As I (and many others) have said before: overpopulation is the foundational problem faced by all of humanity. We need far more lucid discussion of this important issue.

In this piece, Lisa Hymas makes some very good points. Those of us who do discuss overpopulation usually focus on developing countries where the growth rate is highest. But in terms of carbon footprint, developing countries have more of an impact.

Read on.

I am the population problem

by Lisa Hymas

Population growth tends to get blamed on other people: Africans and Asians who have “more kids than they can feed,” immigrants in our own country with their “large families,” even single mothers in the “inner city.”

But actually the population problem is all about me: white, middle-class, American me. Steer the blame right over here.

Well-meaning people have told me that I’m “just the sort of person who should have kids.” Au contraire. I’m just the sort of person who should not have kids.

Population isn’t just about counting heads. The impact of humanity on the environment is not determined solely by how many of us are around, but by how much stuff we use and how much room we take up. And as a financially comfortable American, I use a lot of stuff and take up a lot of room.

My carbon footprint is more than 200 times bigger than an average Ethiopian’s, and more than 12 times bigger than an average Indian’s, and twice as big as an average Brit’s.

When a poor woman in Uganda has another child — too often because she lacks access to family-planning services, economic opportunity, or self-determination — she might dampen her family’s prospects for climbing out of poverty or add to her community’s challenges in providing everyone with clean water and safe food, but she certainly isn’t placing a big burden on the global environment.

When someone like me has a child — watch out, world! Gear, gadgets, gewgaws, bigger house, bigger car, oil from the Mideast, coal from Colombia, coltan from the Congo, rare earths from China, pesticide-laden cotton from Egypt, genetically modified soy from Brazil. And then when that child has children, wash, rinse, and repeat (in hot water, of course). Without even trying, we Americans slurp up resources from every corner of the globe and then spit 99 percent of them back out again as pollution.

Conscientious people try to limit that consumption, of course. I’m one of them. I get around largely by bus and on foot, eat low on the food chain, buy used rather than new, keep the heat low, rein in my gadget lust. But even putting aside my remaining carbon sins (see: flying), the fact is that just by virtue of living in America, enjoying some small portion of its massive material infrastructure, my carbon footprint is at unsustainable levels.

Far and away the biggest contribution I can make to a cleaner environment is to not bring any mini-me’s into the world. A 2009 study by statisticians at Oregon State University found that the climate impact of having one fewer child in America is almost 20 times greater than the impact of adopting a series of eco-friendly practices for your entire lifetime, things like driving a high-mileage car, recycling, and using efficient appliances and CFLs.

And so, for environmental as well as personal reasons, I’ve decided not to have children. I call myself a GINK: green inclinations, no kids.

Most people won’t make the same decision, of course, and I don’t fault them for that. Everyone has different circumstances and values, and environmental issues are not the only ones worth considering. I believe in choice, and that means supporting choices different from mine.

But it needs to become easier for people to make the same decision I have, if they are so inclined.

Here in the U.S., the Pill has been available for more than 50 years. It’s now almost universally accepted that women will use birth control to delay, space out, or limit childbearing. But there’s not so much acceptance for using birth control to completely skip childbearing. At some point, you’re expected to grow up, pair up, put the Pill off to the side, and produce a couple of kids. Deviate from this scenario and you’ll get weird looks and face awkward conversations with family members, friends, coworkers, and complete strangers.

One 30-something woman I know who works for a reproductive-health NGO says that her colleagues pester her about her decision not to have children, telling her she needs to get started on that family or she’ll regret it. And these are people whose careers are dedicated to making birth control and reproductive health care available to all women! Pro-natal bias runs deep.

Many women in the U.S. have found that it’s difficult if not impossible to find a doctor who will perform a tubal ligation if the woman has not already had children (and sometimes even if she has). Doctors warn that sterilization is an irreversible, life-altering decision. But having a child is an irreversible, life-altering decision and you don’t find doctors warning women away from that. The broadly held prejudice, in the medical profession and much of the rest of society, is that becoming a parent is the right and inevitable choice.

Over recent years and decades, it’s become more acceptable for mixed-race couples to have children, and single women, and gay couples, and women over the age of 40, and that’s all good. Acceptance has been slower to come for the decision not to have children. There’s now a fledgling childfree movement, but some who are part of it say they still feel like they’re violating a taboo.

“7 billion” series logoRead more on population. Check out our series 7 billion: What to expect when you’re expanding.Real reproductive freedom has to include social acceptance of the decision not to reproduce. When we achieve that, it will mean less pressure on women and men who don’t feel called to become parents. It will mean less of a stigma on people who may have wanted to become parents but didn’t get the chance. It will mean a wider array of options for people who haven’t decided yet. It will mean fewer children born to ambivalent or unhappy parents, getting us closer to the goal of “every child a wanted child.”

Finally, it will mean fewer Americans making a mess of the planet, and a little more breathing room for those of us who are already here or on the way.

I recognize that I am the population problem. I’m trying to be part of the solution. Let’s make it easier for others to join me.

A version of this post was originally published at RH Reality Check.

Lisa Hymas is senior editor at Grist, which she cofounded back in the day. You can follow her on Twitter and Google+. She writes on politics, population, and other green issues. She coined the acronym GINK (green inclinations, no kids) and won a 2010 Population Institute Global Media Award for her writing on the childfree choice. If you’re like-minded, become a fan of GINK on Facebook. If you’re not, no hard feelings.

Originally posted on Grist.

44 Responses to “Good Points On Overpopulation”

  1. vens oden says:

    leg splints look like shoes,She looks very cute in them.I hate how people will Abandon them,My cat that had for 4 years was found outside,She had owners but they let us keep A very sweet little girl,Only 5.

  2. Mixed message: story on news warning about world overpopulation; 10 mins later, one complaining about less trick or treaters bc of less kids

  3. As the “7 billionth baby” is born, remember that overpopulation is not a threat to humanity nor to the global ecosystem

  4. In Time (2011)
    IMDB Info
    avi 1929 kb/s | 720×304, 25.00 fps(r) | mp3, 44100 Hz, stereo, 128 kb/s | 101mins | 1.37 GiB
    Language : English
    Genre : Crime | Sci-Fi | Thriller

    In the not-too-distant future the aging gene has been switched off. To avoid overpopulation, time has become the currency and the way people pay for luxuries and necessities. The rich can live forever, while the rest try to negotiate for their immortality.

  5. hom buzaway says:

    rate is going down, and has been for a while, the standard living age is going up.. So it”s not having children that’s the problem, but living longer..

  6. yupiegler glarish says:

    overpopulation – maybe here in Manila. but there’s so much place to live in. – govt should resolve it po.

  7. pernandler says:

    I like this video. Except, no it is not up to me. It’s up to this stupid disease of a species called humans. As a whole, we suck.

  8. i know this guy and he was a good dude! I have a hard time believing he was a child molestor, but then again you never know what anyone does behind closed doors

  9. By 2030 will hit the 9 billion population mark. We need a mass die off if we are to have a happy, good life that we care about to live. Why are we all miserable? There’s too many people and not enough resources to go around. When I was 9 years old, I’m 31 now, I decided to never have children. I’ve never been happier.

  10. boradoncil says:

    Two 15/16 year old girls go by my house everyday, both pregnant. No job, not enough to care for a baby, no idea or a plan. Oh yeah, welfare and handouts from the system paid by the working class!!!!! Make mandatory for people who can’t afford to have babies!!!

  11. Ha! That was funny. I loved when the woman opens the cupboard and it’s full of kittens! Cute, but gets the point across!

  12. What are the forces of technology that will our will their use be for good/evil? Maybe as a way to control

  13. One of the greatest things about SOAD. The songs mean something thats real instead of stupid wubwub crap or any pop songs straight whining.

  14. triccus marysharri says:

    Bc if it was hard to hate, no one would. and life would be easy, and then everyone would survive.

  15. Well yes, you are right however some Mexicans are offspirngs of the so called Uto-Aztecan nations so they actually have a tie with some Native people from modenr day United States.

  16. kraba wotka says:

    bbcnews Tunisia Arab Winter No more Jobs & a Tourism Disaster still that is result of BBC Doha Seminars? Overpopulation…

  17. better then a life in captivity before being shipped to the slaughterhouse, if u dont get how this is humane then u never will cuz ur beyond ignorant and would of died 100 years ago cuz “u felt bad for da pooor animal dawww : (” these people enjoy the hunt and the reward at the end (meat,antlers) so who r u to criticize them

  18. cruyter clundlette says:

    If SOPA happens Twitter shutdown, Aliens run to BTKapp. BTKapp explodes for overpopulation & Aliens blaming & killing each other! D:

  19. Let’s send attack dogs to the veterinarian so that they can be Newtered. This should help cut down on the overpopulation of RINO’s

  20. desin neumussis says:

    I never understood why people were made fun of for being virgin.When I was a little girl, a friend who was very close to my family died. He was no older than 20 years old.He died of Aids/HIV.He caught it his very FIRST time having sex.He even get a chance to live.People may think a bit silly but I will even say its best to get the person and yourself tested before you have sexual affairs.Better safe,than sorry.I believe that & the fear of unwanted pregnancy is stopping me from sex

  21. I favour the idea of half the people in the world eating one human each – ending overpopulation & world famine in one day

  22. kalanci baccaffleu says:

    Pet overpopulation Fact or Falacy?: For years, most people in the United States have been told that that there a…

  23. WOOF Sadly, statistics indicate that eight million pets lose their lives in animal shelters each year due to overpopulation. PLEZE

  24. skerry trishiroki says:

    Expert Speaks| Stock Pick News US Mission Canada Todd Huffman cdrummbks Stanford speaks on dangers of rapid human overpopulation Paul Ehrlich, president of the Center for Conservation…

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  25. zambarriot nagan says:

    … and that was NOT a dig at Patton – just a contributory opinion about overpopulation, which was not the topic. Carry on…

  26. Michelle Duggar says there’s no overpopulation & all people could fit in Jacksonville. all the empty seats at Jaguars games.

  27. pito piene says:

    The pit bull thing gets me down. Found one roaming, brgt it to shelter & they said overpopulation of that breed in shelter.

  28. priot negaziah says:

    Metaphorical allegory on overpopulation and urban sprawl Or a crappy police sketch representation of the most gruesome scene he’s ever witnessed Either way this goes really well with jeans.

  29. budany says:

    MVB, like I said, I think you’re reversing cause and effect. I think that prosperity is what allows people to keep their loved ones who can’t take care of themselves alive. I fail to see how it weakens society in the slightest. Society will wane for lots of other different reasons. And when push comes to shove and you can’t afford the meds and you can’t afford the specialty care, what do you think is going to happen?

  30. James J. Lee, who was protesting what he said was the network’s promotion of overpopulation, was fatally shot by police after taking three people captive at the company in Maryland.
    Police shot and killed a gunman after he took three people hostage Wednesday afternoon at the Discovery Channel’s here, officials said.

  31. as an answer to the problem of overpopulation in Kuala Lumpur in 1952 and has since witnessed a dramatic growth in terms of population .

  32. doakiow says:

    Considering that one of the cardinal concerns of WWF, Sierra Club etc is overpopulation, starvation seems in line with that.

  33. watch humane society’s one nation under dog on mon regarding pet overpopulation- people who do not spay & neuter r breeding chaos.

  34. honestly all justin bieber would have to do is say “i’ll marry whoever wins a fight to the death” then overpopulation wouldn’t be a problem.

  35. John Lennon said overpopulation is a myth, and besides, we can just go to the moon. Ahead of his time!

  36. fic som says:

    Heza, my kids love being outdoors on the weekend. There are just a lot of other activities for them to do than hunting.

  37. My first message on Kik, was a picture of a huge black dick. What is the world coming to, an overpopulation of sex fiends???

  38. fabie kuya says:

    lagos was experiencing overpopulation n it became unsafe for the head of state so they had to move.. I think during his

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  40. Overpopulation is a threat to humanity, why is it so hard to get a procedure that will make sure I don’t add to overp …

  41. by Lisa Hymas. Who knew feminist trailblazer Gloria Steinem was such a greenie? In an interview on ABC News’ “Nature’s Edge” a few months ago, she raised the alarm about climate change, talked about how climate is connected to women’s rights and population, and gave a basic lesson on ecofeminism and deep ecology (all while fielding insipid questions from the interviewer): Quotable bits: “The overpopulation is still the biggest reason for global warming, for all the pressure on the environment.” “The truth is that global warming is a nuclear holocaust slowed down slightly.” “The thing, I think, about both ecofeminism, as a term, and deep ecology … is that we are of nature, not separate.” “There’s no concept of enough. There’s no concept of overdeveloped. We talk about underdeveloped; how come we never talk about overdeveloped? This country is overdeveloped. There’s no concept of enough money, of enough children, of balance.” Of course, I have to point out that Steinem…

  42. zell male says:

    How did this conversation out about overpopulation to environmental issues and now christianity and god has been brought into it?

  43. The year is 2050 and you are Ruler of The world population has skyrocketed to 12 billion people and counting. What do you do to prevent more overpopulation? –

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