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Does having one save our planet?

Today's Oregonian featured "Enivornmental Moms Stop at One Child", highlighting the decision of a family to have one child as an environmental decision.  For sure we all have made our own decisions for our families.  We've talked about thoughts on number two and even more specific thoughts on number three.  Did the environmental impact of another child come into play in your decision in having one, two, three or more children?

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yes, but we agreed to replace ourselves and no more. 2 for 2. Of course if they have kids and their kids have kids well that's a load more than 2. Having none seems like the answer if this is one's approach to environmentalism.

I realize that sometimes it's not a choice (twins for second & third child) but IMO, any over 2 (replacement) isn't the right thing to do, environmentally.

We have 1 and we're done. DH would like another but that's not in the cards (I'm not willing to be pregnant again). As it is I feel guilty that we had one when we could have adopted to begin with.

I hate that talk like this is one more thing to divide families -- "we only had one, how could you possibly justify having three?" Can I justify my second because my brother isn't having any? Well, my parents had three so maybe not. Let's not get the scorecards out. Smugness and guilt are not what the village needs.

Especially when we all know, in terms of environmental impact, zero is best and we're here so we've all gone beyond that.

I don't think it's the number that matters, but how they're raised. A smaller family doesn't necessarily mean that you will create less waste especially if said family are big consumers (e.g., drive gas guzzling vehicles, loves to shop, has the latest gadget, have a long commute, doesn't recycle, etc.) You can be a small family and have a huge environmental impact. I can understand why some view the number of children they have for environmental reasons, but I am still trying to wrap my mind around this "trend".

For my family, we've used other factors such as can we mentally and emotionally handle raising more than X number of kids, or sadly afford more than X number of kids. But environmental factors have not crept into our list of reasons.

My husband and I decided to have three kids with very little angst about the environmental impact. We talked about it briefly, acknowleding the impact three kids would have, wondering if being vegetarians would offset that impact at all (probably not a whole lot I'm guessing!). In the end, I think (and this is purely my own opinion) that the decision to have any children at all is ultimately a selfish one. As the first commenter said, if you feel strongly enough about the environment to let it dictate the number of children you decide to have, perhaps not having any would leave the least impact.

I agree with Amy. There are already so many ways in which families are divided (sahm v. working outside the home mamas, organic v. conventional, cloth v. disposable, etc.) that I don't know if this is conversation that really gets us anywhere.

How about if we all, no matter how many kids (I have two, btw) we have, just try the best we can?

I agree with Hau. I once read an interview with a Catholic social justice worker who lived in India and had something like nine children. Someone had criticized her for overconsumption of resources and she pointed out that one "First World" child would probably consume more than her entire tribe ever would. (She also pointed out, and I loved this, that nobody ever asks a novelist why they write more books, instead of just sitting back and enjoying the two they already have.)
From a resource point of view, large families are probably pretty efficient, as clothes and toys are handed down and every car trip qualifies for the carpool lane. Of course, this theory probably works best if a few people have large families and lots of other people don't have any children.

I have to say I'm not sure how this discussion automatically leads to smugness, guilt and division. I like thinking over the pros and cons of issues like this so I can figure out how I want to do things in the future.


I really agree with not dividing us about this topic and I also wholeheartedly agree about a family's impact on the environment not necessarily having to do with how many children they have. Think about all the couples without kids that are "wronging" the planet. We are not here to judge. I saw a bumper sticker once that read "save the planet. kill yourself." Is that really the only way to have zero impact? What about raising a generation of children that are aware and able to make a change?
I don't think any of us can say that we live a completely green existence no matter who we are, what we do or how many children we have. This division of "I am more eco than..." reminds me a lot of the democratic primaries and instead of bringing us together the bickering over who does it better is dividing us and making us a weaker.

I agree with AmyS. It breaks my heart that people seriously have less children to 'save the planet'. Who the heck are you saving the planet for then, yourself?? You aren't convincing me that you are being selfless by having less children.

As an adoptive parent I feel the need to chime in on this one. Did I adopt children instead of giving birth to "save the planet"? No. I adopted because I want to be a parent and that was the best avenue for my partner and myself to become parents.

What am I doing to save the planet? I am raising two girls that are aware of what they do affects more than them. Not only are they aware of some environmental impacts (they are 6 and 2 so we are working on it) but they are also self confident girls that care about other people. We are making a better society by raising children that will grow into good citizens.

It always makes me nervous to hear someone adopt for any reason other than the desire to parent. In no way do I see myself as better than someone because I am not reproducing.

I really like what Andrea said about "having any children at all is ultimately a selfish [decision]." I've been thinking a lot about that since the "How can you choose to have a child and then work full time?" discussion. I chose to have a child and I chose to go back to work full time. That discussion caused me a lot of angst and guilt, since, basically, I kinda agree with the original poster. So, yes, I think having any children at all is selfish, for a lot of reasons including and beyond the environmental impact ones.

My partner and I are going to have another because we are having way too much fun with the first to stop now. I bet we'd have more, if it weren't for the economic issues. So, we're balancing that with trying to raise our son so that he becomes a contributer to this earth instead of a user of this earth. And we're doing all the other reduce/reuse/recycle etc stuff, too.

my brother isn't having his own biological children because of the environmental impact. he'll adopt if he decides he wants children (and, yes, his wife is on board with this plan....she does not want to be pregnant or have a newborn). it isn't sad and it shouldn't break your heart. it's just their choice. you might not make the same choice, but it's not your life. and obviously they aren't saving the planet for themselves, since they'll die in about, oh, 40-50 years maybe.
we're having just 2. i had to convince my husband to have more than 1, and it's just because i love children. i would have more if we lived in a different world or a different time and didn't know what we know. more than 2 kids in this country usually means a bigger car, more plane tickets, etc.
whenever anyone brings up the overpopulation and children issue, i like to point out that it's better for the environment for ME to reproduce than the people who appear on jerry springer or maury. i try to minimize my environmental impact and am teaching my children to do the same. my kids might make a contribution that helps someday.
i don't think this issue is divisive. we should be thinking about it. family PLANNING is important. we all might make different decisions from each other, and even judge each other for it, but hopefully you will still treat people with respect and keep your opinions to yourself. try not to be so sensitive....you're going to get judged in this life, it's what humans do. if you're happy with yourself, it shouldn't matter. worrying about it just makes you anxious. diversity, as they say, is the spice of life.

Word to dvmmom.

we have three children, and I hate with a passion when people quote the statistics about how children in our society have such a huge carbon footprint. that's the AVERAGE child, raised quite differently from the way I'm raising my children. we don't drive a car, we eat foods that are organic and sustainably farmed, locally if possible, we are greatly reducing our buying-of-stuff, we're planting food crops on our urban yard, we keep chickens, we're being very mindful stewards of the 4/10ths of an acre we call our world. our children are (so far) quite smart little cookies and we're working to teach them our values. Everett could tell you exactly why a cow shouldn't eat corn!

my hope is that we raise our children, how ever many we can afford emotionally and financially (like Hau says, a really important measure of 'how many'), to be amazing people who will lead our planet in renewing our soil, greatly reducing our use of fossil fuels, eliminating highly-processed foods and taking a step back from our consumer culture. I want to raise children who know how to raise a tomato plant from seed, bake a pie, harvest figs, fix a bicycle, care for livestock, and build with cob. what you teach your children is far more important, to me, than their number.

yes, people hopefully make parenting choices based on what's important to them. I have one child, I wished I'd had two but for a myriad of reasons, I didn't.

I absolutely hate when people say "I can have as many children as I want because I'm red-headed, like beets or have smaller carbon footprint cause I grow my own food and make clothes out of hemp" To me, those are the smug type statements that divide us. It's only a arm's length from eugenics, when we start talking about who "should" have kids. The childfree folks have some specific ideas that none of us would appreciate.

Whatever your reasons are, they only have to be valid to you. I won't be scooting in between you and your partner at bedtime offering condoms. Same for the ladies and gentlemen on Oprah, Dr. Phil, Jerry, Judge Judy or whateva.

Al Gore has four kids...

The thing that bugs me about the "one child for the environment" argument is that it's just bad logic. Three kids in one house is more sustainable than three kids in three houses. A study (NBC News?) just came out talking about how spending (and consumption) per child goes down the more kids there are in a home.

So should everyone have many children? Of course not...

It sure seems like anyone who chooses to build a family that is different from the two-parent-two-kid "norm" gets pushed to justify their choices an awful lot. I have been shocked by the number of people who have wanted to know why my family looks the way it does. And I think because of that, I've found myself scrambling to come up with a logical justification for a decision that had nothing whatsoever to do with logic. The heart wants what it wants...what other reason is there to have children at all?

I so agree with your words below, ProtestMama!

"I absolutely hate when people say "I can have as many children as I want because I'm red-headed, like beets or have smaller carbon footprint cause I grow my own food and make clothes out of hemp" To me, those are the smug type statements that divide us. It's only a arm's length from eugenics, when we start talking about who "should" have kids. The childfree folks have some specific ideas that none of us would appreciate."

Protestmama,

I totally agree as well...whenever we get into the discussion of who should and who should not have kids, it just makes me cringe with the echoes of all sortsa bad history.

I also think it can be a slippery slope whenever a woman is asked to justify her reproductive choices --whether it's to have an abortion, have one child, or six. Women get to choose.

My husband and I did not talk about environmental impacts before we had children. We have two kids. I think this whole conversation is interesting and gives me another perspective on having children, beyond things like "I want my child to have a sibling".

It is true that each of our families make their own choices and I am enlightened by intentional-one-child-families-motivated-by-environmentalism. I respect that choice. Lots of people have shared how many biologicial or adopted children they have had or won't have, and I respect those choices.

I like to think, like others have mentioned, that I am contributing to the community by raising two mindful and conscious daughters, who are committed to their earth and public service like their parents. I also like LTF's logic of 2 for 2. I'm going to use that one next time we talk about 3.

I hope my comments didn't come off as smug or holier-than-thou -- I just re-read them (and I'm red-headed and like beets ;). I think I was trying to point out how I am annoyed by the use of averages and statistics to inform environmental choices; it's not ever as black-and-white as the studies suggest. I read these articles and feel judged, when probably I should just feel blessed that my choices make me happy.

maybe we're overthinking this! if it makes us happy, and we're living according to whatever values we hold dear (as best we can), the choices others make shouldn't worry us so much. I doubt that any of our families would fit the national average carbon-footprint-per-human. as RM says, "The heart wants what it wants."

My comment isn't about the topic, primarily because I agree with so much that has been said, on all sides. But I've been stewing on this all afternoon. I'm so sorry to say this publicly but I don't know how to respond privately to someone on this board. ProtestMama, your philosophy is right on. I have to say though that I'm uncomfortable with the way you said it. I know you read this blog frequently, which tells me you know alot about the people who put this together. Your specific choice of examples today feels really personally directed towards sarah gilbert and I don't think that's fair. I come here to read well thought out discussion, not nastiness and mean spirited comments. Please, disagree, agree, add your experience, but please don't put the rest of us in the middle of something personal like that.

Again, I am sorry I couldn't say this to you privately. I really hope no one adds to this because you certainly don't deserve to be dragged throug the mud over it. I just couldn't stand back and not say anything when a place I come to for good discussion turns unsafe.

I actually didn't know Sarah was red-headed or liked beets. I know no more about the people that put this together than anyone else, they are pretty open about who they are on the board. And I know my comments tend to be a lightening rod for folks. And I am usually responding to something that doesn't feel safe for me or others. It's weird how folks tend jump on me with both feet alla time. But if Sarah felt personally attacked I sincerely apologize.

I think it's an interesting topic because overpopulation is a major environmental issue. It is something I struggle with because I want 3 kids in all my selfishness. I should probably adopt since I have diabetes and each pregnancy is a risk. I am currently pregnant with number two. I hope that by educating people on these types of impacts so they can make the choice that is best for them is a major contribution to the issue overall. Once people are aware of the issue of overpopulation, perhaps they will make a different personal decision or maybe they will try to live a more simple life or maybe they will work to help encourage the equity and education of women in developing countries so these women will be able to make choices about their family. Any one of these things helps, in my opinion it's about making an educated decision that may include selfishness.

I somewhat justify my wish for 3 children because my only sibling died, so that is totally selfish. He had one child, so maybe that's another "justification".

Oh poop. I agree w/ ProtestMama & Kristin about the Jerry Springer comments & regret that I said otherwise (it's so easy to say something flip & then belatedly realize its true import...).

But I still agree w/ DVMMom about the other: Don't know why someone ought to be "heartbroken" about someone else's decision about whether to have kids at all, or how many/few.

And PS to ProtestMama, wish you didn't feel singled out. I personally am glad you're around.

I also have red hair and like beets and I have only one magnificent child. Just for the record I totally appreciate and dig the honesty of both ProtestMama and Sarah Gilberts posts on UM. They are refreshing to read, so thank you both. We have decided that our family is complete. Our decision is based on many, many things. Our choice to have only one is out of our own personal values and beliefs. People parent based on their values and you do the best you can to honor your beliefs. Everybody is different and that is okay. So the thing that I find amusing? irritating? is the comments I receive from some folks when I tell them we are having only one child and they look at me with a shocked expression and then want to know why one earth we would ever choose to have only one. Sigh. Smile. Let it go.

My husband and I have one child and we recently decided that we are going to add to our family within the next year or so. To be honest, when thinking it over, the environmental impact never even crossed our minds (sorry!). Instead, we thought about how much we love each other, our child, our house and our lives and how we wanted to add to that with another loving child. We care about the world we live in and do what we can to preserve it, but, we are not going to not have another child because it may or may not have an impact on our planet. I respect every parents opinion on this subject and would never judge one for not thinking like me.

to sarah gilbert: here's one for you -
do not know you from adam but your words were dear to my heart; the heart that wants what the heart wants. i thought you spoke much truth.
to protestmama: here's one for you -
let us leave the word "hate" for the birds
actually that goes out to many
to everyone else:
being "green" is relative for each individual
do not get into the habit of judgement
it is a negative trap
surround yourself with the decisions and choices that lift you higher...to have or not have children should not be an environmental decision - it is so much more than that.
just like marriage should never be about money - same concept, different topic.
again...my outlook.

If people are shocked/dismayed that you're only having one child, accept it as the ultimate compliment - that you are good at being a parent and your child is a credit to the universe. If people wanted you to stop having children - now that would be a different story.

My 1st thought when I saw the Oregonian article: Great. I really want a 2nd (my own reasons, thanks much); won't happen (ditto); and now, in environmentally correct PDX & w/my luck, someone stranger will walk up to me & my (sole, lone) kid to shower me w/congrats & kudos for, gosh, golly, putting the health of the planet ahead of all else ("atta girl!"). Groan. Makes my stomach hurt. Couldn't stand the title of the Oregonian piece, either (not that I was surprised or expected to see a cheery, Living-Section headline on Earth Pappas, but, still...c'mon people). And--anyone else deeply disturbed at the potential combo of this story with the media's obsession with Explaining With Altogether Too Much Wide-Eyed Shock & Amazement (hah) how birth rates 'differ' by race & ethnicity? "Privileged white gals giving birth less often to save the world, while less privileged, other-than-white gals giving birth more often, at 11..."

[Because I'm amused at how completely the PP misunderstood ProtestMama's offhand, merely illustrative list of random adjectives & phrases, I'll chime in: somewhat blonde sometimes, slight preference for beet greens over beets]

Yes, environmental impact comes into play when I think about our one child, and whether we will raise another. But, it's only one of many factors and for me, it's not at the top of the list.

If I take my Catholic guilt of only having two kids and combine it with my environmentalist guilt of having more than one kid, do they cancel each other out and let me live guilt-free?

I hate the Oregonian. Yes, that's right. I used the word "hate".

that was funny, tony! nice to chuckle first thing in the morning.


i don't want to stir the pot, but i take issue with my comments being construed as pro-eugenics. i never said people on those talk shows shouldn't have children. i said it was probably better FOR THE ENVIRONMENT if I did. the main point i was trying to get at was: if those of us who are thinking about the environmental impact are the ones who don't reproduce, then those of us who AREN'T thinking about it are the ones raising the future generation. that's not what I want. and i don't mean specifically thinking about the environmental impact of reproduction, but just generally THINKING about it and DOING something to help. this is not eugenics because how you think about and impact the environment is not genetically determined!! and people who are ignoring their own environmental impact, or doing something about it, come from all socioeconomic classes and all genetic backgrounds. as far as the guests who appear on jerry springer and maury, i must confess i don't watch either show, but have seen clips of both. on jerry springer, the guests use such foul language that you can't even understand what they are saying through the bleeps. they seem more interested in who's bed they're hopping into than about their children. and in an episode of maury that i caught, there were moms who ONLY fed their kids from mcdonalds. in my personal judgement, i don't think these folks make IDEAL parents. but it is my judgement, and i would still treat them with respect (ESPECIALLY the children). i should have said it differently, but i thought that would get my point across.
on the flip side of the economic spectrum (assuming guests on those shows aren't wealthy, but perhaps i'm wrong), yesterday i saw a woman of about 60-70, dressed in clothes and jewelry that looked expensive, with a nordstrom shopping bag....and on the handle she had a foam shopping bag holder to make it more comfortable to carry her shopping bags. just a piece of foam that velcroed around the bag's handles. i had my new purchases in a reusable bag that surely took up the same amount of room in my purse as her disposable bag comfort holder. who sells these things? if you shop that much, can you REALLY not get away from the disposable bag? if you're planning ahead enough to bring the foam handle, just bring a more comfortable reusable bag! it disgusted me. in my judgement, her values are not what i want passed down through the generations. (but i would still treat her with respect.)

Loving, thinking, responsible people creating loving, thinking, responsible families is a good thing for this world. I look at my amazing children and I know that they will contribute, help to ease suffering in the world, and engage in finding solutions to solve the challenges ahead in creative ways that we older generations would never have thought of. I can't feel bad about that.

Loving, thinking, responsible people creating loving, thinking, responsible families is a good thing for this world. I look at my amazing children and I know that they will contribute, help to ease suffering in the world, and engage in finding solutions to solve the challenges ahead in creative ways that we older generations would never have thought of. I can't feel bad about that.

ProtestMama -- I didn't feel personally attacked, it was just a funny combination of descriptives that happened to fit me! I've been eating beets like crazy lately...

thanks for all (all of your) words of support. i think only through honesty and
passion can we make any change in society -- not to change other people's mind about how many children to have, but how to engender community, true emotional support for other parents, and a little planet saving while we're at it!

I, too, disagreed with the O's depiction of the thing. so many of their headlines are for shock value, and this certainly isn't the first time we've called them on it. I remember the one about composting (http://www.urbanmamas.com/urbanmamas/2007/03/what_does_your_.html ), which I particularly disliked. here's to conversations that are more heart, less shock and awe.

I'm an only child. Both my parents were only children (as well as my stepmother), and I remember them talking about the zero-population growth movement some, so I'm guessing it might have been a (not the only one) factor with them. My spouse and I would like 2 children, and the environmental impact doesn't enter into it -- there's economics, time, quality of life, and other issues, including that our family just seems a little too small with no cousins, aunts or uncles around.

This is so individual - I like reading about other's choices as long as they are not judgmental about others' choices.

Environmental impact is a major factor in my feelings about having children. Before I became a mother, I really liked the idea of having one biological child, since it is an epic, incomparable act and one of the most amazing blessings we earthlings are privileged to experience, and to adopt a second. My reasons for wanting to adopt were related to not wanting to contribute to overpopulation and also because I agree with the sentiment that having children is a selfish act (which doesn't mean nobody should do it, it just means we should think about that aspect). My younger sister is adopted and before I had my own child, I had a hard time understanding how people could justify spending 10s of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments to try to have a biological child when there are so many children in the world who badly need loving homes.

Now that I've had a baby, I feel differently. Even though I felt like crap during pregnancy and childbirth was hell... but the experience of growing a child from a little tadpole, giving birth, nursing, having them as a newborn... I want to emphasize that I don't believe that it's indispensable or that an adoptive mother can't feel the same love for her child... I don't believe that at all! I just want so much to do it again, just once more.

I agree that we can all do our best to teach our children to be environmentally responsible, but it should be acknowledged that having more than two children contributes to overpopulation, no matter how environmentally responsible we are. If everyone does it, our planet is in trouble, just like other unsound practices. Of course, I don't shun families with more than 2 kids. Or people who eat fast food or drink bottle water or drive SUVs or whatever. Everyone has their own values and everyone impacts the world in positive and negative ways (as do I) and we have to make those decisions ourselves. I respect parents who chose to have fewer children out of a sense of environmental responsibility, just as I admire Sarah Gilbert for growing her own food and teaching her kids about cows and corn, etc.

This has been a very rambling post, but mainly I want to say that I think these are important issues that *should* be considered and discussed, but that we all have to decide for ourselves what we can and can't do for the environment. I wouldn't denounce anyone for having more than two kids, but I definitely think people shouldn't be criticized for choosing to have smaller families out of concern about overpopulation.

"and every car trip qualifies for the carpool lane"

That's the funniest thing I think I've read all week.

Wait ... you're not SERIOUS, are you?

I just spoke with a friend and her husband about this article and the resulting comments I've read on this website (I love it, ladies, love it!). She made a good point... that no matter what we do, we'll make a dent. She mentioned watching a program that researched all the consumption we engorge on with becoming a parent and all the green choices we have in making it less impacting on the environment. The conclusion was that even the green choices, like cloth diapers and bamboo utensils, will leave an impact by water use or having to buy biodegradable and environmentally safe detergents and such, which in turn use cardboard or plastic containers, which are recyclable but still must utilize heat and sterilizing treatments therefore damaging the ozone blah blah blah. Either way, we still leave a dent. I hadn't thought of it like that. Perhaps the dents we make can wind up being good ones, like having a few critters who will create huge change in how we function as a society during their lifetime.

She also showed me a graph illustrating that China with it's rule of 1.5 children per family (correct?) is currently facing huge wealth increases per family due to this restriction. However, long term (50 or so years from now), they will be facing a financial and population crisis because they'll have one child caring for 4 parents as well as their own family (totaling 6 dependents). I believe it is still traditional that children reside in the same home as their parents until they pass away. I can't imagine NOT sharing that phase (or finances!) of life with my 2 sisters or 1 brother in law! And good GOD, what if I had step parents!?

As for the comment on time and finances spent on infertility while children are waiting to be adopted, I totally understand that frustration. I have a few friends who have tried everything, for 2 years, and have yet to carry a pregnancy past the first trimester. They are financially and emotionally drained. I feel so awful for them! And I know others have mentioned adoption, but she's just not there yet and I can understand why, just as much as I ache for the kids stuck in foster homes or orphanages, waiting for the one. It's got to be hard, but I don't fully grasp her mindset because I've never been there.

On another note, I (please, don't judge me here!) have to admit to feeling rather frustrated that we don't have a law for some mammas. I know, I know, so rude. Take into context I work as a L&D RN in Portland and my heart breaks for every withdrawl baby abandoned by their meth addict mom. These poor things start life with little chance of success, and I just want to take them all home with me and love them so they know what that is! But that is balanced by some wonderful experiences, and some wonderful new mammas from every walk of life. Perhaps one of your daughters (I'm voting for #3 or #4! ha ha ha) will be the one to create a better social work system that places these babes in superb homes right away, ones that plan on adopting them and making a family so they are given a fighting chance. Thanks so much, ladies, for raising such conscious children! I plan on joining you.

It probably won't do me any more good, but I admit, I want 4. Yes, 4. Ah well, the Amish/Mennonite/Catholic genes are jiving past the responsible ones! At least I'll use my Fuzzy Bunz again, and my bamboo utensils, and my glass bottles, and I won't buy any clothes (I haven't with my first! bless grandmas and friends)! Promise.

Have there been any studies regarding the impact a confirmed bachelor makes on the environment as compared to a man with a family? Because most of the single people I know live a much more decadent lifestyle, consume much more, than the families I know. One bachelor friend of ours doesn't allow dishes in his house. He uses only disposable.....just to avoid washing dishes!
I can speak for myself when I say that my husband and I are so much more concerned/conscientious about our environment now that we have a child. Now we have a legacy to protect, a planet to be inherited!
However, having a baby didn't have anything to do with our devotion to the environment. I wanted to have his baby because I thought that there should be more people like him in the world.
And our thoughts on the size of our family?......We just don't want them to outnumber us!

I am writing an article on women who are childless by choice. If any urbanmamas have friends who have chosen not to have children for any reason, please pass on my contact information:
larsenstacy@comcast.net
Thanks!

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