There’s a ‘dirty little’ secret that’s now coming to a green light in discussions around the sustainability cooler these days. Children, it turns out, do not guarantee happiness. In fact, the benefits of going childless are actually well documented, and in lieu of the impact of unfettered population growth on the planet, many notable environmentalists are touting the eco-sexy choice to not breed at all. They even have a name: GINKs as is Green Inclined, No Kids. Making love: Great for you and the planet. Making babies: Not so much… In her groundbreaking 2010 blog, “Say it loud: I’m childfree and I’m proud”, Grist writer Lisa Hymas (who we’ve interviewed on Green Prophet) is credited with coining the GINK manifesto. Hymas’ decisive ode to the importance of conscious choice documents the very real benefits of foregoing motherhood, beyond financial relief and increased levels of happiness.
“Time and emotional energy to invest in friendships and a romantic partnership. Space to focus on a career or education or avocation. Uninterrupted “grown-up” conversations. Travel that’s truly impulsive or leisurely or adventurous (and never involves zoos). Unpremeditated Saturday nights on the town and Sunday brunches out. Opportunities for political or community engagement. Stretches of quiet for reading or writing or relaxing. A non-child-proofed, non-toy-strewn, non-goldfish-cracker-crumb-riddled home. Eight peaceful, uninterrupted hours of sleep a night. All without any guilt that one should be spending more quality time with the kid.”
Stefanie Iris Weiss, author of the seminal book, Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make your Love Life Sustainable (2010), discusses the very real issues of sustainable population management in her book as well. She admits it’s a topic that makes folks squeamish, but she doesn’t step back from trumpeting the GINK horn from the environmental point of view. In a Huffington Post blog that generated hundreds of responses, she explained:
“Once I fully wrapped my brain around the relationship of overpopulation to climate change, especially in the West, I made a big decision: I won’t bring more kids into the world. I learned that even if I spent the rest of my life recycling, having even one child would increase my carbon legacy by 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide. I still crawl around on the floor with toddlers when given the chance, and go ga-ga for goo-goos, but my uterus is officially closed for business. I’ll be adopting kids when the time is right.”
Why is this topic so audacious? According to both authors, their decision to close their uterus factories down is often met with pity, outrage or social stigmatizing. Going childless is a choice that makes sense on many levels, not the least of which, ironically, is the survivability of our species in a crowded planet. Estimates are that humans will hit 9 billion mark by the year 2050 at current population growth rates; but even as our numbers grow, so too are the rates of hunger and concern for adequate food production globally.
This information is particularly ominous to advocates for female reproductive health who point out that our sovereignty as women is threatened by reduced funding for family planning. And in the Middle East, a region at odds with a slight global trend downwards in number of children per family, the population growth problem is additionally worrisome. In part, this is because in communities that emphasize a women’s value based on the number of children (particularly boys) she produces, certain attitudes perpetuate the justifications for larger families despite the evidence to the contrary.
For example, Population Matters, an international advocacy group for sustainable populations, argues that unfettered procreation is bad for the planet. “Some 80 million unplanned pregnancies a year might be prevented or postponed by allowing full access to family planning worldwide,” they assert on their site. “With so many of the world’s current population aged under 23 – a Youthquake – population growth has an inbuilt momentum which will be hard to stop.”
Contributing to this challenge is that many communities, agencies and governments share a vision of that, “the Earth can support another 2.4 billion people, with all enjoying a ‘sustainable’ standard of living.” Whereas, “the uncomfortable truth is that the impact on Earth’s biosphere of more than 9 billion people…could be fatal for the planet in terms of greenhouse gas emissions alone.”
Weiss and other self-declared GINKS make a compelling case for adoption as an option. And they are vocal in their support for parents the world wide doing the hard work of child rearing. Theirs is a holistic and selfless proposition.
“Imagine, for a moment, if the option of not having kids were talked about in home economics or health classes in high school, just like everything else,” Weiss writes. “If all our children were truly conscious decisions, perhaps we’d have a much happier, psychologically healthier world. And that’s not even counting what reducing the population would do for Planet Earth — making all our lives, the ones we’re living right now, safer from the ravages of climate change.”
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