Children and Climate Change
Here's a provocative article in The Nation by Madeline Ostrander on the difficult decision to have children in the face of climate change. Ostrander focuses on the tension between seeking the love of a child of one's own, and the fear of bringing a child into the world to face severe weather and attendant social unrest. Ostrander highlights the Conceivable Future project, a set of forums for people to talk openly about this difficult choice.
Here, however, I'd like to highlight the tension between personal choices and macro change.
Ostrander cites a 2009 report in which "statisticians at Oregon State University determined that giving birth to one more American 'adds about 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female.' Factoring in grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it multiplies her 'lifetime emissions' by a factor of nearly six."
In response, Ostrander makes an important point: "But it didn’t make sense, I thought, to filter the world’s most pressing environmental dilemma through the private choices of an individual woman. That analysis left out significant pieces of the puzzle. The average woman couldn’t, by herself, wrench billions of barrels of oil and tons of coal out of North American soil and sell them overseas, or stonewall policies that might have steered the US economy away from fossil fuels years ago."
Ostrander traces this tension between the personal and the macro to Paul and Anne Ehrlich's The Population Bomb (1968). But the story goes back much further. The very idea that population and survival are linked extends back to T. R. Malthus and his Essay on Population, first published in 1798. See other posts on Malthus through the tag below.
For more check out Robert J. Mayhew's Malthus: The Life and Legacies of an Untimely Prophet (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).