With human activity disrupting the climate, do we have a moral imperative not to have children, or to have only one child? Bioethicist Travis Rieder dares to explore this bold question with sensitivity and scientific rigor.

Rieder shares his logic in the short book, Toward a Small Family Ethic: How Overpopulation and Climate Change are Affecting the Morality of Procreation. It starts with the fact that deciding not to have one child is over 20 times more effective at reducing carbon footprint than a lifetime doing the six most common “green” activities.

In part one of this two-part 2017 conversation, we unpack the logic, and address the sensitivities of even making suggestions about what we do in the bedroom. Travis Rieder is Assistant Director for Education Initiatives and a Research Scholar at the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University.

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6 Comments

  1. Morality is, I’m sad to say, not something that everyone can agree on. Oh, everyone thinks they know “the” moral position but “the” is often different. Erdogan has come out squarely with religious/moral edicts against contraception,
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36413097
    At the same time, he cannot provide for the existing population, which streams into other nations. By my ecological analysis this is an act of aggression. It undermines any hope of a sane population policy in those receiving nations.

    Morality is trumped by ecology.

  2. I don’t know, Brian. So far, science has proven not to be sufficient to inspire sustainable behavior on its own. Might the intergenerational golden rule be of some help here?

  3. First of all, I am an only child, and have one child. There are many benefits to being an only child to both the child and the family. In light of species extinctions, climate change and all the other problems that have overpopulation at their root, we struggled a long time about having even one child. We offset our decision with donations to non-profits dealing with overpopulation. When you do the math, there is simply no alternative to one child maximum sized families that does not end in disaster for our planet and all life on it. The most loving gift we can give to any child, whether our own or someone els’s, is to not have another.

    • Craig, thanks for your comment, the work you do, and your support of non-profits working on this issue. I’m pretty partial to World Population Balance, GrowthBusters and Center for Biological Diversity because of their honesty about the subject.

      Your thinking is similar to mine. I have yet to figure out why we’re outliers on this, but we are. I’m glad Travis Rieder is putting some needed sunshine on this reasoning.

  4. This is outstanding and I have been sharing it. Thanks for it.

    As with recycling, non-natalism, and other choices, do we have a moral obligation not to consume unnecessary products of nonhuman animal suffering?

    http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/about/the-six-principles-of-the-abolitionist-approach-to-animal-rights/

  5. I feel like I’m on a cruise ship and I can see through the window into the bridge, and I see the captain and crew who are supposed to be steering the ship are all fighting and locked in a death grip and aren’t going to let go until everyone on it are dead. And wouldn’t you know it, they’ve locked the door to the bridge so that after they’re all dead the ship will be left to drift helplessly on its own like some kind of ghost ship, forever and ever. All I hope is that all the bars on the ship are really well stocked. If so, this could turn out to be the best cruise I’ve ever been on.

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