Britain’s baby boom starts…at Downing Street

Matched and hatched: Carrie Symonds, 31, will become 55-year-old Boris Johnson’s third wife. © @apples_symonds

Is it okay to have children? The PM has announced he will become a father – for the fifth or sixth time – this summer. But many experts say the climate crisis means we should stop reproducing.

“Congratulations Boris Johnson on your 5th or 6th kid,” said one wit on Twitter. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on his 4th, 8th or 17th child,” another chimed in.

For the twice-married Johnson, whose private life is as untidy as his appearance, news that he is again to get married and become a father inspired a fit of good-natured humour on social media.

With four children from his second marriage and possibly at least one from an extramarital relationship, the exact number of Johnson’s progeny remains somewhat mysterious.

At least he seems to be fulfilling his own forecast. “Cupid’s darts will fly once we get Brexit done,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Times last year. “Romance will bloom across the whole nation. There was one after the Olympics, as I correctly prophesied in a speech in 2012.”

(A report by the Office of National Statistics appears to cast doubt on that claim. Births in England and Wales fell 4.3 percent in 2013, the year after the Games.)

Nearly eight billion people live on the planet today – and the PM’s new baby is about to add one more to the tally.

Climate change activists, worried about the impact of so many human beings on the planet, say the Earth increasingly has a population problem.

Many environmentalists believe we all have a personal responsibility to save the planet.

We are all familiar with the idea of going vegan or flying less, but some scientists say the only meaningful way to reduce our carbon footprint is by having fewer children.

According to one study, the effect on emissions of a single US family having just one less child is the same as 684 teenagers becoming life-long, committed recyclers.

But having no children is not just another consumer decision.

Plans to reduce the population leave us vulnerable to a dangerous question: who should be allowed to have children?

Historically, population control measures, such as China’s one-child policy, have involved abuses of power, often against minorities.

Writer Meehan Crist argues that saving the planet should not be an individual responsibility, but that of the world’s biggest polluters: governments and corporations.

In the 18th Century, Thomas Malthus predicted that an expanding population would lead to humanity’s early demise. So far, his grim vision has not been realised.

For Crist, having children is “not a turn towards death but a commitment to life” – a symbol of hope for the future. Instead of reducing the population, we should change human systems to live more sustainably.

So, is it still okay to have children?

Baby fever

Yes, say some. It is companies and governments that have the responsibility and power to make a difference to climate change, not individuals. Instead of having fewer children, activists should be fighting for the right to have a carbon-neutral child. Having children is a fundamental human right – and a choice to believe in a future in which humans can find the solution to the climate crisis.

No, say others. Big problems need radical solutions. The planet will not be saved by recycling alone. For people in low-income countries, children are often an expectation, not a choice. But those with the luxury to decide have a moral responsibility to do all they can to reduce their carbon footprint.

You Decide

  1. Is the climate crisis the biggest problem facing the Earth?
  2. Do individuals have a moral responsibility to combat the climate crisis?

Activities

  1. Imagine you’ve made the decision not to have any children to save the planet. Write a letter to your friends explaining your decision.
  2. Look up the average carbon footprint for someone in your country. Is your country above or below average? In groups, discuss and research why this might be.

Some People Say...

“The superior power of population cannot be checked without producing misery or vice.”

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), English cleric and economist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The vast majority of scientists agree that Earth is experiencing a climate emergency. Between 1880 and 2012, the average global temperature increased by 0.85℃, and the extent of sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk every decade since 1979. Furthermore, statistics show that countries responsible for producing the most carbon emissions per capita are generally rich countries, despite the fact that the impacts of the climate crisis – for example, rising sea levels – are more likely to affect poor countries.
What do we not know?
Although most people agree solutions need to be found for the climate crisis, not everyone can agree on them. It is impossible to say whether or not having less children would sufficiently reduce carbon emissions and limit climate change, or what the impact of not having a younger generation would be. And we simply do not know what the climate crisis will look like in 10, 20 or 100 years’ time.

Word Watch

Progeny
A descendant or the descendants of a person, animal, or plant; offspring.
Cupid
The god of love.
Carbon footprint
The amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of an individual, organisation or community.
One-child policy
A very controversial policy run by the Chinese government between the late 1970s and 2016, that limited the majority of Chinese families to only having one child. The goal was to reduce the growth of China’s population, which is the biggest in the world.
Meehan Crist
A writer-in-residence in Biological Sciences at Columbia University in New York.
Thomas Malthus
An English economist who is best known for his belief that population growth will always outrun food supply, meaning that improvements in quality of life are impossible without limits on reproduction.
Sustainably
A way that allows for use of a natural resource without reducing it or causing environmental damage.
Carbon-neutral
Removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as is put in.

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