Recent developments in causes proposing environmental protection and political agendas to reduce carbon emissions, including the Green New Deal championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have stirred up an interesting response from supporters; people, especially women, are now protesting human contributions to climate change by refusing to have children themselves. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez herself even hinted in a live video in February 2019 that this would be an appropriate response. But these protesters are all barking up the wrong eco-friendly tree.
These protests are not the first solution to be considered for slowing down climate change. Marketing initiatives for consumer goods emphasize buying ethically-sourced and eco-friendly products in order to eliminate waste in production and to emphasize recycling. Most automotive manufacturers are now providing affordable options for completely electric vehicles or, at the very least, hybrid models. Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, is even developing programs for extending options for civilization to live in space. In defense of preserving the human race, he says, “We are essentially a steward of life [and] duty-bound [in my opinion] to ensure its continuance.” Oceans are rising, climates are fluctuating, icebergs are melting, animal life is dying, and the global ecosystem is mutating with each passing year because of the carbon we are emitting into the atmosphere and the non-biodegradable waste we are producing and discarding.
It is no secret that earth’s population has increased at an alarming rate throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The earth reached 1 billion inhabitants in the early 1800s century and 2 billion inhabitants just 123 years later. Today, our world holds 7.4 billion people and, according to United Nations predictions, is projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100. During this historic increase in population, the earth has also suffered environmental atrocities committed by humanity in pursuit of financially profitable and practically convenient businesses, products, services, and lifestyles. Over the past 300 years, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the West in particular has sought to improve the standards of society without concern for the environment. What has resulted is an inconsiderate acceleration of innovation that never paused to reassess whether a process could be reinvented to become more ecologically efficient, until it was too late.
So here we are in 2019, with another American presidential election upon us, and a continuous pressure from many politicians and concerned citizens to protect our rapidly deteriorating common home. The response to this deterioration, however, is attacking the wrong issue. The root of the problem with global climate change is not overpopulation, but unethical and outdated environmental practices at both the individual and systemic level.
The earth is more than able to sustain its current population and can sustain the lives of billions more; there is room for everyone who is alive and who is to come. Oceans, rainforests, prairies, rivers, and all sources of our livelihood are able to regenerate and reproduce in an environment where they are respected and allowed to grow and rejuvenate each season. If they are harvested graciously, cared for appreciatively, and consumed efficiently, they are able to sustain a greater population than we carry even now. But we in the West are not consuming efficiently or consciously and our consumerism needs to change. It starts with small, daily decisions, but, if pursued on a societal level, can have widespread preservative impact.
As an example of this epidemic of inefficient consumerism, there is an injustice in the distribution of food and resources in our world. In America, citizens throw away about 600 million tons (or about $160 million worth) of food each year. At the same time, in the country of Chad, about one-third of the population is malnourished due to famine. In an age where we have explored nearly all the planets in Earth’s solar system, are able to manufacture 500,000 iPhones a day, and can develop intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, why can’t we innovate new ways to transport and provide food that would otherwise be wasted in developed countries? Some organizations are already tackling this issue on a local level, such as the company Hungry Harvest, featured on the popular ABC show Shark Tank. These companies are even finding a way to be financially profitable while solving the problem. Intelligent, innovative redistribution of food needs to be a priority for governments, NGOs, and even corporations who have the capability to remedy the situation.
Self-gratifying, careless production and consumption fuel these kinds of injustices and contribute to these global environmental and social crises. You may think to yourself, “How could my small actions solve any of these problems?”
The decisions you make in what you buy solve these problems and your actions are perceived by and influential to others. Simple economics of supply and demand support your decisions, too, and can change the consumer landscape. As consumers refuse to buy inefficient, non-biodegradable products, corporations manufacturing these products will respond by decreasing the production of the product in question. The tobacco industry is a prime example of this response. As tobacco use has decreased considerably since 1940, the average price of a pack of cigarettes has risen, showing that tobacco companies are fighting for a profit by increasing the price to make up for the decreasing amount of consumers. In addition, tobacco taxes are an example of governmental support for penalizing the tobacco industry for selling a product detrimental to the public. If this is achievable in the tobacco industry, can the same follow for companies that offer products that are known to be destructive to the environment?
As a comparable example, production of palm oil, an ingredient contained in countless food products, detergents, and cosmetics, contributes to deforestation. According to the organization Rainforest Rescue,
“Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by ‘green deserts’ containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.”
The response of an eco-conscious population and the taxation from a governmental body, similar to the example of the tobacco industry, could change the production of these common inefficient, environmentally dangerous products and would incentivize manufacturers to find better, more profitable alternatives.
Returning to the “problem” of overpopulation, let us assume we can reduce the earth’s population by personal decisions to refuse childbirth. As we achieve a lower global population, we no longer have to deal with changes to consumerism. We can continue our inefficient, ecologically damaging, self-gratifying lifestyles in smaller numbers, while still living on the same earth. Is this an ethical outcome? And would we not simply be delaying the same environmental damage to our resources?
Protesting climate change by refusing to have children is deflecting a solution and deferring it to be dealt with by another generation. The solution to climate change is a change in behavior by each family and by each community in pursuit of a lifestyle that should have been lived all along. Next time you order a meal at a restaurant, order a size that is reasonable and that will be eaten instead of discarded. Next time you purchase a vehicle, open your mind to investment in an electric vehicle, even if you’ve never owned one before. Next time you shop for groceries, consider what material has been used to package it and whether you could compost. Next time you buy a house, think about the energy efficiency in running certain amenities.
Environmental ethics is not a political issue. It is not meant to be divisive and it is not a choice. It is a moral responsibility to preserving our worldly home, and it requires sacrifice from some daily pleasures and conveniences you and your family may enjoy now. Don’t be afraid to have children and grow your family, for overpopulation is not the problem, but teach them the joy and beauty in living a lifestyle that makes both them and their environment thrive.