Is it really unethical to be a parent?

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

This is a bit of random text from Kyle to test the new global option to add a message at the top of every article. This bit is linked somewhere.

Dear Ethan,

I saw some French woman on television today, who reckons that it is ‘irresponsible’ to have children in rich countries like France and Britain, because of all the damage they will do to the planet. Apparently she has written a book called ‘No Kid’ that is creating a big stink. Yet she has children of her own, the hypocrite! I know that you do, too, Ethan, and my partner and I would like to have one some day. Can it be so un-ethical to have children? We all know about the environmental and social problems caused by bad parents, but is it really bad to be a parent in principle?

Sammi, Manchester

Dear Sammi,

You refer to ‘some French woman’ and call her a hypocrite? If I was an old-fashioned fascistic parent, I would suggest that you go and wash your mouth out at once with organic hempseed soap! That was Corinne Maier, and she is my new hero – the Madame Liberté leading the French resistance against the tyranny of family life over the poor little planet.

As my loyal readers will know, I do not believe that it is ethical to travel abroad, whether it be by plane, train, ferry or any other carbon-snorting monstrosity. But I am sorely tempted to row myself across the Channel in an ancient Celtic coracle made of sustainable materials, in order to give the magnifique Corinne a gentle hug of non-sexual admiration (only with her explicit consent, obviously).

Her book – No Kid: Quarante raisons de ne pas avoir d’enfant – spells out the truth which nobody has been prepared to say before, that having children is immoral on environmental grounds. Well, perhaps not quite NOBODY has been brave enough to say it. Some may recall an article that I wrote here several months ago (see How can I stop my friend from starting a family?). Some may even think it possible that Ms Maier read my modest contribution. But I am naturally too humble to mention any such thing. So long as her argument helps to save the planet, why should we worry where it was published first, or ask where the cheeky French minx might have ‘recycled’ it from?

Anyway, for those who object on ethical grounds to buying a book printed on paper – an argument with which I have previously expressed some sympathy, although I am currently wrestling with my conscience and my publisher on this one – here is a relevant excerpt of what she has to say about children depleting the planet’s fast-disappearing resources.

‘It’s not that there are too many people’, she writes, ‘but too many rich people. No one needs our children, because they and we are the spoilt kids of a planet that is on a collision course. To have a child in Europe or America is immoral – more scarce resources wasted on a way of life that is ever more voracious, capricious, hungry for fuel and destructive of the environment.’

They certainly have a way with words, these French. Instead of the old human-centric nonsense about liberté, equalité, fraternité, Corinne correctly describes what humanity stands for today: voraciousness, capriciousness, destructiveness. So we do need to stop having children. Babies are an unsustainable burden on the planet. To update another old political slogan: Parenthood is Theft. A lot of right-minded people – such as the activists at the Heathrow Climate Camp – say that we need to cut carbon and save energy for ‘the unborn generations’. Well, if we are serious about preserving the planet for the future, the best thing we can do for them is to make sure that most of them remain ‘unborn’.

Yes, Corinne does have children. It does not make her a hypocrite. After all, that ludicrous suggestion would mean that, as a parent, I must be a hypocrite, too – need I say more? We had children when we didn’t know any better. They were more innocent times. Hell, in those days we all thought it was okay to fly around the world having hedonistic ‘fun’ and sex and drugs too! But now we know better, and it is our responsibility to stop today’s generations making the same mistakes that we did. That is why I tell my children every day that the world would be a better place if they had not been born. I think my openness and honesty helps them to cope with their guilt. I know it helps me to live with mine.

No, Corinne’s trouble is that her argument does not go far enough. Of course, she is right that there are too many rich people in the world. But there are far too many poor people, too. Poor immigrants are the ones having all the kids in Europe – which is why ending immigration and ending procreation must be part of the same process. And there are far too many poor people in the developing world, exhausting what little rice and corn the planet has left. Worse, they all want what the obese consumerist West already has. But several billion wrongs don’t make a right. To deny ourselves children while letting them carry on over-populating the world – that really would be hypocrisy.

So yes, we need to promote a No Kid (or Zero Toddler-ance) attitude. I am now considering having an eco-vasectomy myself, to help give the planet new life. My wife, Sheba the Unbeliever, says that, since I have no prospect of fathering any more children, that would just be an impotent gesture. But I want to make one last stand for infertility.

When Maier was asked if she would tell a ‘childfree’ friend to resist motherhood, she said: ‘No, I wouldn’t as it’s not my place to interfere in other people’s business.’ Quite right again. We are not Nazis or Catholic priests, after all. Our task is simply to instruct people in graphic detail about all the terrible things that will happen to the world if they have children, about how irresponsible and toxic it would be if they were to spread their demon seed. Then we must leave it entirely up to them to make their own informed choices.

However, even Corinne is not perfect. Few of us are. Her other arguments against having children include that they stop women getting on in business, and stop you having fun. These things, too, are irresponsible goals. However, I felt that I could forgive her anything as I gazed into those steely cold Gallic eyes on GMTV the other morning (I had only visited a neighbour for some herbal tea – don’t think for a moment I would own a television).

If you feel you absolutely must care for a child, Sammi, perhaps because you have a recognised mental health problem, the only pseduo-ethical option might be adoption from Africa. That, after all, is only recycling an existing ‘brownfield’ baby. Just don’t bring them back here to Europe. And make sure you bring them up to appreciate what a waste of precious planetary resources their life is. Perhaps if you got one from Francophone Africa, you could start by teaching them to read No Kid.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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