A few decades ago the Chinese government established a one-child policy allowing a couple to have only one child, in order to limit China’s population growth. Unethical? In the following paragraphs, I will try to argue that the answer to this question is not as clear as one might think.
Let’s take a look at some data. Current world population surpassed 7.5 billion and according to the UN, it will reach 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. Not only does the rapid population growth have economic consequences like limiting the rate of growth of the gross national product or creating unemployment problems, but it also has a very serious impact on the planet, owing to the fact that the natural resources are under increasing scarcity. Undeniably, the more people, the bigger the pressure on the planet (1).
This is how the world population growth looks like, starting from the 1750s.
Only 2 centuries ago the world population was below one billion, and at the moment it is over 7 times this much. The current world population clock can illustrate quite clearly the frequency of new people being born. The numbers are growing intimidatingly fast.
Putting it simply, there are a lot of us inhabiting the Blue Planet, and there will be much, much more. But what are the consequences?
Bernes-Lee(1) provided some hypothetical numbers on the impact associated with having a child. Depending on the level of the carbon-awareness of the child, it will “produce” from 100 to 2000 tonnes of carbon over their lifetime and the decision on whether to have a kid (or kids) is most likely to be the highest carbon-footprint choice we’ll ever make. Now, let’s do some calculation. Assuming that kids have usually a normal approach to carbon emission (373 tonnes) and assuming that there are 360,000 births a day, the impact that one day brings is approximately 134 mln tonnes of carbon over the next 79 years. It could be concluded that people without kids are actually contributing towards a more sustainable world.
The Great Acceleration graphs present clearly the overconsumption associated with rapidly increasing population.
Every single graph presents essentially the same – an exponential growth starting from the 1950s. It’s not inherently bad. For example, the increase in Damming of Rivers or Water Use is clearly not a good thing, however, there are some positive aspects of this development, like International Tourism or Total Real GPD. So although the Great Acceleration brought a lot of pressure on the world’s resources, it also made our lives easier in some areas.
The topic of not having a family is sometimes seen as taboo, however, there are organizations promulgating the idea of having less or even no kids. Population Matters addresses population size and, amongst various data and reports, provides practical pointers on reducing the fertility rate, like contraception education or women empowerment.
This blog is not an encouragement to abandon the idea of having offspring in the future, it’s simply a reminder that sustainability issues encompass much more than we realize and that world is not black or white. Which leads us to uncomfortable questions. Maybe China, as mentioned before, was right? Is a one-child policy a violation of human rights or an environmental concern?
I hope this sparks you off to further discover the intricacies of sustainability.
(1) Bernes-Lee, M. (2010) How bad are bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything