People who don’t have children benefit our environment more than any campaign – it’s time to celebrate them

Society should also acknowledge that those who choose not to have children are making a valuable contribution to a sustainable future

Simon Ross | 8 August 2016
The Independent

Kim Cattrall famously said that she didn’t want to be referred to as “childless” as she found the term offensive. (Getty Images)

The global population is growing rapidly, while the resources we depend on to live are dwindling. If you consider the footprint each person makes on the world – in terms of food and water consumed, electricity and gas used, and waste produced – the challenge of improving living standards while protecting natural resources and the environment is striking. The question of human population size is fundamentally one of sustainability, and in that so is the choice to have children.

Rather than being taboo, being childfree is something that should be celebrated and valued. The childfree do more for our environment than any campaign. In the UK our electricity use per capita is 5,407 kWh – it’s nigh on impossible to make up for the environmental footprint of having a child by remembering to switch off the lights. Finite resources mean we must consider our consumption now, what living standards are acceptable, and how to maintain the ecosystems on which we depend and how many of us there are.

Women are now as likely to be childless as to have three children. As social norms shift, a childfree lifestyle has become increasingly attractive, with career taking centre-stage for many thirtysomethings. Add to this rising living costs and you can see the clear benefits of not having children: the £250,000 required to raise each child is a challenge even for the most well-off.

In recent months, there has been ongoing speculation about those who do not have children: let’s call them ‘the childfree’, whether it’s Jennifer Aniston’s “baby bump” or conversations in the corridors of Westminster. Andrea Leadsom believed her credentials as a mother made her Prime Minister in-waiting, while Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith’s self-proclaimed normality stemmed from his “wife and two kids”. Being childfree is one of the oldest taboos, and it comes with a host assumed connotations: being less invested in the future or being ‘abnormal’ are but two.

There are, however, signs that things are changing. Our new Prime Minister became not only the second woman to fill the role, but the first to do so without being a mother. Leadsom’s alienating language backfired: the media and Twitterati rounded on those burnishing their ‘normal family’ credentials. It was May’s experience and competency that saw her become Prime Minister – her childfree status was, in the end, irrelevant.

Of course, having a family will always be a central part of life for many. The people who wish to have children but cannot need our empathy and support. But society should also acknowledge that those who choose not to have children are making a valuable contribution to a sustainable future.

Our numbers have doubled in the last 50 years, transforming Earth into a ticking time bomb. Climate change is one devastating symptom of this surge. Population growth increases the number of wealthy carbon emitters and poorer climate change victims, while hampering mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Beyond environmental concerns, political instability, civil conflict and mass migration are an inevitable consequence. Young populations, high birth rates and rising life expectancy mean that, for instance, Africa’s population alone is expected to rise from one to four billion this century. While a global response is needed, industrialised countries like Britain, which consume more than their fair share of resources, must lead by example.

With the steady erosion of the childfree taboo, it is time to reopen the debate surrounding population growth and sustainability, educate young people about mindful consumption, and advocate improvements to family planning, sex education and women’s rights.

I will close with the wise words of actress and model Cameron Diaz: “I think women are afraid to say that they don’t want children because they’re going to get shunned. But I think that’s changing too now. I have more girlfriends who don’t have kids than those that do. And, honestly? We don’t need any more kids. We have plenty of people on this planet.”

Simon Ross is chief executive of Population Matters, a UK-based membership charity that addresses population size and environmental sustainability.

Sir David Attenborough: an interview with the Wellcome Trust

Stephen Emmott’s Ten Billion, Trailer | The Future of Our Planet

Al Bartlett – Democracy Cannot Survive Overpopulation

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6 COMMENTS

  1. The main problem as I see it is not that people have children, it is having an excess of them. Western women tend to prefer replacement only reproduction. This did not bode well with the current economic system predicated on non-stop economic growth. So the Corporate Media embarked on a years-long campaign to promote the baby bump and large families, while governments opened up their countries to mass immigration. It is the latter that is driving population growth – the unchecked breeding of third-world countries, which in the past used to level off when they outpaced their countries abilities to sustain them, and the resultant famines brought the population back to sustainable levels. This does not happen now, thanks or no thanks to the UN and its myriad agencies posing under a 'humanitarian' mandate, who take the excess populations and bring them to the West, were they are promptly put on welfare and encouraged to consume and breed some more!

  2. What a strange thing to celebrate. It defies common sense and lacks humanity.

    For one, if people stopped having children humans would become extinct.

    Also such an idea leads to a desensitization against human life and the promotion of anti-human policies. It also promotes selfishness and anti child sentiment and is ironic as if the parents of those who promote such a cold agenda had similar ideas they wouldnt have been born. So shortsighted.

  3. The most threatening thing facing our world is children born to people who care nothing for them. Far too much emphasis is put on financial achievement as opposed to actually raising intelligent, healthy, compassionate, empathetic human beings.

    Women who choose to live child free are nothing short of courageous pioneers! Having two daughters who have chosen not to add to an already overburdened world, I have seen the glances of sympathy and outright looks of horror as if some horrific plague had stricken them. Their close friends who have also chosen this route have also felt these looks of disbelief. It's a sad commentary on just how successful the propaganda has been. Each of them are happy, well-adjusted, professional, financially comfortable young adults, all in committed relationships.

    When society deemed monetary gain as the primary guiding factor in life, it left out the most important things. It left out heritage, culture, real parenting and stability and freedom to choose, un-judged. So until that changes, having babies just isn't such a smart idea anymore.

  4. There is a point that is being missed. Many people, myself included, have taken on the role of stepfather and step grandfather. We have chosen to take on children who, many times, have come through very troubled situations. (The 2 boys and one girl had a father who committed suicide.) Am I just a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but I do care about the wellbeing of children.

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