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Toward a Small Family Ethic: How Overpopulation and Climate Change Are Affecting the Morality of Procreation

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This thought-provoking treatise argues that current human fertility rates are fueling a public health crisis that is at once local and global. Its analysis and data summarize the ecological costs of having children, presenting ethical dilemmas for prospective parents in an era of competition for scarce resources, huge disparities of wealth and poverty, and unsustainable practices putting irreparable stress on the planet. Questions of individual responsibility and integrity as well as personal moral and procreative issues are examined carefully against larger and more long-range concerns. The author’s assertion that even modest efforts toward reducing global fertility rates would help curb carbon emissions, slow rising global temperatures, and forestall large-scale climate disaster is well reasoned and more than plausible.

Among the topics covered: 

·         The multiplier effect: food, water, energy, and climate.

·         The role of population in mitigating climate change.

·         The carbon legacy of procreation.

·         Obligations to our possible children.

·         Rights, what is right, and the right to do wrong.

·         The moral burden to have small families.

Toward a Small Family Ethic sounds a clarion call for bioethics students and working bioethicists. This brief, thought-rich volume steers readers toward challenges that need to be met, and consequences that will need to be addressed if they are not.

82 pages, Kindle Edition

Published June 23, 2016

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Displaying 1 - 4 of 4 reviews
Profile Image for Carlos.
2,114 reviews67 followers
December 17, 2020
I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that I picked up this booklet to have a defensible justification for my desire to not have children. Rieder gives the reader that, not having a child is the most impactful eco-friendly measure anyone of us can take and he goes through the statistics to prove it. However, if the reader was looking for an answer as to whether they were morally obligated to not procreate they will go away empty handed. Rieder explores both the moral case for not having a child and the moral freedom of procreative rights and comes away a draw, at best. Perhaps the most compelling part of his argument is to make us justify our desire for a child (and particularly the second) and to disentangle it from societal, religious or familial expectation.
Profile Image for João Abegão.
56 reviews3 followers
August 21, 2017
Excellent argumentation.
Unfortunately the small sizes plays against the Very crucial message. Would get a bigger version of this theme.
7 reviews1 follower
June 11, 2023
This is a really difficult topic and I'm thankful that this book tries to tackle it. The predominate discussion is fascinating: the tug-of-war between parental agency (the right to have children, if you wish) and the negative environmental consequences associated with a child's likely carbon footprint. How can we even begin to reconcile the two? Rieder attempts to find a middle ground by encouraging smaller families, which is a safe, albeit the only really amicable position to take. There is an interesting adjacent discussion around quality of life for future populations - at what point do you say it isn't worth giving life to another due to the world you're bringing it into? Climate change isn't going to end the species but it is going to make life uncomfortable for the next generation. The doubly quoted remark at the beginning of the book says it all really - "I love my kids so much I decided not to have them."
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 2 books9 followers
December 24, 2016
I heard an interview with Travis Rieder (the author) several months ago and made a note to read his book.

I really enjoyed many of the authors points. And I find that philosophical books like this really help to get my mind working, especially about my own life choices. It made me think back to when I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer back in 2006.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from this one:
According to the Global Footprint Network we are already in an ecological 'overshoot', which means that the global population is using resources faster than they can be replenished. This means that the earth will, at some point, be unable to provide for our population, even without more growth. In essence, we our charging our ecological credit cards for more than we can cover, and at some point, the earth's bank will simply refuse to extend us any more credit.

Exactly how much are we overshooting our carrying capacity? The GFN estimates that we currently would need about 1.6 earths to cover our consumption, which means that each year, we overcharge our ecological credit card by about 60%. If everyone consumed resources as Americans do, we would need about 4.1 earths to sustain a population of seven billion.

According to Bill Mckibbin, the amount of coal, oil, and gas in reserve (what we are planning to burn) is five times the amount that would lock in 'dangerous climate change'.

Climate change has the potential to be the biggest moral tragedy in the history of humankind.

In 2014, for the first time in at least 800,000 years -- and likely the first time since the Pliocene era, between 3 and 5 million years ago - atmospheric carbon climbed to 400 ppm. This means we will will likely see a 2 degree C temperature rise by the year 2036. That is very bad news, of course, as that is the point at which many of the worst climate disruptions will really get going (note: dangerous climate repercussions are already happening now).

The average American emits around 17 metric tons of CO2 per year, while the average Nigerien (not to be confused with Nigerian) emits an astounding 0.1 metric tons of CO2 per year. The average US citizen thus emits nearly 200 times the amount of CO2 of the average Nigerien, and so the average procreative behavior of an American (having 2 children, who together will emit around 34 tons of CO2/year) is vastly more damaging to the problem of climate change than the average procreative behavior of a Nigerien (having 7 children, who together will emit a mere 0.7 tons of CO2/year).

The decision to have a child is perhaps the most in need of justification of all our potential actions. According to the study of 'carbon legacy', having a child may make one responsible for as much as 9441 metric tons of CO2, while a flight from Washington DC to Paris increases one's carbon footprint by approximately 1 metric ton.
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