calculate your carbon footprint, for example, include all kinds of details
about the gas mileage on your car, how much you travel by air, or how
much energy you use to heat your home, but they seldom ask whether or
not you have decided to bear children. That concern evidently just doesn't
figure into our thinking, even in eco-friendly circles. The neglect of this
question permeates our culture from start to inish, from top to botom.
Either we're afraid to raise the question or it just doesn't occur to us.
What will happen when we break this silence is a good question.
Although it will no doubt be difficult to do so, we desperately need to
reexamine all of our atitudes and theories in this new light, to start think-
ing about our reproductive assumptions for a change. Here, as in so many
other areas, facing the consequences of climate change really does require
us to revise the most basic elements of our common culture. It's impossi-
ble to know in advance what new policies, theories, legal interpretations,
or actions that endeavor could lead to. The most fundamental working
hypothesis to guide us throughout that work, I would suggest, is that not
reproducing is the most ethical choice we can make today. The burden of
proof, the challenge of providing a clear and thorough justification, falls
on those who would take the opposite course of action.
Because this is an immense topic, one that requires an extended and
focused public debate, I can only touch on a few themes in this brief dis-
cussion. Perhaps the most useful thing I can do here is raise a number of
the most likely objections to this argument and reply to each in turn.
The first objection might well be the most basic of all. Let's say a loving
couple shares a strong desire to bear children; why should they not sat-
isfy that desire? But can our desire on its own justify a decision that may
cause environmental harm? Suppose someone with excellent taste and a
large income wishes to build a huge, beautiful, and inspiring home—one
that will have an enormous carbon footprint. Do we think that's ethically
acceptable? No doubt the wish to bear children is more defensible. But in
the end, unless the potential parents have something more than desire to
go on, they still haven't explained why their plans are ethical.
Evangelical Christians and conservative Jews (among others) might
insist that God himself has commanded us to reproduce. According to the
topic of Genesis, as soon as God created human beings, he told them, “Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion