energy problems. Every energy source has an effect. Their manufacture causes emissions, and can disturb soil and make carbon.

And yes, individuals can make big positive changes – but most people don’t. Most people continue in the same way as before.

People who decide not to have children are not forcing their ideas on others. Today families, friends and others put pressure on women who decide not to have children and they say it is not natural.

Governments also encourage families to have children with tax credits. And this is bad for families who do not want children. But their choice is very important because it leaves more resources for others. That is what we should encourage.

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