Stop Having Kids to Save the Planet? What the Heck?!


On more than one occasion, I have heard and read experts saying that having children, and therefore continuing to populate the world, has a greater impact on the environment than any other action. The long and short: These people believe that that having kids is bad for the planet and that anyone aiming to be environmentally responsible should not have kids.

To rebut this argument, I’d like to burst into a tirade of four-letter words, but I realize that would be counterproductive and make me look like a moron rather than the eco-savvy mom I am. I will try to explain my position without getting too angry. A post about this topic over at Inhabitots a few weeks ago really set me off, though I completely agree with that author.

I understand the basic idea behind this conclusion — that people, in the course of a lifetime, have a huge environmental footprint, and that reducing the population would thereby reduce said footprint. But the idea that children are bad for the environment radically oversimplifies the reasons this planet is in the dire condition that it is in. The problem ISN’T just having too many kids, especially considering that birth rates in developed nations are much lower than elsewhere in the world. The problem is raising kids who have no regard for the environment and therefore continue a cycle of overconsumption. In other words, we need to encourage environmentally responsible parenting rather than an eventual end to the human race, which is what would happen if we stop reproducing.

I used to be one of those people who had no clue what my actions were doing to the Earth. But having my daughter was one of the reasons I set out to learn about green living and try to do better. In fact, my primary motivation for what I do is preserving the planet for future generations — generations that wouldn’t exist if the proponents of “voluntary human extinction” had their way. Moreover, if the human race ceased to exist, consider the condition in which we would leave the planet. Continuing the way we are now, we would leave the Earth a mess of abandoned buildings and non-biodegradable, toxic “stuff a-la Disney’s Wall-E — not the natural wonderland I’m sure they envision.

I can understand those people who are proponents of population reduction — gradually. Those people who promote the idea of education and responsible family planning can have my ear.  I will even listen to (though not necessarily agree with) those who recommend zero population growth by simply aiming to replace ourselves: 1 child per person. But those who say that having children is a selfish, environmentally irresponsible act clearly have no idea what it means to be a parent or the motivation for becoming one. When I look at the photo above of my daughter, how could I ever feel like an eco-villain for bringing her into this world?

I’d love to hear from people on both sides of this issue. All I ask is that the conversation remain civil. As hot as I am right now, I can only imagine the response this will spark in others.

By jennae

Hi! I'm Jennae Petersen and I'm the eco diva who had the bright idea to share my journey toward green living with the blogosphere. Some of you may know me as the founder of Green Your Decor, my blog about eco-friendly home decor, as a Walmart Mom, from Twitter or from my organic cotton t-shirt line Differently Clothing. Stick around for a while!


  1. I strongly feel that overpopulation *is* an environmental issue, but unfortunately it’s the third-rail of any green conversation. The simple fact is that more people (esp. in countries like the U.S.) leads to more consumption which leads to faster destruction of natural resources. Story of Stuff, anyone?

    Yes, it’d be lovely if everyone had children & raised them in an environmentally responsible fashion. That is, sadly, not happening now or all that soon. And it doesn’t account for the current state of overpopulation either — we’re straining the planet’s systems right now, & if we simply replace the current population, we’ll continue to over-harvest, over-fish, over-mine, over-drill, etc., until what’s left? If we’re talking about reducing our impact, then population control is where it’s at.

    I understand that reproduction is a strong drive. But why does everyone need to be a parent (and trust me, American society would have every woman that way, in particular)? Why do families need to be so large (again, esp. in countries like the U.S., where 2.x kids is still the norm). Why is contraception still a taboo topic around the world? More importantly, why don’t us environmentalists take on this issue the same as we take on pollution, renewable energy, fair trade, biodiversity, etc., etc.? It should be an equal part of the discussion when we talk about ways to create a sustainable future for life on this plane.

  2. I have heard both sides of the argument and don’t feel I’m “educated” enough on the subject to have a strong opinion either way. I guess I would if I had children, but I’m still unsure if that is my destiny.

    I too would like to hear others opinion on the matter.
    .-= Carla | Green and Chic´s last blog ..Green and Chic Moving Sale =-.

  3. @tbat I understand that overpopulation is a problem, but I think it’s fundamentally wrong to infringe on people’s choice about whether to reproduce or to judge them based on it. I’m not saying that you’re being judgemental — just that I cannot understand those who would be. For those people who decide not to become parents — for environmental or other reasons, that is their choice — just as it was mine to become a parent.

    I fully agree with you that not everyone needs to be a parent. I think the key here is education about responsible parenting. Because honestly, if it is tough to get people, en masse, to raise their kids in an environmentally responsible way, imagine how hard it would be to get to them to stop reproducing altogether. Polarizing ideas like voluntary human extinction do more, I think, to damage the idea of population control than the act of encouraging contraception and education. I am more than willing to have this discussion with people who know more about it than I do, because I fully understand the logic behind it. However, demonizing people who choose to be parents, in the U.S. or elsewhere, won’t help the case for population reduction.

    @Carla I’m sure that your decision on whether to become a parent will be based on careful consideration of all the factors involved, and that’s what responsible parenting is all about 🙂

  4. Okay, you know what? That’s just nutty as hell. Whatever freak thinks that it’s okay to eliminate the human race in order to save the planet should know that it’s radical notions like these that turn off the average person who is trying to be proactive and make changes, but is new to environmental activism. I’m sorry, but I actually LOVE my kids—every one of them—and wouldn’t trade them in for all the trees on the Earth, no matter how much I love it. I do believe that WE can be responsible enough to teach our children about how to respect and protect their environment, and I also think it’s our kids who have a tremendous impact on teaching US how to respect and protect the environment. I wish people who make that argument would recognize that they’re not helping the situation by being so incredibly, unreasonably radical about it.
    .-= Denene@MyBrownBaby´s last blog ..Dang, Am I REALLY This Old? Seriously? =-.

  5. I’ve heard this a few times before and decided if being “green” meant having no kids, that I was just not going to be that green. After all, having a child was the catalyst in my life that sparked more environmentally sound practices in my and my husband’s lifestyle. What could be more motivating to preserve the planet’s resources than holding the little person you hope will enjoy it, and their children and their children’s children? I can’t think of any.

    If others want to drop out of the parenting pool voluntarily, I don’t judge, but I dread living in a place with government imposed population controls. Surely there are other entities we can “control” before we resort to controlling families.
    .-= Erika/Organic Baby Resource´s last blog ..Aug 18, MomTV Recap, Congrats to our Winners and New Coupons =-.

  6. I just posted a response to the study that was just published on this topic. I feel like it’s almost counter productive and study like will turn the average consumer off. They hear things like this and throw their hands up in the air with regards to the whole cause.
    There are so many more productive ways we could spend our green efforts. This one got me going too…
    .-= Tania´s last blog ..Eco Friendly Back to School Kit by Sustainable Group – Review & Giveaway =-.

  7. i do think that the government should intervene by way of promoting education: family planning, responsible & sustainable living, community outreach, increasing public school funding and so on. it’s important to raise children who are thoughtful and aware of their immediate and natural surroundings. and this won’t happen if we, the adults are not aware and uneducated ourselves. putting a cap on reproduction is just a band aid. but raising educated, aware and thoughtful individuals is key to a thriving community.
    .-= aprintaday´s last blog ..Project: Matryoshkas! =-.

  8. @Denene You make an excellent point in that many of us begin the journey toward green living BECAUSE of our children, not in spite of them. I think a lot of effort would be well served in educating kids, who in turn often educate their parents.

    @Erika & Tania I think those are the reactions most people would have to this idea. I hate the idea of turning off well-meaning people who are genuinely trying to do what they can for the environment just because they also happen to be (or want to be) parents.

    @printaday I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s easy to dismiss the idea of environmentally responsible parenting as being impossible on a large scale, but that idea is likely to be more appealing to the average person than telling them not to have any children. Thanks for your thoughtful input!

  9. I agree that environmentally-responsible parenting is critical. But it’s also true that there are simply too many people on the planet to sustain life as we know it. I believe it is time to revive the conversation about population growth – in developed and developing nations alike. I support voluntary efforts to encourage adults to limit the number of children they have so they can raise those children in as environmentally responsible a manner as possible.
    .-= Diane MacEachern´s last blog ..Energy-Efficient Lights and Eco-Friendly Candles for the Holidays =-.

  10. As a biologist, I like to look at the human population as ecologists look at other populations of organisms. If we over populate so that the earth cannot sustain us, nature will take care of the problem. Our population will suffer from disease and lack of food. If we do not take care of our environment (if we foul our own nest) nature will take care of that, too. We, humans, are not exempt from the forces of nature that work to balance things out. I also think that we have a biological urge or need to have offspring (to send our DNA into the next generations). We have the brain to figure this out if we will just use it. And that is your biology lesson for the day!

    Citizen Green
    .-= Linda Anderson´s last blog ..Carnivores Can Help Reduce Greenhouse Gases =-.

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