Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
Chapter 11
Bear No Children
Let's say a person who is already unusually responsible in all the obvious
ways—who uses very litle gasoline, expends very litle energy to heat
or cool the home, recycles, and much more—decides to take the seem-
ingly drastic step of no longer flying. Would that be enough? Wouldn't
dramatically reducing travel by air make a huge difference? Certainly it
would. But thinking about our challenge in these terms, however neces-
sary, still relies on a fairly narrow assumption about the task before us.
For the most part, we tend to focus on how we as individuals can lower
our greenhouse gas footprint through various practical actions. But that
approach leaves out of view another key question— whether to bring more
individuals into the world in the first place , each of whom will, in turn, con-
tribute a lifetime's worth of emissions to the atmosphere.
Insofar as bearing children is a personal choice, the decision to have
a child properly belongs within the domain of one's personal impact on
climate change. Yet because our culture regards that decision as in some
sense absolutely private, as the very essence of personal liberty, we have
so far seldom examined the ethics of reproduction as such. Typically,
even the toughest commentators on climate change keep silent on this
question or approach it with fear and trembling, as if examining the poli-
tics of reproduction would somehow violate a taboo. They have a point:
it does. But keeping silent on this question makes a mockery of the pre-
tense to have considered the broader impact of our individual decisions
on climate change with any thoroughness. The decision about whether to
have children is so enormous in its implications it dwarfs virtually all oth-
ers; if anything, it is the question individuals must face when considering
how to lead an ethical life today.
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