Urbanization is just one of the many effects of overpopulation here on Earth, along with the rapid dwindling of the natural environment as a whole. The general consensus across the scientific community is that a number of factors have contributed to global overpopulation. More than 7.7 billion people live on Earth as of 2020, largely due to longer life expectancies, improved sanitation, and advancements in medicine over the last few centuries.
Although humanity has a firm grasp of how we got to this point, potential solutions to global overpopulation remain elusive. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been plenty of suggestions, however, some of which come off as rather fatalistic. In fact, one of the most dystopian-esque solutions suggested in recent years comes from the so-called “antinatalists,” a social movement in which human reproduction is considered morally unsound.
Where climate change is concerned, the principles of a childless life seem to be logically sound. According to The Guardian, even having a single less child takes a significant environmental toll, one that’s equal to 58.6 tons of carbon emissions each year. And it’s not only fringe movements that are advocating for a childless or single-child life as a potential solution to climate change: For its part, the primary solution proposed by The Overpopulation Project is to “have fewer children.”
Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially in areas where reproductive education is sub-par and birth control is largely unavailable. Population control could also have a snowballing effect towards more widespread racism and class distinctions. What’s more, who should determine those who are “worthy” to have children? Where do abortion, religion, and morality fit into antinatalism and solving overpopulation?
The implications of antinatalism as a potential solution to overpopulation and climate change are complex and multi-faceted. What’s more, scientists and climate change activists are conflicted about the viability of having fewer children as a response to climate change.
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Regarding the Antinatalist Philosophy
Environmentalism is just one of the guiding tenets of antinatalism, which has roots in Buddhist teachings as well as those of Norwegian metaphysician Peter Wessel Zapffe and other philosophers. As human activity is the primary cause of climate change and environmental degradation, antinatalism postulates that the existence of fewer human beings has the potential to reverse those detrimental effects.
In developed countries at least, the principles of antinatalism are already being practiced, even if the bulk of those childless individuals aren’t formal advocates of the movement. Despite a rapidly growing population worldwide, birth rates have actually declined in developed nations in recent years. For example, the birth rate in England and Wales hit a record low in 2018, with a reported 11.1 live births per 1,000 people, a 3.2% decrease from the previous year.
There are a number of reasons that more and more young people are choosing not to have children, from the environmental costs to the financial. Having children is prohibitively expensive for many, especially as housing costs continue to skyrocket while wages remain relatively stagnant.
The decision to remain childless can also be an empowering choice for women, who have the opportunity to focus on the career in lieu of motherhood. In fact, we’ve seen an increase in women entering the workforce over the past few decades. Women now make up 56.8% of the total workforce, according to Washington State University, and are joining executive ranks in growing numbers.
At the Intersection of Poverty and Parenthood
Despite the moral implications of antinatalism, it’s difficult to deny that its reasoning is sound: After all, a 2016 NPR report determined that “slowing population growth could eliminate one-fifth to one-quarter of all the carbon emissions that need to be cut by midcentury to avoid that potentially catastrophic tipping point.” Slowing population growth may also be a key factor in improving the overall quality of life and reducing global poverty numbers.
For women in the workforce, access to reproductive health services is paramount to a fulfilling career and financial stability. When children are added to the mix, it’s often much more difficult to make ends meet. And it’s important to note that the threats of poverty and financial insecurity aren’t solely confined to developing nations and inner cities.
In fact, across the U.S., poverty has nearly reached epidemic proportions, even in suburban neighborhoods. The suburbs were once looked upon as a sign of middle-class prosperity and security, but our modern economic landscape paints a much more complex picture. More than 43 million Americans live in poverty, which equals 13.5% of the total population. Of those impoverished Americans, 14.5 million are children. Is overpopulation part of the reason behind such elevated numbers?
The Rise of Sustainability as a Lifestyle
For those who already have children, it’s still possible to reduce one’s individual carbon footprint and cultivate sustainability as a lifestyle. Start with the basics, such as reducing the consumption of natural resources and avoiding fast fashion and similar resource-heavy industries. Global citizens should also learn about the ways in which travel can negatively affect the environment and natural spaces, as much as our daily habits.
Unfortunately, our individual choices and habits make little difference in the scope of things, at least where capitalism is concerned. Unless massive changes are enacted via global policy, climate change remains an inevitable reality. At the very least, sustainable business practices are becoming more common, and green measures have been taken across all industries, from hospitality to engineering and beyond.
Changing our daily habits and searching for a job in sustainability may not be enough to stave off climate change, however, or even stifle the problem. Overpopulation really does seem to be the biggest preventable factor in the fight against climate change, but its potential solutions are accompanied by moral and philosophical implications that may be difficult for many to swallow.
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