Help Our Planet - Have Fewer Children

Paola discusses the sensitive issue of why she – along with experts – believe that having fewer children will save our planet.


I’m often asked: “What is the most high impact action an individual can do to reduce their environmental impact on the World?”

I find this a tough question to respond to, not because I don’t know the answer – there has been numerous research relating to the topic – but another answer relating to environmental impact is one hardly mentioned by schools or green organisations because of the sensitivity and privacy of the subject.

While managing climate change and sustainability issues are indeed answers, I believe the conversation ideally should start elsewhere: ending poverty, equal education, women’s rights, and access to birth control.

Yes, the single most impactful action a person can do for the planet is to have fewer children.

We, the Homo sapiens, are a global community of 7.6 billion, with a predicted rapid rise to 9.8 billion by 2050. Our population does not spread evenly. Higher birth rate is often skewed towards low-income societies, while stunted birth rate and ageing population are issues often found in more developed communities.

Humanity acts and calculates our success on infinite growth, constantly aiming for ever-increasing wealth, while lacking focus in even distribution of prosperity. This devastating issue is highlighted by an Oxfam report which state that our global wealth is concentrated in just eight billionaires, topped by Bill Gates in 2017, all have a combined wealth of 3.6 billion people – the poorest half of the World.

But there is only so much space and available resources on Earth. Our planet Earth is not expanding, so it’s clear that we live in a finite ecosystem. A book by the world-renowned Harvard University sociobiologist Edward O Wilson concludes that the constraints of Earth biosphere means that planet Earth can only sustain 10 billion of us under the most ideal circumstances, provided that fresh water supplies are used effectively and all the grains grown are exclusively to feed humans.

In plain terms, Earth at maximum efficiency can support our population growth until 2050, provided all of us turn to plant-based diet. By this point we must reach the “replacement level” of fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, the rate at which children are born to replace their parents and those who die young.

These are all global facts, but what does it mean in our own lives? For some, choosing to have fewer children is the answer. For others, it means adoption should be seen as an ideal viable alternative, if not the first. There are those who think that a woman’s choice to have or not to have a child should be respected instead of suppressed. The myth that a woman is incomplete without a child should be broken in our modern society. Female education and birth control is truly an important conversation to ensure our global prosperity, regardless of religions and beliefs.

One curious note is that according to Global Footprint Network, our current population uses not the resources of one, but approximately 1.5 ‘Earths’, resulting in Earth Overshoot Day. This year it fell on 2nd August 2017. This means humanity has used up our “yearly natural budget” of Earth resources in just eight months, and operating in overshoot for the rest of the year.

Clearly the matter of the environmental impact of human population is not so black and white, but without doubt directly related to our over-consumption of Earth’s resources. More on that in the next musing!


Image: Hong Kong in 2025 by Guzman Lozano via Flickr

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