North Texas Daily

Having children: the latest and greatest moral dilemma

Having children: the latest and greatest moral dilemma

Having children: the latest and greatest moral dilemma
October 14
12:00 2021

There was a time when having children was not only expected but required. Family units relied on their children’s labor to maintain the farms or to assist with hunting and gathering. As parents aged, their now-grown children were also able to provide care and comfort. Given the high infant mortality rates of the past, having lots of children was simply a matter of survival.

Now, industrialized society does not share such a burden. Having children has become a luxury for many. Without the necessity, another question jumps to the forefront: is having children morally right? Obviously, someone cannot consent to be born, so it is the responsibility of the parents to decide for themselves what is right, and there are many factors to consider.

One issue is that quality of life seems to be declining compared to previous generations. Although millennials are the most educated, they face greater student loan debt and lower median wages than Gen Xers once did. The 2008 recession also stunted homeownership rates, with more young adults living with their parents than ever before. It is not certain if these trends will continue in future generations, but economic opportunity is a crucial factor when deciding to have children. What sort of life will they be able to live?

Another oft-cited argument against having children is the environmental impact. Studies estimate that having one fewer child in a developed nation can cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 58 metric tons per year. Critics are quick to point out that this study assumes a constant rate of emissions in the future (which is unlikely), but there is no denying that having children leaves a large ecological footprint.

It is also important to examine the impact we have on other communities. While developed countries like the U.S. tend to produce the most CO2 emissions, it is the developing nation that faces the brunt of climate change. Extreme weather patterns such as flooding and drought disproportionately threaten the water quality and food security of nations like Haiti and Botswana, despite their comparatively small contributions to climate change.

That is not to say we will not feel climate change locally. Along the Gulf Coast, rising sea levels and ocean acidification will have pronounced effects on the economy. Extreme heat and drought will decrease our water supply, affecting our health and agriculture. Hurricanes have also continued to increase in intensity since the early 80’s. To the southwest, outbreaks of insects will wreak havoc on our crops.

That being said, we will not solve these issues by simply not having children. Climate change is not the result of “overpopulation” and we should be careful to avoid that line of thinking. Not only is overpopulation a myth, but it is also rooted in racist ideology and is often used to shift the blame for climate change onto the Global South. The poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for a mere tenth of carbon emissions, while the richest ten percent produce a full half, according to a 2015 study from Oxfam. This is clearly a lifestyle issue, not a population one.

We should also be vigilant against government interference. Any state policy which aims to restrict that choice is an infringement on our reproductive freedoms, and a mere stone’s throw away from eugenics. Such “population control” measures would undoubtedly target communities of lower socioeconomic status. This must be resisted in every form.

The choice to have children should ultimately be left up to the individual alone. You may worry your future child will grow up in a Mad Max-esque hellscape, or you may be optimistic that we will discover new solutions to climate change, allowing future generations to flourish alongside the planet. You might even feel that any sort of life is better than no life at all. All of these positions are valid enough, and you should rely simply on your own intuition and moral code. Nobody can make that decision for you.

Featured Illustration by Miranda Thomas

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Tanner Woods

Tanner Woods

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