Friday, August 08, 2008


This is still theoretical for some years yet. But, given that:

- the environment is being degraded by a growing human population, and giving birth to another human increases that trend

- I'm not so arrogant as to believe that a human Jeff and I raise will be superior to anybody else's child

- adopting healthy children from America is fairly difficult and expensive

- I'm terrified of being stuck at home for years with a child who isn't physically or developmentally able to be alone

- If we adopt a child from the third world, we're vastly multiplying the child's effect on the environment

- If we adopt a child from the third world, we're vastly improving the child's standard of living

- I give virtually all my income to international development

- If I'm raising children in the first world, a lot of my income will go to them, leaving a lot less to help people in the third world

Is it ethical for me/us to have children?


dg said...

The figure you linked shows that the low end of the UN projection has fertility below replacement at 2050, with a peak population around 7.5 billion. The longer range UN projections (large PDF) have world population at 5.5B and falling in 2100 with the low-fertility model, or stabilized at 9B with the midrange model. Even in the high-fertility model (14B and rising), the growth rate is well below the current value.

So, while it's true that the global population is growing right now, the growth rate is decelerating, and I think it's likely to be zero or negative within the century. As wealth increases, so does access to birth control, and more importantly desire for children declines. Some of your other reservations illustrate why: having children (birthed or adopted) is risky and costly. In postindustrial economies there aren't any material rewards to compensate, and many people aren't so sure about the emotional rewards either.

Anyway, whatever the derivatives of population are, an individual decision to give birth increases them, and does have the various marginal consequences you're concerned about. I think the essential ethical point is not whether your child would be "superior to anybody else's child" - the influence of your childbirthing decisions on anyone else's is negligible. The real question is: would your child's life bring more expected good than expected harm into the world? It would hardly be arrogant of you to decide someday that it would; most lives do, don't you think? Also, your family would be darn cute.

Julia said...

Re. your first points: Interesting. I'm reading the UN report. Even if population growth slows down or stops quite soon, 9B of us will be much harder on the planet than 6B unless we get our act together a lot faster than I think we will. And I'm not nearly as sure as you that the average human has a net positive influence.

Re. your last point: I agree. My sister did not make this whole dilemma easier by pointing out, "I notice that Jeff has, you know, curly Jewish hair. And I thought, um, no offense, but I hope your kids get Jeff's hair! You could have babies with curly Jewish hair!"