Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is it responsible to bring a child into this world?

I'm working to resolve my pregnancy ambivalency. On the one hand, it's a wonderful, exciting, and beautiful gift to grow a new life within my own body. On the other hand, I'm concerned about what happens to that new life once he's born. What kind of future is he being born into? Is it responsible to bring a child into this world?

One of my serious reservations about bringing more children into the world is my awareness of the unsustainability of the American lifestyle and the effect that over-population and resource depletion is having on the planet.

I worked for nearly 7 years with inner-city kids. They amazed me very day, and broke my heart every day. I knew that for some, the meals we gave them were the only meals they'd have that day. I knew that for others, the attention we gave them was the only healthy adult interaction they had. I saw desperate parents working two and three jobs, single mothers going to school to try to provide better lives for their children, and, yes, I saw the crack-addicted parents, and the pimps and exploited women, and the drug-dealing teen gangers. It broke my heart, knowing what my kids went home to every night. And it gave me hope, seeing how much those children wanted to thrive, how hard some of them worked at school, and how readily they responded to positive feedback and influences. Many of my kids finished high school. Some died before they were 18 due to accidents, neglect, and violence. Some went on to college and climbed out of the ghetto. Some ended up as parents before their mid-teens.

Scarcity of resources and opportunity had a lot to do with the conditions in that inner-city --  has a lot to do with what is going on in the world today. As more and more people in developing countries come to enjoy non-subsistence lifestyles, the pressure on the planet grows. And I'm not just talking about things like scarcity of food and water and energy sources. I'm talking about things like the acidification of the oceans.

Ocean acidification is a serious problem no one seems to know about. Current pH levels are already interfering with the ability of corals and mollusks and crustaceans to calcify -- ie, to generate their shells and exoskeletons. It is quite possible that shellfish could become extinct in my son's lifetime -- or at least so rare that they're no longer a foodstuff. Which affects the entire food-chain in unimaginable ways. Humans have used the oceans for waste disposal and now the huge amounts of CO2 that the oceans are absorbing are affecting the basic chemistry of life in those oceans. Combine that with rising temperatures and we're sitting on a time-bomb -- and passing it like a hot-potato down the line for later generations to deal with.

The breakdown of social systems and social responsibility, the breakdown of families and communities, also have a lot to do with the conditions in the inner-city, and the problems in the world today.  With the scarcity and hoarding of resources, people and corporations become numb to social ramifications. We become concerned not just with having enough to meet our needs, but more than enough. We want excess. We become obsessed with ourselves and our needs and put them before the needs of our families, communities, and society at large. People not "us" become "other." We dehumanize them so we can see them as little more than bothersome competitors for the better things in life, or worse, tools to be exploited in pursuit of the better things in life. And when enough people do that, we experience what is known as The Tragedy of the Commons. Not to mention wars and human rights violations and famines.

I'm an optimist and a pragmatist, and while I believe in the possibility that humanity will do what we need to do before it is too late, the pragmatist in me recognizes that we're already in a Global Tragedy of the Commons situation. And I'm knowingly bringing a child into this mess.

At this point, I'm choosing to be an optimist, and actively so. I'm re-committing myself to being a responsible consumer. Cloth diapers, not disposable. Recycling and re-purposing. Growing more of my own food. Using renewable, clean energy. Sharing with neighbors. Walking more and driving less.

If I don't, the future just seems too grim, especially for my unborn son, and I'd feel wrong about my decision to bring him into the world.

1 comment:

  1. I struggled with this same concern before becoming a parent myself. I was already explicitly anti-population, but married to someone who *really* wanted a child. So I had to reconcile those two disparate demands somehow.

    What occurred to me was that my child could be part of the solution... That I could educate and raise my child with an awareness of problems like those you mentioned, and inspire her to tackle them herself. And that I could show her how to build community and cause change even on the large scale needed for some of those. And having realized that, I felt much better about my choice of bringing a new human being into this situation.


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