Questioning whether we should take our right to have children as a given has, for good reason, always been controversial.
I happen to agree that the question of whether or not we ought to reproduce is one that deserves serious consideration. What I absolutely do not agree with is the racist foundations in which answers to this question are traditionally grounded.
Arguments against having children generally take place in the context of the looming environmental crisis, a context bearing its own deep tradition in racist classism. Historically, criticisms of childbearing have gone something like this:
A healthy environment requires balance. Humanity has overcome many of the natural limits on its growth through technological and organizational innovation, and as such our population has radically increased. We have forgotten our place in the world and upset the order of things; the punishment for this being the accelerating destruction of our environment.
However, rooting environmental collapse in population growth has certain consequences. The problem of human over-abundance is linked with having children. According to this argument, the nations with the highest population growth are those which bear the most moral responsibility for the impending environmental disaster. Societies with lower population rates, on the other hand, are free to carry on as usual.
Even a cursory look at the facts highlights this argument’s flaws. Its essence hinges on the assumption that the declining state of our ecosystem is a consequence of the human population nearing its carrying capacity.
However, the fragile ecosystem is not because of overpopulation.
The claim that humanity is reaching its carrying capacity is tenuous at best. Human society is notoriously difficult to analyze. There are simply too many variables that come into play for any definitive predictions of our future to carry much weight.
Further, empirical evidence unanimously contradicts the notion that the most harm to the environment is done by communities with the highest population growth. Be it waste production, carbon emissions per capita, energy usage, whatever; it is nations with the lowest population growth who abuse the largest amounts of resources across the board.
This may seem strange at first glance, but any mystery is soon dissipated when one takes note of the inextricable relationship between population growth and socioeconomic status.
It is not the largest communities that threaten our ecosystem the most, but the wealthiest. It is not increasing population that is most destructive to nature, but exploitation for the sake of profit.
Rooting the ethics of reproduction in the environment is valid, but only if this is itself rooted in reality– not Eurocentric fantasies of pristine wildernesses or idealistic notions of ‘balance’ and ‘order.’
It is unethical for the wealthy to have children, not because they may outstep some preordained boundary, but because the system that creates their wealth is fundamentally destructive. When a couple that benefits from this exploitative system decide to have a child, they are also reproducing the system itself.
The world, as we know it, faces imminent collapse. Suspending reproduction rights for the wealthy alone will not solve this problem, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.
— Brad Waldraff is a philosophy senior