Climate philosopher Travis Rieder has been touring the country, trying to persuade university students not to have kids – and promoting ideas for restricting childbirth, including tax penalties against people who decide to have a child.
Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?
Standing before several dozen students in a college classroom, Travis Rieder tries to convince them not to have children. Or at least not too many.
He’s at James Madison University in southwest Virginia to talk about a “small-family ethic” — to question the assumptions of a society that sees having children as good, throws parties for expecting parents, and in which parents then pressure their kids to “give them grandchildren.”
Why question such assumptions? The prospect of climate catastrophe.
Rieder and his Georgetown collaborators have a proposal, and the first thing they stress is that it’s not like China’s abusive one-child policy. It aims to persuade people to choose fewer children with a strategy that boils down to carrots for the poor, sticks for the rich.
Ethically, Rieder says poor nations get some slack because they’re still developing, and because their per capita emissions are a sliver of the developed world’s. Plus, it just doesn’t look good for rich, Western nations to tell people in poor ones not to have kids. He suggests things like paying poor women to refill their birth control and — something that’s had proven success — widespread media campaigns.
In the 1970s and ’80s, a wave of educational soap operas in Latin America, Asia and Africa wove family planning into their plot lines. Some countries did this when they faced economic crisis. The shows are credited with actually changing people’s opinions about family size.
For the sticks part of the plan, Rieder proposes that richer nations do away with tax breaks for having children and actually penalize new parents. He says the penalty should be progressive, based on income, and could increase with each additional child.
Think of it like a carbon tax, on kids. He knows that sounds crazy.