No one wants their kids to grow up to become criminals. But for some, their crime is simply existing.
Children are some of the greatest blessings in life. They teach you that the world doesn’t revolve around you, they bring endless joy and opportunities for character development, and they give us a little glimpse of how God sees His children.
But what if having children is actually immoral? That’s the argument one research scholar at the Berman Institute for Bioethics made in a recent opinion piece for NBC.
Travis Rieder argues that having children is unethical because it contributes to the destruction of earth’s environment. According to him, the amount of greenhouse gas a child will emit over his or her lifetime is staggering. Having multiple children means doubling, tripling, and quadrupling that impact.
He goes so far as to compare his own daughter to a murderer:
“If I release a murderer from prison, knowing full well that he intends to kill innocent people, then I bear some responsibility for these deaths…Something similar is true, I think, when it comes to having children: Once my daughter is an autonomous agent, she will be responsible for her emissions. But that doesn’t negate my responsibility.”
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a quote.
Look, the argument that it’s immoral to have children depends on several big assumptions. First, it assumes that the effects of climate change will be as serious as forecasters say. That’s a tough sell, given the long history of failed environmental disaster predictions.
In 1970, on the first annual Earth Day, Life Magazine prophesied that by 1985, air pollution would usher in a new ice age. That same year, Dillon Ripley, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, wrote that in 25 years, 75 to 80 percent of all animal species would go extinct. And Paul Ehrlich, Stanford professor and author of “The Population Bomb,” predicted that 100 to 200 million people per year would be starving to death by 1980, and that England would not exist by the year 2000.
These kinds of predictions have a tendency not to pan out. Our understanding of nature is patchy at best. Some humility is in order. This is especially true given the fact that many demographers expect world population to level off or even decrease in the near future.
But Rieder’s argument makes another assumption: that humans are the problem, not the solution.
Doomsday prognostications are often based on the unstated belief that people are the problem—consumers of resources who reproduce and will eventually max out our planet’s capacity to carry them. But in reality humans do much more than just consume. They innovate, they come up with new energy sources, they improve technology. That’s the primary reason none of these dire predictions have come true.
The expected food shortage was averted by breakthroughs in agriculture. Today, not only are we not witnessing mass starvation, but extreme poverty is at an all-time low.
The technologies that made this possible were discovered, in a very literal sense, because someone had a baby. Each new person is a new mind, with potential to unlock new solutions. You never know which child will be the engineer or physicist who discovers the fuel that reverses greenhouse emissions.
At work here are two fundamentally different worldviews. For Christians, people are the pinnacle and purpose of creation. We alone bear the likeness of a Creator Who said not only, “be fruitful and multiply,” but also “let the little children come to me.”
On Twitter last week, Matthew Lee Anderson quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who said of Rieder’s brand of alarmism, “A point of view…which considers fertility as an evil cannot be allowed to spread without contradiction.”
He’s right. A worldview that sees children as the problem may not last to see its predictions fail. Ironically, the only species radical environmentalists are likely to drive to extinction is themselves.