Skip kids, save the planet? An email from Dr. Mora

Recently I read this article in the New York Times, where scientists predict that by 2047, our coldest years may be warmer than the hottest years in the past, which would lead to a host of serious environmental problems.

Chilling. Freaky. Deeply disturbing. Maddening. Disheartening.

So I emailed one of the researchers from the article, Dr. Camilo Mora, who specializes in global conservation and threats to biodiversity. And I asked him: If there was one thing I could do to help, what should it be?

Skip parenthood, save the planet?

Much to my surprise, Dr. Mora actually responded. Within 10 minutes: (!)

Some how, in a way I do not know yet, we need to make people aware of how serious this problem is and for them to take action. If you find out this way, please let me know.



Okay. I’ll get working on that, but in the mean time, I wondered, what actually is, in his opinion, the most pressing issue of our time? He replied again:

I think overpopulation. We need to make people understand that we need to have less children. Everything else will be hopeless. I doubt we will ever give the comfort of our lives over climate change, so the alternative is lets convince people to have less children.

Dr. Mora also shared one of his recent, unpublished papers (and I was getting ridiculously school-girl giddy by this point). I skimmed through, but already knew I agreed with Dr. Mora’s theory.

It makes sense—more people = higher demand for food and water, increased carbon emissions, declining natural resources, etc. etc. The earth’s decreasing ‘supply’ simply cannot meet humanity’s growing ‘demand.’

This is one way we can truly make a massive difference. It’s bigger than paper towels, people. Maybe we’re already on our way to smaller families? Studies say especially smart women aren’t reproducing, fancy that.

Thoughts? Is having no kids or maybe just one something you would be willing to do? On Dr. Mora’s initial response, how do you think we can increase awareness of the need to honestly reduce our environmental impact and spark true action?

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  1. Sandra

    I have zero children so I’ve contributed in my own little way, but not intentionally for that reason. I imagine that would be a struggle for many, but limiting to one would surely help.

    It’s not easy to answer your second question. We do get lost in the paper towels, don’t we? I think we each need to try to do our piece and educate and inform as you are doing here. Collectively, we can make a difference but we have to keep with it and not lose heart.

  2. Michael

    Great Post! If I were still teaching, I would argue the following just to play devil’s advocate.

    It is admirable that a student project was published. Still, I think it is more of an academic exercise than a tool for change. The paper and Dr. Mora seem to forego adaptation strategies and they only concentrate on mitigation. To me this is a “deep ecology” viewpoint. The net result is a perspective on how the world should work, according to them – not a perspective on how they think the world works. Technology, people, and social/political organizations become mere effects under this viewpoint. Some critics might even classify it as being anti-humanity. In my experience, the most successful environmental activists avoid the deep ecology viewpoint if their main goal is to spark true action in changing the way people live.

    As Eric Hoffer wrote, “Fear of the future causes us to lean against and cling to the present, while faith in the future renders us receptive to change.” I think it is disingenuous of Dr. Mora to say people will not give up comfort, even with the threat of scary temperature changes. I believe the real issue is that it is hard for people to change their ways without the prospect of sudden and spectacular change in their conditions of life. It is human nature.

    As for having less kids, the idea of overpopulation and our limited resources has been a subject of controversy since Thomas Malthus wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798. Malthus wrote:

    “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man… Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison to the second…. By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.”

    Garret Hardin’s 1968 essay, The Tragedy of the Commons paints a better picture of population, resources, and the environment in our current day. I highly recommend reading it! Then, if you are feeling uber nerdy, maybe read Elinor Ostrom’s 2009 Nobel Prize winning follow-up to the Tragedy of the Commons. She dissects the commons through economic analysis.

    • athriftyhippie

      Michael, I’m not sure what to say – did you read Dr. Mora’s paper? It wasn’t student work; and it hasn’t been published yet. So I’m wondering if maybe you read something else. I would share it, but Dr. Mora requested I not do so until it is officially published. But thanks for sharing!

      • Michael

        lol. It is ok. As an introvert who lives in his head, I was using language defined in env. literature and academia, but not in the public conscience. In short – I didn’t have my morning coffee and went on a rant. Sorry. =(

        I read your post, the NY Times article you linked to, and the paper that is linked within the NY Times, which is the subject of the article. That paper was the result of a class project.

  3. Brittany

    To me, it makes sense! Boyfriend and I have already decided we are not having kids and many friends and people we know have decided the same thing. There are enough other people having kids that we don’t feel the need to have them and if by some crazy chance in the future I decided I *NEED* a child, we’ll adopt.

    • athriftyhippie

      Brittany, thank you for sharing. I definitely see more people deciding not to have children. I would never judge someone for wanting kids, but I think it’s great you two are following what you want instead of the status quo. Adoption is always a great option, as well as fostering. :) xo

  4. M

    some good thoughts –something my husband and i have thought about a lot. i do want to point out that “smart” women not having children is likely due to the simple fact that the more years spent in school = more career-driven = (usually) more children. i would take this a step further and say how important it is to adopt or provide foster care. the kids that ARE already here need a lot of love and care, and there are millions of them around the world without families. sometimes i feel a responsibility to love abandoned children–they are our next generation, after all. i would never judge someone for having their own children, though, and i have always, always wanted to have AT LEAST one of my own, literally for as long as i can remember.

    • athriftyhippie

      M, I think you meant more career driven = usually LESS children. I wholly agree that adoption and especially fostering is very needed. And no judgement here – thank you for sharing!

  5. livingsimplyfree

    I came from a history of large families. I was the oldest of six children. My siblings and I drastically reduced the number of children born. Between the six of us we have only brought into the world 6 children. If I were to make the decision today I would not have children but for many reasons. The first would be over population, but also the consequences we are seeing from climate change, the GM foods, the leaking nuclear plant in Japan. etc. I just don’t see a healthy or safe future for the children being born today.

    I do believe that wanting a child or even two is fine and would not judge anyone who decided to have children today, both my adult children have decided to become parents. There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the problems by living in smaller homes, growing our own food, replacing disposable products with reusable etc. I see too much waste around me, if that problem was fixed the population wouldn’t be the first thing pointed to.

    That said, Jeb Bush, announced the US needs more immigrants from Mexico move here as they tend to have more children which we need for the economy. Until that mindset of constant growth changes we will be in a world of trouble.

    • athriftyhippie

      Lois, I can totally relate to your feelings of fear for children being born today. If only we could live in that mindset – that our actions today will be felt by many future generations – maybe we could turn things around. Oh, this all certainly feels overwhelming, doesn’t it? Thanks for sharing. Let me know if you figure out how to save the planet! ;) xo

      • livingsimplyfree

        I just heard some of the scariest news ever yesterday. The subject of Japan’s damaged nuclear plant, but then a comment was slipped in that the plants in the US are so old, beyond the life expectancy they were built with, that they are ALL leaking radiation. I need to look into this more, but it added a new layer of fear for our youth. It is overwhelming, I need to keep it balanced so I don’t become consumed with concern for those I love so much.

        As for sharing the planet? It wouldn’t be that hard. The hard part would be getting everyone on the same page to work together to do it.;-(

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