April 13, 2022|
3 mins read
Antinatalism: Previously a somewhat obscure branch of philosophy, that has now become more popular than ever thanks to climate change.
It believes that having children is morally wrong and, as such, its followers say that they will not become parents due to the ethical implications that go along with it. Whilst the term was first officially used in 2006 in a book by David Benatar, it has roots that stretch back as far as ancient Greece, ancient India and modern Europe.
Talking to Vice, one antinatalist said, “I’m pro the extinction of everything because I think sentience just opens everyone up to suffering, whether they’re human or animal…I know that’s unrealistic. But I’m against creation because it’s essentially gambling with another person’s life.”
Much of the movement also rallies against the idea that women are inherently born to be mothers, declaring that those without kids are not child-less, but child-free.
More recently, antinatalism has become inextricably linked to thoughts of sustainability. It’s been asking important questions about whether not having children could be the way forward in terms of saving the planet. Or at least a way to protect more people from the harm of an environmentally damaged world.
Could this extreme school of thought have merit? Let’s explore…
What harm do children do to the planet?
One of the pillars of antinatalism related to climate change is simply this: The thought that if we have less people on the planet, we are doing less harm. This is ostensibly true for multiple reasons.
Firstly, think about carbon emissions. A lower birth rate would mean less people travelling across the world on holiday. Less cars on the road. Less Amazon deliveries to front doors. And with CO2 emissions having increased by a terrifying 90% since 1970, it’s easy to see how this could be appealing as a way to slow or stop climate change.
Secondly, humans create waste. There’s no avoiding it. Even as babies, we’re constantly adding to the piles of rubbish that sit in landfill. Three billion nappies are thrown away every single year in the UK! Plus, of course, whilst the problem starts at birth, it doesn’t end as we get into our adult years, and, instead becomes more prevalent.
It’s also important to consider the strain on our essential resources. The world is more full than ever before, with 7,794,798,739 people on the planet as of 2020, compared to the 1,600,000,000 humans on earth in 1900. This huge growth has of course meant that there is more strain on our food and water supplies, a problem that is only exacerbated by global warming. But we’ll talk more about that shortly!
The point is, many antinatalists believe that bringing more people into the world is unethical as it will only increase the need for these already struggling resources.
Finally, some worry about human encroachment on natural habitats. As the population grows, the need for homes also increases. With this comes the destruction of the habitats of wildlife populations, not only to make space for houses or other buildings, but also to find the materials to make them. So, whether it’s the field down the road, or the Amazon rainforest, biodiversity is at risk.
What world are we bringing children into?
On the other hand, some antinatislist are equally worried about the harm children can do to the world, as they are about what harm the world can do to children.
Looking back at food and water shortages as a result of climate change, many argue that this is not a fair world to bring life into. Higher temperatures and less predictable weather are set to affect the “availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater, and further deteriorate water quality” according to the UN. This will impact the entire population, but particularly those in low-income communities who are already the most vulnerable to lack of food and water.
Furthermore, the impacts of these types of shortages are vast. Not only could it mean starving communities, but also political instability and potentially mass displacement and violence.
This lack of security and the uncertainty regarding the future of human existence and what it could look like is seen by antinatalists as a huge reason not to have children. They see it as a way to reduce the suffering that will inevitably come if climate change is not slowed or stopped.
The potential harms of antinatalism
On the surface, whilst somewhat extreme to many, antinatalism does make sense. In its simplest form, it’s easy to see how a smaller population will benefit our struggling climate. Indeed, one study by over 11,000 scientists internationally concluded that in order to protect the planet, we need to stabilise and gradually reduce the number of people on it.
However, that’s not to say that antinatalist sentiment is the way forward and doesn’t have its downfalls.
There’s no denying that, for many, having children feels like a huge part of their purpose. To take this right away is seen by a lot of people as completely inhumane.
On top of this, we don’t have to look far to see the damaging effects of forced population control. With laws limiting birth rates, China’s population is set to drastically shrink over the next decade. This could potentially derail its economy (the second largest on earth!), having impacts that reach across the world in terms of resources. As Joslyn Chittilapally notes, “By 2050 as much as a third of the country’s population will be made up of people over the age of 60, putting severe strain on state services and the youth who bear the brunt of caring for elderly relatives.”
Whilst antinatalism does not inherently suggest forcing people not to have children and is, for the most part, a personal conviction, it’s important to consider how it could develop into these more extreme measures if it was adopted on a wider scale.
David Roberts also notes that, “In practice, where you find concern over “population,” you very often find racism, xenophobia, or eugenics lurking in the wings. It’s almost always, ahem, particular populations that need reducing.”
Is there a balance?
Whilst antinatalism may be an outwardly beneficial approach purely in terms of resources, it could also lead to some other worrying consequences.
The answer? As always, in our opinion, it’s to find a healthy balance. As we mentioned, a major study suggested that stability of populations and their gradual reduction is needed to mitigate climate change. This does not mean that we need to entirely stop having children though.
However, it does mean that we need to consider how we can reach a point where parenting isn’t an expectation, but a choice. This comes with the need for a whole host of societal shifts, including (but not limited to) accessible birth control worldwide, sex education for all, legalised abortions, female empowerment and financial independence for women.
Having children is not only a choice, but a right. Not having children is not only a choice, but a right. Our job as a society is to find ways to make both options as sustainable as possible, through governmental legislation and widespread, positive environmental change.