Jerry Steinberg lives with his wife on a leafy family-friendly street in Vancouver. All very nice - except on garbage day, when the 62-year-old says he's disgusted by what he sees. "These families with children put out four or five cans of garbage and no recycling bin," he complains.
As for parents who are environmentally conscious? The "founding non-father" of No Kidding - an international organization for people who choose to be childless - says he believes that once you're a breeder, the damage is done. "I think environmentalists with children are hypocrites," he says. "It's like saying, 'I don't smoke but bring me another cigarette.' " An extreme view, perhaps - but one that is being taken up by a growing number of eco-warriors in their fertile years. As concerns over the dwindling size of the polar ice cap and the world's fish supply continue to mount, these environmentalists are putting their carbon-offset credits where their mouths are and stocking up on birth control.
"Every living being on this planet consumes resources and creates pollution, whether it's a worm, rabbit or a human being. And no one consumes and pollutes as well as humans do," Mr. Steinberg says. "Rabbits don't drive cars. Worms don't throw garbage in the landfill. The fewer humans, the more we're doing to save the planet."
Sounds a bit crazy, doesn't it? But it's one of the reasons Mr. Steinberg and his wife have remained "child-free," as they call it. And making the decision to deny one's own biological urge in order to make the world a better place for other people's children is a life choice that is gaining ground among serious environmental doom-and-gloomers.
In a society that holds up childbirth and parenting as the moral gold standard, the idea that procreation might be an irresponsible environmental choice is not a popular one - even among environmentalists.
Indeed, the issue of global population control and reproductive rights remains a taboo talking point in debates about sustainability. While most people are quite happy to talk about organic hemp baby clothing and the joys of compost, few are willing to contemplate the idea that our children are killing the planet.
But maybe they are. Just look at the numbers.
According to recent statistics compiled by the Global Footprint Network in Oakland, Calif., the average Canadian's environmental footprint - which measures the resources needed to sustain the average human based on their consumption - is roughly equal to that of 15 people in Bangladesh. That's 75 Bangladeshis for a typical Canadian family of five.
If you cart your kids around in a gasaholic minivan or SUV, you can effectively up that number by three Bangladeshis. Those over-packaged, non-local foods the little ones love to scarf down at every meal? Add a few more Bangladeshi footprints around the fire. Hockey lessons? Family vacations? Air travel? The cottage, the cabin and the ski chalet?
They don't say it takes a village for nothing.
The average Canadian probably wouldn't think twice about the environmental impact of having a couple of kids. But would you think twice about raising a Third World village? Because environmentally speaking, if you have children, you probably already are.
Even the World Health Organization's most moderate population predictions point out that, at the current population and consumption growth rates, in 50 years we will need twice the Earth's resources to survive as a species.
Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of the Global Footprint Network, says that, while many environmental groups shy away from the subject of population control, "to not look at the demographic challenges of the impending environmental problem is essentially a crime against humanity."
In the 20th century, the global population grew to 6.1 billion from 1.6 billion, causing a 12-fold increase in carbon-dioxide emissions, according to a report from the UN Population Fund. As Albert Kaufman, founder of the Portland, Ore., chapter of Population Connection, recently told the online forum Sustainable Life: "Most people would rather focus on the symptoms - pollution, sprawl, species loss. But if we don't bring the number of people down, these are just stop-gap measures."Report Typo/Error