Some of you are old enough to remember the 1960s, when books like “The Population Bomb” warned of coming mass starvation if people didn’t stop having kids. And some folks took that warning seriously and decided to forgo childbearing.
Places like China with its brutal, obscene “One Child” policy forced people onto birth control after one child (and aborting any further pregnancies) while none of the predicted famines occurred.
Fast forward 50 years and while Africa is still booming, demographic drops in places like Japan and Korea are at near-crisis levels; China’s population is aging faster than anywhere else and half the world’s nations have fertility rates below the replacement level of two children per woman.
It is not an easy time for people to feel hopeful, with the effects of global warming no longer theoretical, projections becoming more dire and governmental action lagging. And while few, if any, studies have examined how large a role climate change plays in people’s childbearing decisions, it loomed large in interviews with more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43.
A 32-year-old who always thought she would have children can no longer justify it to herself. A Mormon has bucked the expectations of her religion by resolving to adopt rather than give birth. An Ohio woman had her first child after an unplanned pregnancy — and then had a second because she did not want her daughter to face an environmental collapse alone.
Among them, there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront. Some worry about the quality of life children born today will have as shorelines flood, wildfires rage and extreme weather becomes more common. Others are acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally.
I’m glad they involved someone from a religious background and a Mormon at that, because of Latter-day Saints’ doctrine encouraging large families. Another few paragraphs later:
Parents like Amanda Perry Miller, a Christian youth leader and mother of two in Independence, Ohio, share her fears.
“Animals are disappearing. The oceans are full of plastic. The human population is so numerous, the planet may not be able to support it indefinitely,” said Ms. Perry Miller, 29. “This doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for people bringing home a brand-new baby from the hospital.”
The people thinking about these issues fit no single profile. They are women and men, liberal and conservative. They come from many regions and religions.
Wish I knew what kind of Christian Miller is, in terms of her religious tradition. Protestants have few problems with birth control, while Catholics are -- in church doctrine -- forbidden to use artificial contraception. Also, we are now in an era when even the term “evangelical” needs qualifying. These days, just calling a person “Christian” is not enough.
I noticed that a lot of the articles premises were based on talking points from Conceivablefuture.org, a web site urging people to think twice about having kids in a time like ours. In the eyes of the people behind that website, it’s truly wrong to be adding another carbon footprint to the populace plus climate change interferes with peoples’ “reproductive choice.”
I noticed The Nation, NPR and similar outlets have written on this phenomenon -- but none of them have touched on what GetReligion calls the “demographics is destiny” factor. In other words, the people who have the babies get to call the shots on what the future may look like. We’ve covered how groups like liberal Protestants with low birthrates are getting replaced by conservative Protestants with more kids and how liberal Jewish birthrates pale compared to that of Orthodox Jews.
As for Muslims, well, their growth worldwide is projected to outdistance that of Christians, meaning Islam could overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion sometime after 2050 if current trends continue. Click here for a piece by scholar Philip Jenkins on how fertility is almost always linked to active forms of faith.
Notwithstanding the Mormon and unspecified Christian identified in the piece, religious families tend to have more children and often because their faith encourages them to do so.
Now here is the crucial journalism point. The Times piece didn’t have any voices from an opposing point of view –- which the Grey Lady tends to do on matters it considers settled and no longer open for debate. If it had, it would have discovered a whole raft of religious folks not willing to let their progeny fade out of existence.
Most of the people quoted for this piece aren’t living in war zones where having children truly is hazardous, but instead they’re living in the safe confines of the USA. And the Jenkins column points out that some of the world's highest fertility rates are in hell-is-in-session places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chad and the Gaza Strip.
Seems to me that people who know their life expectancy is low have as many kids as possible to insure that at least one of their line survives. They’re not thinking about climate change, reproductive justice or carbon footprints.
So, where’s the reportorial distance in this Times story? Where is the dialogue and debate, backed with a diverse collection of voices?
Yes, we know that pollution is dangerous in places like Beijing and Delhi; that polar bears dying of starvation have been spotted high in the Canadian Arctic. But does that translate into not having kids now?
It’s worth debating, but all the voices that have expertise in moral choice were left out of this piece. It’s an article that cried for some good academic input -– that may have reminded folks of the 1960s population scare that flamed out –- rather than the touchy-feely content it now has.
Because I remember way back when in a time when people chose not to have kids because they feared world over population. Where are those folks today? I'm waiting for the reporter who interviews some of them.