‘I am the prob­lem’

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING -

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

But ac­tu­ally the pop­u­la­tion prob­lem is all about me: white, mid­dle­class, 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 fam­i­ly­plan­ning 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 Mid­dle East, 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% of them back out again as pol­lu­tion.

Con­sci­en­tious peo­ple try to limit that con­sump­tion, of course. I’m one of them. I get an amer­i­can steps up to of­fer her per­sonal so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of over­con­sump­tion in the West. 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 minime’s into the world. A 2009 study by statis­ti­cians at Amer­ica’s Ore­gon State Univer­sity found that the cli­mate im­pact of hav­ing one fewer child in the United States 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 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 US, 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.

Many Amer­i­can women have found that it’s dif­fi­cult if not im­pos-im­pos­si­ble to find a doc­tor who will per­form a tubal lig­a­tion if the wo­man has not al­ready had chil­dren (and some­times­some­times even if she has). Doc­tors warn that ster­il­i­sa­tion is an ir­re­versible, life-al­ter­ing de­ci­sion. But hav­ing a child is an ir­re­versible, life-lifeal­ter­ing de­ci­sion and you don’t find doc­tors­doc­tors 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.

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 NO one knows what cir­cum­stances the world’s seven bil­lionth baby will be born into, but In­dia’s Ut­tar Pradesh – a sug­ar­cane-pro­duc­ing state with a pop­u­la­tion that com­bines that of Bri­tain, France and Ger­many, in a coun­try ex­pected to over­take China as the world’s most pop­u­lous by 2030 – pro­vides a snapshot of the chal­lenges it could face.

Pinky Pawar, 25, is due to give birth in Ut­tar Pradesh any time now and is hop­ing her first­born will not join the es­ti­mated three bil­lion peo­ple liv­ing on less than US$2 (RM6.30) a day, with lit­tle hope of an ed­u­ca­tion or a job.

“I want my child to be suc­cess­ful in life, so I must do my best to make this pos­si­ble,” she said, her hands over her swollen belly as she sat out­side her mud and brick home in Sun­haida vil­lage for this in­ter­view last week.

In Sun­haida, poverty, il­lit­er­acy and so­cial prej­u­dice mark a life dom­i­nated by the strug­gle for sur­vival that mir­rors mil­lions of oth­ers across the world.

The world is in dan­ger of miss­ing a golden op­por­tu­nity for de­vel­op­ment and eco­nomic growth, a “de­mo­graphic div­i­dend”, as the largest co­hort of young peo­ple ever known see their most eco­nom­i­cally pro­duc­tive years wasted, the United Na­tions pop­u­la­tion re­port warned last Wed­nes­day.

The po­ten­tial eco­nomic ben­e­fits of hav­ing such a large global pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple will go un­ful­filled, as a gen­er­a­tion suf­fers from a lack of ed­u­ca­tion, planet, and a lit­tle more breath­ing room for those of us who are al­ready here or on the way.

I recog­nise 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. – grist.org n A ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle ap­peared in The Guardian news­pa­per. Lisa Hy­mas is se­nior editor at Grist (grist. org), where she writes on pol­i­tics, pop­u­la­tion, and green is­sues. She won a 2010 Pop­u­la­tion In­sti­tute Global Me­dia Award for her writ­ing on the child­free choice. and in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture and job cre­ation, the au­thors said.

“When young peo­ple can claim their rights to health, ed­u­ca­tion and de­cent work­ing con­di­tions, they be­come a pow­er­ful force for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pos­i­tive change.

“This op­por­tu­nity (for) a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend is a fleet­ing mo­ment that must be claimed quickly or lost,” says the UN Pop­u­la­tion Fund (UNFPA), in its Global Pop­u­la­tion Re­port, pub­lished last Wed­nes­day, ahead of the UN’S fore­cast that the world pop­u­la­tion will pass seven bil­lion to­day.

Of this seven bil­lion, 1.8 bil­lion are aged be­tween 10 and 24, and 90% of those live in the de­vel­op­ing world. – Agen­cies

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.