More Than Two Children = “Environmentally Irresponsible”?

Joe Veix

Thinking about addressing overpopulation as a critical environmental issue is helpful to the argument for reproductive rights.

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Rewire’s new blogger, Joe Veix! Joe is joined by three other young bloggers – Micah Steffes, Kathleen Reeves, and Elisabeth Garber-Paul –  each of whom will offer their perspectives in our Real Time Blog every week.

On Sunday, Jonathon Porritt, chairman of England’s Sustainable Development Commission, said that couples who have more than two children are environmentally “irresponsible.” The issue of overpopulation is loaded and complex, and puts the well-being of human existence at stake. Our environmental footprints are already large, even for the most sustainable of us, and having children further eats up our dwindling natural resources.

Mentioning overpopulation forces us to think of possible solutions, some of which are anti-choice and anti-democratic. I’m talking here about laws that limit our population growth, similar to the ways in which China limits its citizens to having just one child per family. It gets more complicated when we consider the reasons why people procreate, and the vast differences between procreating in developed countries versus procreating in developing countries (in many developing nations adults have children as an insurance policy of sorts, as the children take care of their parents as they age). To demand that less developed countries simply have fewer children without considering the negative effects on their lives is deeply unfair and misguided. 

The broad solution to the problem, without even getting into all of the aforementioned complexities of the subject, is to first support basic human rights. If people are living better worldwide, the need for having more than two children is decreased. Included in any consideration of human rights, is the need for women to occupy an equal place in their respective societies, with control of their reproductive health – and this includes unrestricted access to contraceptives.

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How does this affect the United States?

Ultimately, if Obama’s administration is serious about helping the environment, it means they must address the issue of overpopulation. If they are to do so, it means they must engage the country in a dialogue about both human rights and reproductive rights. The time is right, too, with overwhelming national support and statistics suggesting that birthrates are already on the decline, as is typical during recessions. If we think of the issue of overpopulation from this perspective, we have yet another great argument for reproductive rights: To help the environment.

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