Considering Climate Change in Family Planning

TAIWAN

I haven’t written anything in this blog since March 31 – essentially since the global pandemic started to impact the United States. In all of this, my husband and I turned our attention to a more important undertaking – growing our family. We’re working with Holt International to adopt a child from Taiwan! It’s been unending paperwork, phone calls, and background checks but we are hoping to be able to travel to Taiwan and bring our child home by December, 2021.

Taiwan has a complex relationship with China. The Republic of China (RoC) (Taiwan) is not to be confused with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Today the PRC controls mainland China and the RoC control Taiwan. Today, the official stance of mainland China is that they still own Taiwan. But the Taiwanese government and locals will tell you otherwise. Free speech and democracy in RoC-ruled Taiwan make the relationship more contentious as these things are stifled in China.
Taiwan is densely populated – that’s because 50% of the island is covered in forest and therefore uninhabited. In fact, 90% of the population lives along a strip of land along the east coast!

We initially looked into domestic adoption, but for a variety of reasons, it was not a fit for us. So, we researched international programs. We were initially hesitant because of the white-savior complex that often pervades international adoption (and to be honest, we’re still grappling with the social impacts of trans-racial adoptions). But, awareness is the first step, and so we decided to move forward with this in mind.

There were many programs that we weren’t qualified for (South Korea, for example, requires a couple to be married for 5 years – we’ve only been married for 2). But we were qualified for the Taiwan program and impressed by the Taiwanese orphanage we would be working with. Additionally, unlike many other countries, the children up for adoption in Taiwan generally don’t have significant medical needs – something that we determined we weren’t financially or emotionally ready for.

So, we chose Taiwan!

And we’ve been diving in head-first learning about the country and culture to make sure we can celebrate it fully with our kid.

A night market in Taipei, Taiwan

I’m not only sharing our good news, but I also wanted to write about how and why we came to this decision to adopt instead of having biological children.

The decision to have children is extremely personal and individual and no two decisions will look exactly the same. For us, adoption was a great way to grow our family, while still being rooted in our values of caring for the planet. There are so many children in need a loving home – we thought we could be good parents for a child who is already sharing our world.

I also don’t care about being pregnant – some women don’t want to miss out on this life experience, which is completely understandable. And passing along our genes or having a baby that looks like us isn’t a priority for Ty and I, which isn’t true for everyone (can’t deny biology!). These are just a few of the factors that turned us toward adoption.

POPULATION REDUCTION TO REDUCE CARBON EMISSIONS

I started researching and discovered that having children heavily impacts the environment, much more than I thought. This is because humans need resources – food, water, energy, land – and we all produce carbon. With more people, additional habitat will be lost for wild species, our soils will erode more quickly, more forests will be chopped down and more greenhouse gases will be produced. In less than 100 years, the world’s population has nearly quadrupled, rising from a population of two billion in 1928 to over seven billion in 2019. By 2050, it is estimated that the planet will house more than 9 billion people.

But Researchers from Lund University in Sweden found having one fewer child per family can save an “average of 58.6 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions per year.” So, if a family in the US chooses to have one fewer child, this would be the same level of emissions reduction as 684 people who choose to recycle for the rest of their lives.

This fact raises a lot of interesting issues, especially since family is highly personal and (at least in the legal system in the US) we have given family-decisions a great deal of privacy and autonomy. It wasn’t something I thought about until recently.

And I want to say, off the bat, that this isn’t a “you should feel bad for having children” type of argument, or an argument that one decision is better than the next. But population growth does raise climate alarm bells and my suggestion is that it’s something we should weigh along with cultural ideals, genetic desires, financial health, and social background when considering our family planning.

I want to stop right here, however, and point out this very important fact regarding our individual responsibility for climate change. The burden of climate change is not just on the individual! A recent report found that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of climate change! These (largely fossil-fuel) companies want to point the finger at our individual choices as the culprit for climate change – that is a red, oil-covered herring. Even in the best-case scenario, only 8.5% of climate change reduction will come from individual behavior changes.

With that in mind, we should be reducing our plastic and meat consumption, taking public transit, riding our bikes, avoiding straws, and buying solar panels. But we should also hold the corporate assholes who are pumping carbon into our air, choking our water, and giving kids cancer in Indiana, accountable.

So when I provide a study regarding population reduction as a means to reducing climate change, I provide it with this tension in mind.

Ok, back to babies.

IMPACTS OF SOCIO-ECONOMIC DIFFERENCES IN POPULATION GROWTH

So, studies show that to reduce our climate change impact, the biggest thing we can do is have one less child. Interestingly, in my research, I discovered that a lot western (white) folks tend to point the finger at poorer countries’ population explosions as the culprit for this issue. But this may be misguided. The average American produces 60 times the carbon of say, someone in Niger. Thus, to have an immediate benefit on climate change, people in the “developed world” (ie; more carbon-intensive world) need to start having less children. This is because people in the western world are already using more than their share of resources.

But if you’re thinking “well, people in other countries have a much higher birth rate than we do in the US,” you’re completely right. Globally, the recipe for reversing human population growth to a more sustainable level is simple: family planning, reducing poverty, educating women, and incentivizing smaller families. Access to good quality family planning is recognized by the UN as a human right and is known to benefit the health and welfare of women and their children. It also brings down fertility rates. Similarly, women with a higher education level tend to have fewer, healthier children and manage their own reproductive health more actively. But it’s crucial to avoid the problematic territory where the reproductive choices of women are controlled (big YIKES). There are deeply racist and xenophobic human rights violations that have happened in the name of “solving” overpopulation. For this to work, it must be incentivized and not forced.

CLIMATE CHANGE SHOULD BE AN ADDITIONAL FACTOR WEIGHED IN THE DECISION TO HAVE CHILDREN

There are so many factors that go into the decision to have children. Financial well-being, culture, religious values, and physical restrictions all play a role. My suggestion isn’t to impose a governmental restriction against the number of births (again, big yikes, I’m looking at you, China) or to judge folks who choose to have big families. I am suggesting that climate change be one of many factors weighed in this decision-making process.

Maybe this means we don’t have a fourth or a fifth child in western countries. Maybe this means we advocate for birth control in countries seeing a population explosion. Maybe this means we adopt a child instead of having our own biological child. Or a combination of these things.

Again, I am not advocating for social judgment or stigma on the choices that families make. And I certainly don’t feel any judgment to my friends and family who are growing their families the way they see fit! I love my friends’ kids and love seeing them be parents (and will be asking them for advice constantly, I’m sure!).

But for those who are in the process of making a decision, I want to provide this perspective and information as an additional data point. Especially if you’ve never thought about it before. Personally, this idea was new to me – even ten years ago, I didn’t consider climate change when I was trying to determine whether I would be a mom someday or not.

ADOPTION AS A FIRST-CHOICE, INSTEAD OF A LAST CHOICE?

Many folks only consider adoption after their other choices have been exhausted. I would encourage people to look into adopting as an enthusiastic first choice, instead! Ty and I are able to have our own biological children (as far as we understand) but we are choosing not to, to reduce the potential climate impacts of adding another human to the planet.

But certainly, no choice that we make is carbon neutral. International adoption is not environmentally inconsequential – it involves long plane flights and carbon-intensive travel. And then there’s the very act of taking a child to live in a nation where they will likely consume more than they would have if they stayed in their birth country. Taking the poorest children in the world, who consume the least, to affluent western homes is not a way to reduce overall environmental impact. But if it causes a decrease in birth rates, especially in affluent countries, then it will have a positive environmental impact.

So for those in affluent countries who may be considering having fewer children due to climate change, the most important thing is that it is a personal decision. It should be something you’re happy to choose! This is why leading environmental minds are trying to raise awareness about adoption and considering having fewer children.

This was our personal decision. I’m sharing because there may be some of you who are grappling with the same issues of wanting to grow your family but also aware of the climate implications. I hope my personal story added to this perspective.

Love,

Shannon

2 comments

  1. Thank you for the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of this article. You shone a light onto issues that often bear a heavy weight in a non-judgmental and upbeat manner.

    Like

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