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Don't save children, save the world Add to ...

Vincent Ciaccio and his wife, Laura - both 29 - grew up passively assuming that they would have children one day. However, after the couple met in college and embarked on a life together, they realized they did not want to become parents, a decision informed in large part by environmental concerns.

While the Ciaccios would not describe themselves as hard-core environmentalists, they are both ethical vegetarians who eat locally grown food, drive a compact car and regulate their energy consumption.

"There are a lot of reasons to be vegetarian and a lot of those translate into reasons to be child-free - choices like not supporting clear-cutting the rain forests to raise cattle," says Mr. Ciaccio, who currently lives in Boston, where his wife is at law school. "Being child-free means we don't run the risk of having children who won't be vegetarians and undo all the good choices we've made."

To that end, Mr. Ciaccio underwent a vasectomy at the age of 23. His wife is now considering getting a tubal ligation at the age of 29 - which they describe as "a belt and suspenders measure."

And they are not the only ones. Mr. Ciaccio conducted a study of "child freedom" (or the choice to remain childless) for his master's thesis in psychology at Iona College, N.Y., a couple of years ago. He found that 12 per cent of the child-free people he surveyed named overpopulation and concern for the environment as the biggest motivators for skipping parenthood.

Still, Mr. Ciaccio has endured a lot of guff for his choice to be sterilized at such a young age. He points out that his decision was just as informed and irreversible as the decision to have children - one that is rarely questioned. But he says, "There is this societal idea that normal people have kids and that if you don't want kids, there must be something wrong with you."

This is rich, Mr. Ciaccio says, since, in his view, parents who threaten the sustainability of the planet have their own choices to answer for. "It's funny all those environmentalists with two or three children," he says. "I have an issue with the dishonesty of it, this situation in which people claim to be environmentally conscious but put the environment at risk in another way, but one that is socially acceptable."

The same goes for Third World adoption, the current fad among celebrities trying to improve their humanitarian image. While it may change an individual child's life for the better, there is an environmental trade-off. One cringes to think of the small metropolis of footprints Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have created with their well-publicized orphan-hoarding campaign.

Professor William Rees of the University of British Columbia is the co-inventor of footprint analysis and a pioneer in the study of population ecology. He has two adopted native Canadian children, and says he has seen many people in his field take a moral stance not to have children because the world is overpopulated.

From an environmental perspective, Mr. Rees says, the decision not to procreate has obvious merit. "The current rate of resource consumption and waste creation exceeds the capacity of our living system's ability to replace what we consume and assimilate what we produce," he says. "Is adding more people to the planet going to help this situation? Probably not."

Still, you could be shaking your head: When it comes to something as essential and natural as the human urge to reproduce, resource accounting is a fallacious approach. It doesn't take into account the kindness and love children bring to the world, nor the potential for future conservation and change.

Ask Severn Cullis-Suzuki. As the daughter of famed environmental crusader David Suzuki and co-editor of the recent book Notes from Canada's Young Activists: A Generation Stands up for Change, the 27-year-old knows first-hand the power that youngsters can wield in spurring environmental concern.

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