Monday, October 11, 2010

Over Population

The one thing- or maybe the main thing is more accurate to say- that causes me to pause when I think about adding to our family is over-population. I'm actually surprised that no one brought it up with all the of the "wanting more babies" talk that has been happening around here lately.

I have no problem at all with the Duggars. I think they seem like happy people that are making a choice that they believe is right for their family. They have the means to care for their huge brood, and their children seem like they will grow to be productive members of society. They are making choices for their family that are- in many ways- more responsible than most of us. For example, they don't have ANY debt; not their vehicles or their house or anything. Also, if I remember right, they built their (huge, yes) house themselves, using many environmentally friendly and sustainable choices.

The only hang up I have with them is when I consider our planet. She's only so big, and can only hold so many humans, and over-population is already rampant and devastating in 3rd world countries. China, for example, had to stipulate their famed "one child" policy for certain sects of their population, and while that policy has many negative and unethical aspects, it DID significantly reduce poverty.

I know of people that don't want any children, or no more than one child, for the specific reason of wanting to be responsible citizens of this planet. Most people that use over-population as a guideline when family planning would say that two is the upper limit- you replace yourself and your partner in the world, but don't actually ADD to the population. I even have a friend who wished for twins her 2nd pregnancy so that she could have 3 children without having to wrestle with this morality issue.

Since I already have three children, I am already over my quota. And adding one more makes me feel like an irresponsible steward to this earth. David is not called- like, AT ALL- to adopt a baby, so the only way we would be adding to our family at this point is by a pregnancy.

Obviously, if you've been reading here lately, you already know how I feel about another pregnancy. If David came home tonight and said he'd changed his mind, I would agree to another pregnancy/baby in a second. I mean, I think I would; recent confusion on the topic aside, of course.

However, the fact that I would have FOUR children would- and already does- nag at me a little. Or a lot, depending on the day. Since I already have three kids, please don't feel like I'm judging YOU in any way for having more than two, because I'm really not. This is just something that I weigh, over and over, for myself in my own life. I think having a 2-kid-maximum for environmental reasons is different too from the prolific 2-is-normal-everything-else-is-abnormal mindset Swistle pointed out. (Here in the comments section, if you're interested.)

I'm wondering- have any of you considered this when doing your own family planning?


Tess said...

This is interesting, because if you want to make it purely mathematical and consider "replacement", then you really have to consider the exponential nature of the future family "tree", which you have no control over.

I mean, you might more than replace you and David with your 4 children, but what if YOUR children don't have 2 each? Are you then absolved? Or what if you have only two, but those two have TEN each? Or what if one of your children invents an actual DECENT form of birth control, thus preventing millions of unplanned pregnancies?

I dunno. Obv I've taken this too far. I guess you can only worry about your own generation/choices, but this argument has always seemed a little bogus to me. FROM A MATHY PERSPECTIVE. Heh.

Marie Green said...

Tess- I think the hope is that you raise your own children with the same perspective about over-population, so that they too don't have more than 2.

My objective so far has been to try to find someone who is have 0 children and get "permission" to raise their two.

Jess said...

Yes and no. I know a lot of people are concerned about this. The issue is that it's a collective action problem. YOU adding one or two "extra" people to the world isn't really an issue until everyone else ALSO adds THEIR one or two extra people. So to me I guess wanting the family that you want outweighs concerns about having more than your fair share, so to speak, given the minimal impact. And the only real alternative is for everybody as a collective to decide to stop at two (max) for overpopulation purposes, or for all governments to implement China-like policies, and both of those seem unrealistic.

Here is something I wonder about the two-is-normal attitude we all have. (And of course, I say this as someone who is personally planning to have two kids. Because that seems like the right number for our family, personally. Though I would maaaaaaybe consider three.) What happens when it comes to extended families? Aren't we all used to, and don't most of us love having, giant families with aunts and uncles and cousins everywhere, so many that you have to draw straws for Christmas gifts because nobody could possibly afford a gift for every family member? And yet, family size has decreased significantly over the last couple generations. And that impacts extended families too. I've been thinking about this recently because I have one sibling and Torsten has none, and that means that Piglet will have precisely one aunt-and-uncle set, and only a couple of cousins, end of story. And how weird is that?!

Marie Green said...

Jess- I agree with the large extended families being fun! I am lucky in that my kids have 14 (!!) cousins on David's side (b/c he's one of eight kids). On my side, they only have 2 so far, but I have two younger siblings that are not yet married/settled down. My kids (both sides combined) have 8 uncles and 8 aunts, so far, with several not yet married!

Think about having grandkids too- if we all only have 2 kids, and one of them has 0 kids themselves, and the other has only 1 or 2, we'd only have 2 grandkids! Of course, the well-being of our planet is more important, but it IS weird to think about.

Sarah said...

Yes and no. There is a lot of variation on how many people this earth can hold. If you want to know how many people living the Standard Western Lifestyle, you'll get a much smaller number than if you calculate how many people the earth can sustain who are living a more traditional lifestyle.

Also, when you have your children in life makes a difference, too. Overall, if you have a baby at, say, 20, it will have a greater global impact than having a baby at 35. Generationally, there will be more people on the earth if we're living until we're 80 or 90 and introducing a new generation every 20 yrs, vs ever 30. So, sure, I have three kids, but I'll be LONG dead by the time my great-grandkids come along, assuming my kids don't have babies until they're 30 and my grandkids do the same.

There is a really great discussion in the book Depletion and Abundance by Sharon Astyk. She discusses the factors that go into family planning in a very interesting and, I think, fresh way. It's not just a numbers game and there are ways to put women in a position where they are even free to make real choices about family size. She herself has four sons. One of them is autistic. At one point she says that while she knows that her family size may not be ideal, she shudders to think what would happen to her special needs son if he didn't have this family to be his support after she's gone.

Family size is such a complex thing. I could really go on about this for hours. I'll spare you this time! :)

Swistle said...

I haven't, because I'm super-aware of how tiny my own single family's impact is. I have that same feeling about the Duggars: it's not like EVERYONE is having 19 kids, it's just their one family, so the impact is so close to zero, it may as well be zero. And many, many people have zero children, either because they never marry or because they marry but don't have children because of choice or infertility. AND, I remember reading that the entire population of the U.S. could comfortably fit into Texas, so that too influences me, despite the fact I've never checked to see if it's even TRUE.

Erica said...

This is Gerald's leading argument against a third child. It was also his argument against a second child.

It's up there on my list of reasons. (First reason being I could not mentally handle another child. Two is MY personal maximum.) I don't necessarily think that Very Large families are the main problem with population. We're also living longer and not taking care of our planet the way we ought to.

I know my particular family is a drop in the bucket, population-wise, but enough drops and you get a full bucket.

Bethsix said...

The over-population argument always bugged me, and I could never articulate why until I found this article:

We have four children, but my husband is the only child of an only child. I have just one half-sibling, and he probably will not have children. I don't know what this means for us.

I'm aware of the bias people have against my "large" family because of the over-population issue, but I try not to care.

Kelsey said...

I don't think my comment fits this discussion, exactly, but I'm going back to the two-is-"normal" mentality. I come from a huge extended family - I actually have 37 first cousins (my youngest uncle and aunt have seven children, one younger than my son). My kids will be lucky to have 6 first cousins. So I feel like it is SO STRANGE for us to only have two kids. In a weird way it is one of the main things that bothers me about being told (by doctors) not to have more children. I feel like we've fallen short somehow.

Incidentally, my husband has only six first cousins, each in pairs of siblings, and doesn't think of having two children as being a small family.

I do not think of the overpopulation factor because I do figure a lot of it comes out in the wash, based on people who don't have children, have only one, etc. I have no scientific evidence to back this up.

d e v a n said...

Basically, I didn't think of this issue at all when we were family planning. (And I consider myself pretty green/crunchy.)

I may have 4 kids, but lots of people have none. I don't know... it's just not something I considered a valid argument.

Erin said...

YES. I think about this DAILY. Perhaps, on certain days when a fourth baby is heavy on my mind, I think about it HOURLY.

I think about it a lot, at any rate.

I don't know what to say beyond this. I feel like it's a genuine concern, given everything we know at this point in time about where we're headed as a global society.

But I want another. And all my collective animal instincts are compelling me to have another.

Which all sounds silly. But in fact it is NOT silly. It's real. It's consequential.

I just don't know. I wish I were more coherent on the topic. It's really very hard to talk about.

momma on the run said...

No... we didn't consider it. Maybe that's because only 1 of our 5 pregnancies was 'planned'. :) Not that our other children weren't wanted and loved, we just had a very laissez faire attitude toward family planning. I do think about it sometimes now that we have a 'large' family by today's societal standards. But I have a brother who has decided not to have children, and both my husband and I have a sister that will likely remain childless, so I figure I can count theirs. :) If it weren't for monetary and other practical concerns (like being able to put everyone in a seatbelt, and being able to juggle all the demands) I would probably have more.

StephLove said...

Yes, this was a factor in our deciding to have only two children. It seems an important issue to me, but it's also easy for me to say because I never had a strong desire for a third (I did flirt with the idea for a while). My sister is planning to adopt rather than have any bio kids for this reason.

I'm averse, though, to telling other people how many children they ought to have. Once, when I was young and foolish, I did, and I still regret having said anything.

Joe said...

i think about this a lot. i think there are too many people on this planet already. i think it is worse when nations that tend to use more resources have more children (a previous commenter linked to a pdf that among other things explained that poor people in poor nations do not have as serious an environmental impact as people in more consumer societies). likewise if a child is likely to grow up without enough resources that is tragic as well. certainly there are some people who shouldn't have children as they would abuse them; some parents have more children than they are able to adequately care for. if you don't want to adopt, couldn't you also volunteer with kids more, take a bigger part in your children's groups and organizations. spend more time with your extended family and that of your friends. the "it takes a village" idea gets a lot of flack, but it really does result in a healthier, more caring group. wikipedia article:

Caitlin said...

This is so fascinating to me. And Tess, whoa! I never thought about it like that, but I do agree.

My husband and I do not have children, and are not sure that we will. If we had to make the Final Decision today, I think we'd both say no, no kids for us. There are many many reasons for this, and the impact on our planet is one of them. It's something I think about quite a bit. He recently mentioned the 'well, if you only have two, you're just replacing yourselves' argument. It never quite sat right with me and I couldn't figure out why -- Tess your take on it might be it!

What I find really interesting here is that many of these comments say things like 'well, I have kids, but I know my impact doesn't matter because of X'. And I read these and nodded along and thought, well yes! That makes sense! That example balances out! And so does that example!

And then I realized well...but over population IS a problem. Our planet is struggling to hold all these people and care for them adequately (And yes, part of it is that we should treat the planet better -- but we don't. And we can't guarantee that any of our kids or our kids' kids will.)
So if we can't point to ourselves, or even to people like the Duggars, then where IS the problem? I'm not really being facetious here -- I am struggling with this. Where is the issue? Where and how is our planet getting overpopulated? I would love to see some numbers or statistics.
(Re: The Duggars: if all of their kids go out and have several kids, and then THOSE kids have several kids...yikes. And yet, I think if you ARE going to have a herd of children, you certainly ought to do it the way that they do it and I really don't have a problem with them. And YET. Our planet has problems! So...Ahhhh!) Point being, I guess, that all of our choices do have consequences. As Erica said, 'enough drops and you get a full bucket'.

It's hard for me to balance some of my animal instincts in this regard against the way our world currently is. When I think about having kids, I realize for us it probably doesn't make sense (for a whole host of reasons). And then I sometimes get momentary Baby Rabies. It passes, but it happens. I kind of feel the same way about it as I do about losing weight (I realize this is dangerous territory, but bear with me): By today's standards I am 'supposed' to be slender to be 'healthy', and yet at times it feels SO DANG HARD because we have so much more food available to us and my body wants it -- because my animal instincts (survival! eat the food that is currently available! the food may not always be there!) have not caught up with our industrial ways. In my more animalistic moments, the urge for a baby is so strong. Then when I try to apply the idea of a baby to my life, it doesn't fit.

Sigh. It's so complicated. Sorry for the rambling.

Seester said...

You can have my 2 1/2 kids if you buy me my Pathfinder and picket fence.