Going “green”? Changing your light bulbs and recycling your cardboard? Walking more, driving less? Reusable bags at the grocery store? All fine, except there’s one way to take going “green” to a higher level: have fewer children.
Paul Murtaugh (no relation), a researcher with Oregon State University, recently released his scientific report “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals.” The title says it all. Using a fairly navigable mathematical formula, Murtaugh was able to calculate the carbon legacy a child imparts on his or her parents.
The goal of the study was “to quantify the consequences of the childbearing decisions of an individual” and how it impacts the planet. In other words, how does your choice to reproduce affect the environment in the long run? At last, somebody was bold enough to discuss this issue publicly.
While Murtaugh agrees certain lifestyle changes are vital for the success of the “green” movement, he argues that one less kid gobbling up resources is a major plus for Mother Earth. In his model, Murtaugh concluded that each new American baby adds nearly 9,441 metric tons (one metric ton equals 2,205 pounds) to a parent’s carbon legacy. “Ignoring the consequences of reproduction can lead to serious underestimation of an individual’s long-term impact on the global environment,” Murtaugh wrote.
Furthermore, Murtaugh found that the long-term environmental impact a Chinese child has on the planet is one-fifth the impact of a child born in the United States based on consumption patterns.
Murtaugh’s findings aren’t a major revelation, but they are nonetheless important on several levels. We need to begin the ongoing dialogue on population growth and how it affects our natural resources. Why is it that the topic of bearing children is largely absent from “green” conversations? Reproduction is a touchy subject, yet it would behoove us to reconsider our approach. We know our resources are finite, that more mouths to feed means more fuel and energy consumed. So in light of Murtaugh’s observations, it’s safe to think of having fewer children as the pinnacle of going “green.”
I know we as Americans are entitled to breed as often as we like. It’s our right to extend our legacy, to secure a lasting, living impression. We seem to forget, however, that reproducing is no longer a biological imperative, that reproduction is a choice. Reckless breeding isn’t relevant anymore.
As expected, Murtaugh’s findings have been less than favorable in certain crowds. From being called a eugenic Nazi to a paranoid Malthusian, Murtaugh’s been on the receiving end of harsh criticism. Many people don’t want a scientist telling them how to live (which he isn’t doing, by the way). Irrational behavior only stalls our forward movement, and in this case it’s worthy to consider Murtaugh’s findings before seeing red and brushing this study aside.
It’s important to note that Murtaugh in no way promotes government regulations on reproduction rights. In a country where our freedoms are eroding hastily, the right to reproduce remains a top priority. But just because we’re allowed to have 16 kids doesn’t mean we should. Murtaugh is only hoping we’ll reflect on the environmental consequences of our reproduction choices.
Me? I’m living just fine without babies and plan to keep it that way for some time.
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