At the bottom of the stairwell behind my apartment building, a baby stroller sat for weeks. Every time I carried a laundry basket down the back steps, I had an opportunity to read the cardboard sign strapped to the side of the stroller. In rigid capital letters scrawled with Sharpie, it read: “The World Doesn’t Have Four More Years.”
The first blizzard since Inauguration Day prompted someone to toss the protest sign and bring that stroller back inside. But many young Americans, including myself, are still wondering: in a time of urgent environmental crises, compounded by extraordinary political upheaval, is it practical — or ethical, or sane — to have children?
The fallout from November’s presidential election will make the near future much harder for those seeking reproductive freedom, equitable health care, fair wages, education reform, and more progressive maternal and family leave policies. To top it off: this past month, Trump — who pledged during his campaign to favor the oil, gas, and coal industries by reducing regulations — reiterated that he is prepared to withdraw from the 2015 Paris agreement, a global pact to cut emissions.
Progressives can work to win big in the 2018 midterm elections, take control of the House and Senate, and impeach the president. Collective outrage is, perhaps, on our side. But American dysfunction is one thing; global population growth — and the onrushing specter of total overpopulation — is quite another. The United Nations now calculates 7 billion humans on Earth, compared to less than one billion just 200 years ago. It is not unlikely that before long, homo sapiens will flare up and flame out, like a doomed culture rampaging through a Petri dish.
In the 2016 satirical movie Idiocracy, a man and woman are cryogenically frozen for 500 years, then awake into an America of morons, dolts, and mindless consumers. Centuries of smart people have declined to bring children into the world, leaving the weak-minded to inherit the earth (the American president in that movie, a buffoon named Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, also looks uncomfortably familiar these days).
Perhaps arguing that dumb people need to stop breeding so much smacks a bit of eugenics. Does film director Mike Judge, who created Beavis and Butt-Head, mean to imply that good breeding prevents societal ills? If he does, it rather sours the punchline.
Yet while liberals fret over such questions, America is also home to millions who couldn’t care less. Take the thousands of members of the conservative fundamentalist Christian movement called Quiverfull — a group that promotes compulsory procreation, arguing that having as many children as possible is a moral duty. The social lesson seems to be: if you can’t beat ’em, outpopulate ’em. How on earth should one respond to that?
Comedian Bill Burr has suggested that the government should start randomly sinking cruise ships, because “I think it’s a good mix of people to get rid of.” I’m not sure I disagree. But it’s probably better to identify, as the World Health Organization puts it, the places “where human rights, health, environmental and equity objectives converge, rather than conflict.” As just one example, the WHO has stated that “in developing countries, approximately 200 million women express an unmet need for family planning services.”
That’s a lot of people — and a lot of carbon. In a study published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2010, researchers from Oregon State University calculated that enacting a laundry list of conservation measures — like driving a hybrid, driving less, recycling, and using energy-efficient appliances, windows, and light bulbs — would save the average American 488 metric tons of carbon dioxide over 80 years. By contrast, the amount of carbon dioxide saved by choosing to have one fewer child is nearly 20 times as much: 9,441 metric tons.
So, where does this leave me?
I’ve always wanted to have kids, and I still plan to, although I am considering adoption more seriously than I used to. In the meantime, I will be doing what I can to help ensure that the leadership in Washington — right down to officials in town and city government — takes on more people that are responsive to these issues.
Maybe, as that baby stroller implied, the world doesn’t have four more years. But I don’t see the point of going out like that. Humanity doesn’t sit in that stroller — a kid in my building does. That’s a less grand notion, but a more activating one. Many children out there need to be brought in from the proverbial — or literal — cold. While we work on that, we can protest, call our reps, volunteer, do good, and speak up.
And when I have a kid of my own, I’ll sit them down to watch Idiocracy every Christmas. As the December snows recede north each year, we’ll be snug inside, taking an annual look at who people really are — and what’s really worth fighting for.
Is the world bad enough yet to stop having children? Send your opinions to [email protected].