Is It Wrong to Bring a Child Into Our Warming World?
Newsletter The magazines Ethicist columnist on personal responsibility and climate change. April Here are two questions that we often ask about an action. First, what difference would it make? Second, what would happen if everyone did it? Both raise important considerations, but they can point in opposite directions. The first question asks us to assess the specific consequences of an act. The second question asks us (as Kant would say) to universalize the maxim to determine whether the rule guiding your action is one that everyone should follow. (I wont get into the philosophers debates about how these maxims are to be specified.) Suppose someone pockets a ChapStick from Walgreens and asks: What difference does it make? One answer is that if everyone were to shoplift at their pleasure, the retail system would break down. Theres no such clash in answering those questions when it comes to your having at least one child. The marginal effect of adding a few humans to a planet of about eight billion people is negligible. ( by a group of environmental and economic researchers, projects that by the end of the century, the world population could be smaller than it is today though thats just one model.) And if everybody stopped having babies, the effect would be not to help humanity but to end it. Im not one of those people who will encourage you to imagine youll give birth to a child who devises a solution to the climate crisis. (What are the odds?) Still, its realistic to think that children who are raised with a sense of responsibility could in personal and collective ways be part of the solution, ensuring human survival on a livable planet by promoting adaptation, resilience and mitigation. Probably the key question to ask is whether you can give your offspring a good prospect of a decent life. The climate crisis figures here not because your children will contribute to it but because they may suffer from it. It sounds as if youve already made the judgment that your kids would be all right, supplied with the necessary resources. That is, as you recognize, a privilege in our world. But the right response is not to reduce the number of children who have that privilege but to work together toward a situation in which every other child on the planet does, too. that taking care of an estranged parent's funeral is a minimal act of gratitude for ones existence. Doing so may even provide some closure. However, doing so could be harmful to ones mental health, especially in cases of PTSD. A childs needs far outweigh gratitude for having been born. my estranged mothers funeral. It was painful, but it provided closure I didnt realize I needed. Also, it made me proud that I could be better than her and do something kind. Funerals are for the living. What can you live with? for the past 28 years in my state (Wisconsin) you are the next of kin and therefore, the person whom the funeral home will work with to make your fathers funeral arrangements. If you dont want to do that and I can empathize with your feelings of not wanting to do your father the favor of explaining that to him so he can fill out the necessary paperwork to have someone else perform those duties. for being born to parents who did not meet our emotional and other needs needs they had an ethical obligation to fulfill. Adult children should stop being made to feel guilty about something they had no control over. Kudos to the letter writer for moving on and seeing her father for who he was. in this instance acknowledges the existence of a lingering feeling of some sort of obligation. See it is an opportunity to close out these painful memories. Any benefit from participation or planning of a funeral for an abusive, absent or just plain awful parent will accrue to you and not the decedent. Simply put, you do it for yourself. is The New York Times Magazines Ethicist columnist and teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include Cosmopolitanism, The Honor Code and The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity. To submit a query: Send an email to email@example.com.