Protecting our world
Many people today seek to live in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. Steps such as recycling, thinking about how we travel and changing the way we eat are increasingly common. For many years, some people have also included environmental considerations in their decisions about the size of family they should have. A growing number of people are now joining them.
Your choice about how many children you have is one of the most important you can make. Even children raised in the most environmentally conscious ways still have an impact on the environment and end up consuming more of the Earth’s resources. Each additional person—especially in the developed world—places a burden on the Earth and makes it more difficult to ensure its finite resources can be used sustainably and fairly by everyone. We should think very carefully about how many children to have.
Decisions about parenting are deeply personal. We all have many influences—our partners, families and friends, our communities, and very often our own experiences as children. Some people might wish to recreate the large family they remember, or avoid the large family in which they felt smothered. Others may wish to provide their own children with the freedom of being an only child, or the companionship of a brother or sister. Many of us will decide to have no children at all.
Sometimes we feel pressure to have the kind of family we don’t want. In most societies, it is still considered normal and desirable to have children, even though millions of single people and couples lead satisfying and fulfilled lives without having children of their own. Social, cultural and even political pressure can extend to promote very large families, or else condemn the use of contraception.
Freedom to choose
Many people feel a strong urge to have children of their own, but not everyone feels maternal or paternal. Some people do want children but feel deeply concerned about the future of our world and about the lives their children may lead if they do decide to have them.
To have or not to have children is a fundamental human right that everyone should be free to exercise without judgment or criticism.
Understanding the consequences
Many of us now expect the personal decisions we make to be influenced by what is happening in the world around us. Right now, the world is facing environmental and social problems on a scale we have not faced before.
The natural world under threat
Species are disappearing so quickly that scientists are calling this the ‘sixth mass extinction’. Our climate is already warming, and if we do not get our carbon emissions under control the consequences for ourselves and future generations will be devastating. Plastic waste is filling up our oceans and deserts are spreading.
A fairer world for all
Meanwhile, we face grave challenges in overcoming poverty, providing justice for all and even sustaining decent lives where we have them. The United Nations predicts we will need 70% more food by 2050, yet availability of land per person in developing countries is likely to halve in that time. According to a recent study, we will also need on average 71% more resources each by 2050. The achievements we have made in lifting people out of poverty in recent decades are amazing, but as more people become more affluent it becomes more difficult to provide for all of them sustainably.
It is now becoming very difficult to act as though the decisions we make do not have wider consequences—even decisions as fundamental and personal as family size.
Having a smaller family
Having fewer—or no—children brings other benefits. Smaller families can free people to devote more money and time to other aspects of their lives, such as friendships, careers and activities that give them pleasure. Those who choose to be childfree will have very much more freedom, including (if they choose) to do other things to help protect the planet or help others. Or just to go to the pub.
People who do want to experience the pleasures and challenges of becoming parents will often find raising their children much easier if they have a small family. Children can be very expensive and having fewer opens up lifestyle choices that may not be possible with more. Having more time and energy to devote to the children you do have can also make parenting more rewarding and fun.
Children in small families can do better. While family dynamics vary hugely and generalisations are hard to make, many children benefit from greater attention from their parents and the opportunities that arise from fewer siblings. They can learn social skills and understanding from spending more time with children from other families and from being involved in adult activities. They can be more self-sufficient, mature and well-behaved. Research has shown that single children do just as well in later life as other children.
Lastly, choosing to be a parent does not have to mean making children of your own and bringing more people into the world. Many parents choose fostering and adoption, providing loving homes to children who might otherwise go without.
A small family is a sustainable family
Families are about love. The decisions we make about them are fundamental to our identities and our needs as human beings. They can, and should, be influenced by many things—including love and respect for the planet we live on and those we share it with.