A Blow To Us All
No Ordinary Hail

And We’re Back

With a visit to the environmental pages of a certain national newspaper, where Leo Hickman asks,  

What’s the one lifestyle change I could make that would have the most positive environmental impact?

The list of readers’ suggestions is of course vast and intriguing. It includes the prosaic,

Do not buy objects that are useless.

The ambitious,

Generate your own heat and electricity.

The confusing,

Have your house size adjust your necessities.

The philosophically resigned,

It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.

And the unwittingly surreal.

Become a permanent camper somewhere. That is how 90% of the human race now lives.

Inevitably, a theme emerges.

We do have two cats and want a child. We know that is not helping the green cause but we rescued the cats and we are looking at adoption.


I don’t think people will stop having the desire to have children, but they should stop at two.


Any more than two children is grossly irresponsible.

Then things get a little competitive.

By choice I have no children (I decided years ago that there were too many on the planet).

However, some disagree,

It’s overconsumption and the way we produce and waste things that have to be changed, not having children.

Before disagreeing with themselves,

Unless we assume that the planet would be better off without us, which it undoubtedly would.

One sharper than average reader spots a potential problem with ostentatious childlessness.

I don’t think not having children is the best option, the reason being that if people with green beliefs are no longer having children there won’t be a next generation to carry the green baton as it were. The only people still having children will be those without environmental awareness.

Another reader, perhaps not a typical Guardian devotee, approaches the question laterally:

Be a bit more like Tony Soprano. Yes, I know, he did drive a massive petrol guzzling 4x4, but that is more than offset by the number of people he had killed, if you factor in their future carbon emissions.

While the last comment is satirical it does highlight a recurrent theme in the pages of the Guardian and its Sunday sister paper, and within the ecological movement more broadly. Regular readers may recall Mr Hickman’s colleague Alex Renton, who views the prospect of parenthood primarily in terms of a child’s annual CO2 production and capacity to pollute. A line of thought that leads him to ponder whether children could be “part of an adult’s personal carbon allowance.” Mr Renton’s ecological wisdom includes such nuggets as, “fewer British babies would mean a fairer planet” and “a cull of Australians or Americans would be at least 60 times as productive as one of Bangladeshis.” Which is exactly the kind of moral calculus one hopes for in a parent.

Mr Renton’s authoritarian urges will most likely resonate with Professor Barry Walters, who believes that couples with more than two children should be charged a “lifelong tax” to offset their offspring’s CO2 emissions, while discouraging “greenhouse-unfriendly behaviour.” Others sympathetic to such notions include the “biocentric” conservationist Paul Watson, who regards humanity as a “cancer” and tells us that, “curing the biosphere of the human virus will require a radical and invasive approach.” Conceivably he has in mind something more persuasive than mere taxation.

If so, perhaps he could join forces with the environmental crusader Dr John Reid, whose ideas would gratify even the most self-flagellating Guardian columnist. “Overconsumption [and] overpopulation will not be solved by civil means,” says he. And “private property rights will [have to] be severely curtailed.” According to Dr Reid, other customary rights will also have to be “curtailed” with no less severity. In order to save the world from its human infestation, the good doctor suggested “we” might put “something in the water... a virus that would be specific to the human reproductive system and would make a substantial proportion of the population infertile.” Naturally, “affluent populations should be targeted first.”

Another Guardian colleague, Guy Dammann, favours a less coercive approach to the dwindling of the species. Mr Dammann described voluntary human extinction as “in many ways laudable,” and excitedly told his readers, “We should initiate proceedings ourselves by refusing to have any more children... There is something magnificent about the thought of an entire species simply switching itself off, without violence or force of anything other than will, to make way for something more lasting.”

And there are those for whom voluntary extinction is a feature of their feminism. Over at the popular Feministing blog, a contributor named “freethinkr” offered this: “What if we say no to reproduction? Reproduction is the basis of the institutions of marriage and family, and those two provide the moorings to the structure of gender and sexual oppression... So it makes sense to say that if the world has to change, reproduction has to go. Of course there is an ecological responsibility to reduce the human population, or even end it.”  

Which makes one Guardian reader’s suggestion – “stop using cling film” - look somewhat unambitious.