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to make a difference, we will greatly expand the presence of our energy
infrastructure across the land and sea. As a result, that action will make
the sheer overabundance of human beings more visible to us than ever
before. Reproducing our current numbers into the foreseeable future—
even with zero population growth—simply hands this patern of devasta-
tion down to future generations, who will have many fewer options to
solve it well. If we want the life forms of this planet to thrive, we have to
reduce our numbers as soon as we can. The only humane way to do so is
to reduce our birth rate.
The implications are unmistakable: a person who wishes to forestall
severe climate change should not bear children . No doubt saying so vio-
lates one of the strongest taboos in our culture. But for that very reason,
it is all the more necessary to speak the unspeakable, speak it repeatedly,
and speak it now . If we are to have the slightest chance to reduce the dam-
age our culture causes the environment, we should begin with the activ-
ity that causes the most harm, and without question, this is the one.
I freely concede that simply thinking this thought is enormously pain-
ful to most of us. The idea that we should not bear and raise children cuts
against a host of assumptions we may have about “normal” life. Although
American society no longer so openly disapproves of people who remain
single or childless and is becoming increasingly tolerant of nontraditional
families of all kinds, including those headed by gay and lesbian couples,
people still speak about “geting married and starting a family,” as if the
people in question do not constitute a family in their own right but “start”
a family only when they bear or adopt a child. Our society also tends to
assume that starting a family in this sense is a sign of maturity, an indica-
tion that a participating adult is becoming responsible. Moreover, we also
take for granted that parents are somehow more nurturing and unselfish
than childless adults, more likely to care about the coming generations,
and thus more responsive to humanity's fate. All these assumptions are
reinforced by the desire many people feel to bear children. That desire
can feel so natural, so self-evident, that they might assume other people
feel it as well, and that people in general should have the right to satisfy
this desire. Needless to say, that desire is often so profound it can define
an entire life.
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