Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Baby decisions - adding to the world's woes?

Joanna Benn
Joanna Benn

Baby in pram on skyline

How responsible is it to have children in a world whose environmental health is already under stress? That's the question Joanna Benn poses this week in the Green Room. On the other hand, she wonders, will a couple more hungry mouths make much difference?

I came out of my house last week and got caught up in a fleet of mothers and prams.

They were wearing a middle class yummy mummy uniform combining comfort and fashion - skinny jeans, UGG boots, black tops and large sunglasses.

The prams were all state-of-the-art three wheeled, balanced, air-bagged mini cars that can fold to the size of a postage stamp and carry the week's shopping.

"Stop Children" sign
When I see babies, not only do I see the beauty, joy and miracle of life, I also see nappies, landfill waste, vast amounts of food and money needed, and a very shaky, unpredictable future

The urban mother tribe looked chic, proud and collectively cool.

It got me thinking. I love kids, I love babies.

I love the idea of the Brady Bunch, of close-knit large families and a stream of brothers and sisters of different heights with crazy hair.

However, perhaps it's my age; suddenly everyone I know has children and it is confusing me.

I don't even know when it all happened. I remember conversations about university, jobs, flats, boyfriends and partners, but I seem to have missed the pre-baby musings.

One minute people were childless - or child-free, depending on your viewpoint.

The next - magic wand, small bang, plume of smoke - it was insta-family, complete with new people-carrier in the drive and more often than not, a house extension.

Two weeks ago, a single childless friend confessed she'd been looking into freezing her eggs. That apparently is not a taboo subject.

Nor are conversations about contraception, fertility patterns, mastitis, post-partum depression and sex, child behaviour problems, sleepless nights, credit crunch worries or redundancy.

However, dare ask how green is it to have kids in a world of dwindling resources, vast global inequality, terrifying climate change scenarios and dying empty seas... then people get uncomfortable and usually defensive.

Ugly truths

I have couched the question a few times: "Why did you want children?"

The answers have usually been - "It seemed the next thing to do, we wanted to, it felt right, I couldn't imagine not..."

Push again - "Have you thought about what kind of world you are bringing them into to? Some climate change scenarios give us a 10 to 15 year window before things get very ugly and scary indeed."

Resounding silence.

Crowded city street
Crowded planet: a Tokyo street brings home the size of the human population

Being an environmentalist is, quite frankly, an awkward thing.

When I see babies, not only do I see the beauty, joy and miracle of life, I also see nappies, landfill waste, vast amounts of food and money needed, and a very shaky, unpredictable future.

According to United Nations projections, the world population will nearly stabilise at just above 10 billion people after 2200.

That's a lot of people on one small planet.

When we talk about the environment and available natural resources, we bandy around statistics; yet none of it seems to be about me or you or that guy that everyone talked about during the US election campaign, Joe the Plumber.

Mood swings

Ask any environmental organisation what it thinks about birth control; it'll sidestep the issue, and say it's not their place to comment.

If a commentator says there are too many people on the planet, their words smack of authoritarian dictatorships and human rights violations, and echo traces of unpalatable eugenics.

Pram with parent
Are many people concerned over the ethics of having children?

However, the reality is that every time we eat, switch on a light, get in a car, drink a beer, go on holiday or buy something to wear or use, we are adding to our environmental footprint.

Toddlers - small beings that they are - require almost unlimited nappies, a fair amount of food, and apparently a loungeful of loud, battery-powered plastic toys.

I am not saying we shouldn't have kids. They may well be the leaders of tomorrow, steering humanity into a just, equitable, fair and healthy future.

The new generation may indeed succeed where all others have failed, and learn lessons of the past.

Perhaps it's just my mood.

Or perhaps it's the media's fault that some of us feel as if humanity is sliding from one patch of melting ice to another in a murky sea of financial, environmental and social woes.

I am curious to know if I am the only 30-something woman who has these dilemmas, worrying about the planet's future and what we could and should do to ease the strain.

Am I fretting needlessly? Because in the grand scheme of things, one or two more children in the world really make no difference, do they?

And as for the future - rising sea levels, bare former forests, desertification, empty seas and a few dollar bills floating in the wind - well that'll all take care of itself.

Won't it?

Joanna Benn is a journalist, writer and consultant specialising in environmental issues

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with Joanna Benn? Should environmental concerns affect your decision on whether to have children? Is the size of the human population cause for alarm? Or should you just follow your instincts?

You're certainly not the only one who thinks of these issues. One of the reasons I'm not planning on having children is the environmental impact (although that is just one reason). I do think that environmental issues ought to be considered whenever government policies towards families are considered. In particular, I find state-sponsored fertility treatment disturbing, but I'm also bothered by policies of paying people to have children. Whenever the government is involved and the children aren't happening naturally, it isn't 'a police state' to ask these kinds of questions. Governments should be weighing up all sides of the issue before making policies, but as far as I can see, the environmental impact of children is never brought up.
Ann, The Netherlands

I am a child of parents whose sole directive in life was to get married, make babies, go to church, and do exactly as society tells them. Only when the money ran out did they stop the baby train and realize that this approach would not bring them happiness. The result was, unsirprisingly, an overstressed and dysfuntional household. Granted, this is an extreme case, but the spirit of it is present all over: only by raising a family are you leading a fulfilling life; babies are the natural course of action for a happy couple; biological clocks are ticking, etc, etc. Concrete evidence of this is the knee-jerk defensive reactions appearing on this and other forums from people who see any suggestion of scaling back our reproductive "instincts" as, at best, an unwarranted guilt trip, and at worst, an affront against nature. Weighing our drive to have children against the impact it has on the world is an exercise in civilized living, nothing more. P.S. I think adoption is a beautiful thing, and it is far too often written off as less "authentic" than having one's own children.
Charlotte, Birmingham, AL, USA

I agree. But the problem is not that simple. The birth rates in most industrialized countries are dropping, which I think is very much desirable. The current increase in the world population is more due to developing countries where people don't have access to/information of birth control or where children are needed for labor. Before we ask the whole world not to have so many kids, we have to tackle those problems. Industrialized countries with decreasing birth rates are not without problems either; the shrinking young generation can pose a problem if they are to support life of huge old generation. It is true that humans have too big a ecological footprint, but everything needs to be considered when we deal with this sort of problems. It is neither simple nor easy.
Ayah, CA, USA

My husband and I are in our late 30's and are not having children. In our youth, we each admit to having wanted a family. Now we cannot really explain why we've changed our minds. It just happened. "Biologically-speaking" we've failed in our purpose in life by not passing on our DNA. I like to tease my husband and say I had no choice in choosing him as my husband; I joke it was his pheremones that made me choose. Yet perhaps there really is some biological control mechanism (like pheremones) within the human population that turns off the desire to breed (and pass on our DNA) once the population reaches extreme numbers. Certainly, there are too many of us.
Jennifer, Cincinnati, Ohio USA

Such lofty philosophical questions don't concern the teeming masses in third world countries. If European civilization is too pre-occupied with it's own morals and sense of self-importance to have enough children to sustain itself it will be displaced by those for whom such questions are not a distraction to the basic biological imperative. That said, overpopulation is a greater threat to our world than climate change but since politicians haven't figured out to gain from limiting it don't expect much to be done about it.
Scott W, Port Orchard, USA

I understand and angree with most of your comments. I cannot deny I feel a bit like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I enjoy being a woman in this time of history, where I can be independent, study, live on my own and feel free to shape my life. However, for years I never considered having a child. Then, I changed, and I thought it would be cool to have a child but it wasn't neccesary to have a partner. Now, things re different. I met someone, and I am in love. And for the first time in my life I have a genuine desire to share my life with him *and* yes, have a child. Funny, as life is, he does want us to be a long life couple BUT having a child doesn't thrill him. We'll see.
rocio carvajal, Mexico

I think this is a very valid and real article in today's world. I applaud the fact the media has the guts to raise it, as politians in the west seem to ignore, if not encourage the issue (for ££/economies' sake). Considering that China has a one child policy already in place to inhibit it's population explosion, I don't see why the west is able to start something similar, like limiting children to two, in order to only 'replace' their parents. The article did not state that we should not have children at all, only to consider our future in general, so why do people have to get so hot under the collar about 'their rights as human beings'?
Michelle, Sheffield/UK

I myself dont ever want to have to bring up a child in times like these. It would be so unfair. And like many have comented, we need to keep on breeding but more than 2 children per family is then just goin too far.
Moniek, Germany

Rampant population growth threatens our economy and quality of life. I'm not talking just about the obvious problems that we see in the news - growing dependence on foreign oil, carbon emissions, soaring commodity prices, environmental degradation, etc. I'm talking about the effect upon rising unemployment and poverty in America. I am the author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption of products begins to decline out of the need to conserve space. People who live in crowded conditions simply don't have enough space to use and store many products. This declining per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty. This theory has huge implications for U.S. policy toward population management. Our policies that encourage high rates of population growth are rooted in the belief of economists that population growth is a good thing, fueling economic growth. Through most of human history, the interests of the common good and business (corporations) were both well-served by continuing population growth. For the common good, we needed more workers to man our factories, producing the goods needed for a high standard of living. This population growth translated into sales volume growth for corporations. Both were happy. But, once an optimum population density is breached, their interests diverge. It is in the best interest of the common good to stabilize the population, avoiding an erosion of our quality of life through high unemployment and poverty. However, it is still in the interest of corporations to fuel population growth because, even though per capita consumption goes into decline, total consumption still increases. We now find ourselves in the position of having corporations and economists influencing public policy in a direction that is not in the best interest of the common good.
Pete Murphy, Clarkston, Michigan, USA

This has always been a taboo topic for environmentalists. Personally, the thought of having a child scares me more than almost anything, but I am also 23, so that might be part of it. Regardless, I think it would probably be a bad idea to bring a child into a world that is at the best trying to reach a new climate equilibrium, and at worst, dying. I may have a child, or adopt one, or foster some who need it, but until I really know more clearly what the next 80 years will look like, I don't think I'll have children. ALSO: while the ideal of a more even birthrate across the world is a wonderful idea, we shouldn't hail China's solution as the end-all be-all. Forced abortions are a violation of personal health and privacy that should never be allowed. Education is the best way to a good future for everyone.
Amelia, Austin, TX, USA

It is a hopeless case. As long, and I do not see the end of it, as the largest part of the world population, will reproduce like bugs for reasons such as: pressure from religions wich see babies like a potential new soldiers for their cause, from economies wich see them as potential producer consumer, from uneducated women who see procreation as the only way to try to keep their providers, from men who see big families as a prouve of their virility etc...
H.M.R. Mon, Chicoutimy Canada

I have one - against my better judgement for a large part because of the reasons stated. I'm not having another for the same reasons. People are a virus (Agent Smith may have said it in the matrix but I said it first!) and eventually we'll kill our host. The biggest threat to the environment which sustains us is not CO2, its not GM food, and its not war, not directly. Its the sheer number of us crowding onto the planet's surface. If we all had 1 or no kids for a couple of generations, we could shrink the population size quite a lot - it would be very hard, economically for us during that period but it would be worth it for future generations. I love my son, and I love my wife. I also love my life and - for the moment - my job. But the world would still be better off without us.
Jez Lawrence, leeds, uk

For years I've been doom-mongering about how global climate change and overpopulation is going to screw up the world. And nobody listened. Now I'm looking forward to spending my, childless, final years watching the world fall apart around the ears of the breeders who have brought catastrophe down upon the heads of their DNA continuation packages they call children
Frank, Harlow, UK

Well done for bringing this topic to the fore. It's nice to see many people showing support for limiting population. We need to limit population, as we are, we are practically at 7 billion people. If/when that hits 9 billion pretty much everyone will have to become vegan if we are to have enough food. A liit of two kids or less is a reasonable suggestion. Those who want more should be encouraged to adopt. This could be done easily in the UK fairly easily by alterin the child benefit system. As it stands I think you get £17.50 a week for your first child then £12.50 for succesive children. How about limiting these benefits only to the first two biological children? Thus incentivising smaller families.
Jethro George Gauld (Uni. Sussex Ecology student), Brighton/St Austell

It doesn't much matter what anyone here thinks - it is just math. Either we eventually learn to manage our population size as a species - be it through economic or socialist means - or we don't. In the latter case we will suffer what biologists refer to as a 'die-off'. I personally would rather not be around if such a die-off occurs, because it is going to be several decades or even centuries of the most abject misery our species has ever experienced. I guarantee we'll all be a whole lot happier if we figure out how to stabilize our population at a sustainable level before we get to that point.
Jesse, Boston, USA

I feel exactly the same way and I always have a real problem when someone tells me they are pregnant. The amazing advances that have been made in technology and science large families (3children+) are not sustainable. I would rather people had long and happy lives than short and painful ones however I fear for the future.

Confine a person in a room with a limited amount of supplies and that person will die when all those resources are gone.
Charlotte, Reading, UK

I have thought so many times about the same issue but not bothered to discuss this with other people. There is this inner conflict in me between my desire to ensure that the good in me is well represented in the next generation (both nature and nurture i.e. my DNA and my values) and a well-reasoned opinion that there are enough homo sapiens sapiens on earth. I do not believe that we are already overpopulated but we soon could be just that. The irony here is that we find it absolutely easy to cull elephants in overcrowded African reserves and yet even the mere thought of burdening the earth with more cute babies is taboo. Well I suppose we should allow other beautiful things than human infants to exist on this planet especially those that do not grow uncute in about 5 years.
Ketan Khare, Texas, US / Mumbai, India

What is it with BBC to have a childless woman, obviously concerned over her not having children, comment on issues of ethics in child-bearing? Because of her mood, we should all just give up...
Algon Cordy, Zagreb, Croatia

I don´t think anybody should have more than two children because the taday´s world population is already way too big. Porblem is that those who realize this are people from the countries whose populations are already stagnant(causing inevitable pension problems) while people from the areas of the world where the real population explosion takes place don´t care about this too much and are only ready (under the pressure of unbearable living conditions, I admit) to come and increase our population anyway. So no easy and cheap solution under the current order of things is available. Bleak times await us!
Tomas, Prague

Dear Joanna Benn; the comments below your article went on so far, I thought it was closed, and I had no chance to say "Welcome to the top of the hill" - and welcome too to all the other sane thoughtful people who have also figured it out; after 14 years of waiting, it's a great reasurance to see the human brain is still working.
Steven Walker, Penzance

Hearing Ms Benn wonder aloud "how green it is" to have a child is chilling. My parents lived in a time when certain people asked each other, in deadly earnest, how "Aryan" some personal choices might be. One might turn and ask Ms Benn "how green it is" for HER to continue to walk the earth. After all, Ms Benn, with a residence of her own, undoubtedly consumes more valuable resources than an infant who simply lives with its parents. But that is what we come to when we start running life by the numbers.
Seajay, Seattle, Washington

We already have many, many children on this planet, and they continue to multiply. The real "ethical dilemma" is not whether to have children, but whether all the "children" receive equal treatment and access to resources. Starvation, wars, disease, serfdom, and other factors have all contributed to ensuring that the majority of "children" on this planet have a minimal impact. The real danger is when large segments of the world population gain access to more resources without the traditional "culling" effects--as cynical as that sounds. So I'm not so worried about the children that trickle into already developed societies, but rather people and their children that will join it as their nations develop.
Chris C, Salt Lake City, USA

Having kids in this world is selfish unless you're a millionaire.
Seriously, Epsom

An academic said something similar a couple of years ago, I wish I had made a note of his name. It's about time somebody brought this issue back in the limelight. Population growth is and will continue to be behind many of the worlds problems. We're entering an age where wars will be fought over water rights, these only become an issue when you've got unsustainably large populations. It's all very well this article being read by the people who visit this site but that isn't going to affect the third world nations that are behind the rapid growth of the worlds population.
Richard, Kingston

Two words for people who think the world is over-populated: Beachy Head!
Richard, Alfreton

As we are allowing the populas of Africa die, (hopefully not before they have tested all new medication on them to ensure that it is safe for the white western man to take) and they inhabit the largest land mass on the plant. Room for new white westerners should not be an issue. With the USA now running the world, with their love of the death penality, and no money = no services etc the population should decrease over a period of time. It was stated that by the year 2030 we would need another planet, with africa and other third worlds populas being left to die, space should not be an issue in a few years. The USA will soon enlighten us to the WRONGS of allowing certain people to live,etc so no problem
bobi, bangor

We have to procreate, otherwise the human race will die out. Just have less babies.
Anne, Toronto, Canada

Well done Joanna for breaking this taboo and saying what many people our age are thinking. Is it not clear that the environmental impact of the human race is the impact of one human multiplied by the total number of humans? For this reason all green efficiency savings are completely wasted unless accompanied by birth control measures.
Steve Penfield, York, UK

As any Darwinist knows, the whole point of life is to reproduce - to pass on your DNA. Organisms that don't do this are, in evoltionary terms, failures. Malthus was proved wrong about the scrabble for resources & the so-called 'environmental' argument for 'pruning' the human race will be proved wrong again for the same reasons.Science & technology will provide us with the answers & babies mean the next generation of scientists, engineers & visionary politicians.Stop being such defeatists - the history of humanity is the struggle to overcome such problems & to thrive as a successful lifeform : thats our evolutionary imperitive & thus our moral & intellectual duty. To shirk it is to fail the incredible chance evolution has given us.
Burf, Snowy Lancashire

If we don't sort out our ever growing population humanly then mother nature will and it wont be nice. I'm only 23 and I would love to have a child of my own but im not going to because that would be very selfish of me because when my child grows up the planet that they will be living in is not going to be a nice place to be. People are so impatient, selfish and short sighted they forget to look at the bigger picture. You cant just take, take, take and expect everything to be ok and sort its self out, Guess what it wont. What's fair about handing down an abused a dying earth to the next generations who wont be able to do anything because it will be to late. Was their any point in us evolving when all we have accomplished is the slow destruction of our own Earth and most of us just sat back and let it happen when we still have the power to make a difference. The Earth was doomed the minute we evolved.
concerned over our future, England

OUr planet can only sustain 1.5 billion humans and not destroy all wild areas. WE must have a world wide mandate on each human having only 2 chhildren, and the first not until age 29. This will peacefully reduce human population to a sustainable number. There must be penalties for those who violate this mandate.
George F. Naryshkin, Stuart, USA

Yes, this is the ultimate environmental issue. Beside which, other nostrums like "Greenhouse" gasses pale into insignificance. Beyond the replacement level, of two children per couple, obsessive breeding is environmental terrorism. The lifetime "carbon footprint" of each additional child is so large it is beyond calculation.
Brian Vallance, Corfu, Greece

we should just introduce an iq and a means test before people are allowed to have children a baby should be a privelidge that you are able to take care of if you dont have the means your self to look after then you shouldnt be aloud it. women should not be allowed more than two children in there life time. The only problem is controlling the people who fail the iq test and still try to have a baby sounds a bit harsh but forced terminations or taking away the baby at birth may act as a detterant. it sounds harsh but saving the world normally is.

The fair way to do it is to represent environmental cost in monetary cost (of everything). Then people could choose a luxury western lifestyle OR multiple children. I choose central heating, but if you want three brats in a hovel then knock yourself out.
Felix, Amsterdam

you need a licence to drive. you have to pass a test. but you dont need a license to have children? surely having a child needs more training, and requires more responsibility, than driving?
sarah b-w, worcester

If you want children, then I you able to support them, by all means have them. If you do not want children, then don't have them. Be the change you want, don't moan about it. We are just having more children, we have an ageing population. Who will pay YOUR national insurance and pension when you are old??? Think this through....bunch of idiots
Andy, Manchester

You people are very depressing. Always worried about what other people are doing (e.g. having babies). Wanting to stop people doing things you don't like - a very totalitarian attitude. Also, it is amazing hypocrisy to claim that other people should be prevented from having children or more than one or two when you are also part of the problem. If you really wanted to make a difference - start with your own use of resources. Try not consuming anything for a few months. It would help the environment.
Adrian, Sydney, Australia

I've always thought that having only 2 children is the most ethical choice. But now that I have 2, I'm struggling with a strong desire for a third. Not something I ever expected! Interestingly enough, my mother once told me she considered not having kids because of the cold war (late 60s early 70s). Now I worry about the fate of the environment and the food supply.
Rachel, Canberra, Australia

I have to agree with the majority of what Joanna says. As a 22 year old with a good job I find it totally astounding that before buying my Golden Retriever I was vetted, quizzed and inspected to within an inch of my life- quite rightly so I believe. But yet if I were to pop out two or three children and expect to support them with benefits, society wouldn't bat an eyelid. Perhaps the answer to our population problems would not be to judge every parent that desires a large family but to simply ask people to live within their means. I find it hard to stomache some of the comments stating that to have have three children is plain selfish when on the same website there is an article about a three generation family living under one roof- none of whom have worked a day in their life. I think these are the cases that should be branded as ''selfish''.
Francesca, Woodbridge, Suffolk, England

I'm irresponsible and selfish, am I?? I hope none of my four children stumble upon this page. They will then realize they are part of the 'surplus population'. This kind of talk will demoralize people from big families. I'm insulted and feel like saying something nasty but then this mail would never get posted.
Phil, Leeds

I agree wholeheartedly, as whenever I see families of more than two children these days, I think the same thing. I'm a 25-year-old woman with hormones raging and whilst I'd love kids and lots of them, I think people need to think long and hard about what kind of world the people of tomorrow will grow up in. My fiance and I have talked about this at length and as people who consider ourselves to have ethical and socially-responsible values, we will perhaps settle for one child, if any at all.
Laura, Exeter

O please don't stop having kids - I really do enjoy paying for you all trying to satisfy your sad existances by passing on your DNA. That is, I don't have kids and have to bloody pay for yours. Humans - Intelligent beings - Hah, your having a laugh. Nature is survival of the fittest, society is survival of the weakest. Remove the weak, keep the strong - O what a world it would be then. Earth you rock (literally in places) Humans you suck (literally in places)
Mug, Society

Planet earth does NOT belong to us! She will make you pay for believing so!
Earth, Everywhere

Yes everyone stop having children. In a hundred years the planets problem will be over. i.e. No More Humans. It may be your bioligical right to have a baby but its not your right to add in to this planet. Go somewhere else - yes as in another planet. Be gone vile beings!
Lou Cifer, Dorset

I do absolutely agree. And - to comment the funny question posed to us readers - there is no such a thing as an "instinct" to have babies. Society requires it, and we are brainwashed into not seeing the personal and social disadvantages. That is, the crazy functioning of our current socioeconomic system requires growth, that's why "environmentalist" associations, who are taking advantage of the same system, do not spend words on this very important issue. And religions are thinking with Middle-age concepts, they simply do not imagine that they must evolve, too - the "Truth" they believe is ever-lasting. Thanks for expressing these heretical and wise opinions.
daniela, milan, italy

"next generation will be raised by those who don't give a damn" is a good point made by Darren. People reading this article obviously give a damn.

Have at most one, adopt another if you can and try to make them both responsible.
Chaitresh Srinivas, Bangalore, India

As I have said elsewhere ...if we don't do anything to control world population...then everything else is completely pointless. An analogy I can think of, is that it's like everyone is 'only' worrying about where they are going to sail a ship too ....when it's sinking! The important thing is to stop it sinking first..until then nothing else matters.
Peter Jolliffe, Scarborough

Patronising drivel, summed up by that end comment 'won't it?'. Sounds like something a primary school teacher would say to their class at the end of a lesson to 'give them something to think about'.
Rich, London

The fertility rate for the UK is dropping, not increasing. The increase in population is not because people are generally having more children in this country, it's because of immigration and global population shift. The population is also gradually growing older, by which i mean older people make up higher and higher percentages of the population. You might want some of these apparently unnecessary children to become part of the workforce and make sure you can retire before you're say, ninety. People are living longer and longer because of great advances in medicine. If some of you are really serious about 'population control', why don't you go around encouraging some of the retirees to off themselves? Probably because that's the kind of thing a sociopath would do. So! You 'population controllers' out there, you can't touch our senior citizens because they are our heritage, our family. You can't touch the youth, they are the future, and ones who will have to clean up this mess. So i guess that leaves a nice big chunk in the middle? Go nuts. Also, I'm not sure if anyone's mentioned this, but population density is directly correlated to environmental impact. The Uk has one of the highest population densities on the planet, but you wouldnt ask people in London or Manchester to 'spread themselves out a bit', would you?
Sam, Victoria, BC/ Warrington, UK

I agree - there are too many selfish people in the world and not nearly enough room for them all...
Jo, South Africa

It is appalling to read some of the comments here. Such a typical Westerners' attitude: let's eliminate anybody who threatens MY comfortable and completely wasteful lifestyle, and force others to do the same. Those population control "imposers" should remember that their own "child-free" culture is dying out. And by the way, it is the degree of their own waste of resources that is causing most world problems, and not the size of the world's population. So maybe it's time to stop being hypocrites and changes themselves, instead of trying to change others.
Andris, Riga, Latvia

It is amazing to see how many people agree with the author of this article. My suggestion is that if you are concerned about the footprint of you children, therefore you don't procreate, you might just as well take a step forward and reduce your footprint to zero by killing yourselves... with many thanks from my children :-)
Lorenzo Benedetti, Ghent, Belgium

I don't know what the acceptable (to the majority) solution to population control is, but I do know that if the wider population made a concerted effort towards sustainable living, there may be a time buffer in which the population problem might be able to reach a happy equilibrium. Governments need to stop pussyfooting around and start make the tough decisions, putting serious money into sustainable practices such as renewable energies - this has such longer reaching benefits than simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most people with a smallish patch of land could easily grow a reasonable amount of their own vegetable needs, reducing the cost and energy required to transport a piece of brocolli that finally makes it to your table! Recyling, better infrastructure for bicycles, government incentives to help people adopt new, sustainable ways of living ... sounds like a greenie's rant, but it's the way of the future, if there is to be one. These are things we can do NOW to help support our present population whilst implementing policies to tame population growth. Considering the potential legacy of a used up planet that we may be leaving to future generations, paving the way for sustainable ways of living may be the least we can do for them.
Rachael, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

After seeing starving children in Africa in my 20s. I decided that it would be wrong to have any of my own. I got a vasectomy and am quite happy to be childless. I contribute any surplus from my modest professor's salary to environmental causes.
James B. Cole, Tsukuba, Japan

Ever walk into Walmart and have your jaw drop at the unimaginable stupidity of the "people" walking around in there? (I think Walmart attracts the stupid) I see fat little mexican girls with 2 kids at the age of 15 (fat because its pregnant with a 3rd!), and 45 yr-old gangsters with their briches around their knees. I dont know about over there in England, but here it seems like stupid people are multiplying at an incredible rate. Is this the future for the world? Is it a simple fact that the unintelligent out-breed the intelligent? Shouldn't we endeavor to reverse this trend? I am not sure yet about the best way to do it, but it is clear to me that if overpopulation is an issue, then the least intelligent humans must be limited in their reproductive capacity!
David, Dallas, USA

It is absolutely irresponsible to have children in these times! We seem to have the myth in our heads that population growth is good- like the myth of economic growth. Get yourself fixed!
Randy , Petaluma, CA, USA

As a woman in her mid 30's I can say I'm grateful I have never felt the urge to breed. I often find myself getting rather annoyed by parents of children who feel the rest of us tax payers should be covering the costs of their children. Not only child benefits but government funded fertility treatments. Over population and the continued mis-use of our limited resources will not only land future generations with an awful mess to clean up on the planet but the lack of population control policies will mean that with each subsequent generation and global population increase the problems of limited resources will only get worse. If you really must have children, one should be sufficient!
J Manion, Hong Kong

Good comments. It is not even about 'replacing' yourselves anymore. The idealised two-child family sees a population stabilising, but not reducing. I would see a world with half our number 'surviving'. Any more is just surplus. But then i am a misogynist. Some serious decisions need to be made at governmental level but unfortunately democracy is the worst style of rule to be dictating fertility laws from.
Matthew Jonker, Australia

If we live in a world that cannot adequately feed, house and educate the entire population of this planet, then how responsible is it to add to that number? There are millions of children already out there who need looking after - and I'm not just talking about "starving Africans" - I mean on our very doorsteps. I don't understand how a so called need to procreate can override all common sense. I still want children of course, but I have no desire to add to the woes that my (adopted) children will no doubt face.
Nadia, Hong Kong

For those of you looking for a raison d'être for life - try having children, as many as you can responsibly look after financially and emotionally. Having more 3 or more children should not be a social stigma (although I feel that's already happening), the stigma should be on those parents who have more children than they can responsibly bring up BY THEMSELVES. Lack of resources to maintain current population levels can & will be sorted relatively quickly through technology, i.e. electric cars, renewable energy sources, sophisticated water recycling plants (the list goes on) & will form the backbone of the global economy in the years ahead. What I notice happening though in this transition is the relentless focus on 'carbon footprints' and the importance of being able to measure these footprints. Given everything we do leaves a carbon footprint EVERYTHING we do will require tracking, measuring and I dare say taxing. Ultimately this will lead to full behavioural control & the final erosion of personal choices & freedoms (through stats or stigmas, either will do). I agree that we should be prudent with resources & mindful of what is sustainable, however, if we aren't careful, we are going to volunteer ourselves to an Orwellian world (and lap it up!!). Lets find an answer but not at a cost of freedom & privacy.
patrick cowen, Christchurch, NZ

Eugenics need not be the horror word that it is perceived to be. Having hildren should NEVER be seen as a right, being a parent is the greatest responsibility anyone can undertake and anyone who has a child that they are incapable of looking after properly should certainly not be allowed to have any more offspring. If this means enforced sterilization, then it would definitely be in the interest of humanity to do so, rather than allowing feckless individuals/couples to produce more unwanted, badly cared for (often abused) children.
fred, Wigan, England

I agree. Let's stop at one if you must have a child. Let the planet breathe a little. Then again, maybe we're just too selfish. Maybe we're destined for extinction, like all those animals whose habitats we swiftly converted into our backyards. Fact is, we're a virus that's plaguing the planet. Incurable, from the looks of it.
Geetha, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Human life is a precious gift, something to be treasured, not to be traded off against "scary" environmental change scenarios which are, on the evidence I've seen, overblown. Humans have a unique capacity for adaptation, innovation and spiritual development, if Joanna can't let this outweigh her "green" concerns, it's best she remains childless, while not seeking to impose her view on others.
Faustino, Brisbane, Australia

Wow. Not one student of history in all of these responses. Overpopulation ONLY exists because of technology - specifically medicine and agribusiness. ALL of the first and most of the second world countries have DECLINING natural populations. But remember this...decreasing birth rates multiply the natural effect of the deathrate on crashing human populations. That can also crash a civilization, and that trend, unlike overpopulation, is nearly irreversible. You can't tell people in their 50's to start having children like you can incentivize people in their 20's to delay child bearing. Without immigration, the overpopulated countries will reach stability within a decade IF they cannot export their reproductive culture. This scenario has happened before...many times, in micro-environments, when human populations were more isolated. North America, Europe, and even China are finding out that without immigration from overpopulated countries, they will soon not have enough young people to produce the resources for their aging populations.
Daniel, Pennsylvania, USA

I applaud you for bringing this up. I have made the decision to not have children, on account of the 'carbon footprint'. If I don't have children it seems I'm pretty much entitled to use as much fossil fuels as I please, since when I die that will be the end of it. Each child has the potential to increases one's 'carbon footprint' infinitely.
Cooper, LaFayette New York, USA (But I'm Canadian)

The third world is the root of the overpopulation problem. They are enabling our financial elites to import more people in order to grow the markets in the first world despite the first worlders voting with their genitals to have less children and more space in our overcrowded countries. Essentially this is undemocratic. We need to learn steady-state or non-growth economics, and we need to learn it fast.
Eric, Canada

Joanna is absolutely right to be concerned. Sure, we need to keep having SOME children if we're not to go the way of the dinosaurs - but with the current world population being, what - 6.5 billion? Going on 7 billion? - and this only supported by fossil fuel-reliant fertilisers etc... what happens when supplies shrink. Most oil and gas experts talk about supplies becoming really scarce in only 50-100 years! That's your children and grandchildren's lifetimes... Combine decreasing fertiliser feedstocks with climate change and we could see MASS die-offs of people the world over. Grim future, that! Especially in a world where people will inevitably fight for the decreasing resouces. And remember, it's a world armed to the hilt with nuclear weapons! People, PLEASE start controlling your procreative urges NOW! A gradual reduction in population, surely, is better than the end-of-the-world stuff that looks to be the only alternative.
Ross Marnie, Glasgow, Scotland

That the world is already overpopulated is pretty obvious. But, short of a cataclysm, it is rather difficult to see any serious reduction occurring for two primary reasons. First, it is an instinctive desire to procreate and have children - almost all of us do it. So who or where is the arbiter that could decide otherwise? And again, for almost all of us, it is going to be someone else's problem to decide against that most basic of human (and animal) instincts. After all, why should you or I not have children when there are others around to make this sacrifice. Second, there is a demographic issue. Unless each couple have something more than two children each, then population will decline, But then the population will also become older and, in consequence, less economically active and with an even greater demand on limited resources of healthcare and the other problems of old age. Over a long time of course the overall population would tend to decline but then would there not be more pressure on the young to have larger families to support their older relatives.....? I think that the best we can hope for is stabilisation of the population at an already too great a number and, as the majority of the world's population continue to strive to achieve the consumption levels of the west - well, as Corporal Frazer might have said "we are all doomed".
Richard, Montpon, France

Any parents wishing to have a large family should be adopting. It is horribly selfish to do otherwise when there are so many children who need homes.
Jennifer, San Francisco

You used to need a license to have a dog. Why have you never needed one to have a child? You can be banned from having a pet, but not from having a child. Why? Excuse me, I have to take our cat for her fertility treatment now... :)
Sam B, Manchester

Yep, we need more death.
Adrian Smith, London, England

Thank you for speaking up about overpopulation. I decided not to have kids after reading The Population Bomb at the tender age of 15. Although the exact predictions from the book didn't come true, its general idea was right and I've never regretted my choice. And while you may chose to have only one or two kids, they may have more. I have neighbors who have four and are planning on at least six! I wish more people would consider the ever-branching tree of breeding and have one or none. Gordon McStraun's comment suggesting that one votes for the future of the planet by breeding seems to ignore that one's children are independent beings.
Linda, Raleigh, NC USA

Whenever I get into conversations with my friends and flat mates about having children, I usually end up asking them whether they would ever think about adopting their children rather than having their own. I always get the same response, a baffled look followed by a concerned, "Only if I couldn't have my own..." I then continue. "Why?" The answer is always something along the lines of, "Because I want my own. It just wouldn't be the same having an adopted child." This answer never makes any sense to me. In a world that is overpopulated as it is, where so many orphaned children desperately need loving families, it just seems selfish to only consider adoption as a backup plan, a last resort in the worst case scenario. When I am ready to have children, I am going to adopt. I would personally feel guilty imagining any other option.
Alice Brindle, Oxford, UK

As a father of 3, I cringe at the fact that so many people the world over are willing to let their viewpoints die with them. In an age of technology where we have the power to make undrinkable water drinkable and harness the limitless energy of nature, how is having 3 or more children more selfish than allowing failed bureaucratic systems to continue?

Lets face it, it is bureaucracy, not family, that is causing more damage and confusion. History has taught us time and time again that fear mongering, by any entity, produces nothing but tragedy.....
lonnie, san antonio, texas

I have mulled the same question for years and I'm only 25 (and childless)! I'd like to think that everyone who has kids will do everything in their power to reduce waste and be more friendly towards the environment. However when it's easier, due to lack of sleep, prices, etc., to use disposable everything - I know that is not the case. I think that it is responsible if you are planning on having your own children to also adopt, which gives the joy of having another child but also reduces the stress on the enviornment and the already booming world population. Generally and historically speaking, the people of the world like to come behind everyone and play the 'picking up the pieces' game when instead we should all try and make better decisions in the first place to limit our impact on this great but struggling planet.
Lindsey D., Raleigh, NC - USA

This is just ridiculous - I mean I've heard all sorts of reasons off my 30 something friends for not getting married or not having children but this just takes the biscuit! Do you think maybe if this reported met the right man she would realise that having children is not going to destroy the planet in the next 10-15 years?
Hannah, New York City, USA

At nearly 7 billion people, I think it is a crucial time to implement a system in regards to childbirth. We are indeed being irresponsible now as we continue to procreate and consume on levels higher than ever experienced in the past. With technology allowing us to live longer, and procedures and money available to assist those who with out intensive help could not survive, natural selection has for many years now been increasingly avoided by human beings. And with billions of individuals given free reign of this planet, responsibility has been a concept quite far back in out minds. But the fact is, children birthed now will be inheriting a planet in distress that no sum of of technology will be able to permanently fix. Sure we could continue to work to deflect asteroids and avoid the effects of natural disasters, but eventually its going to catch up to us. These "disasters" are essential to maintaining a balance. The last thing earth needs it another billion a beings to fight, consume and destroy the only biologically endowed planet in our solar system. It is certainly a difficult concept to fathom as most people want to have a child of their own and experience parenthood, and with that being one of our most deepest instincts, its hard to ignore. But all instincts aside, we just cant afford any more people. We need a few billion more fish, trees, amphibians ect. But it seems that most would rather continue to focus their concerns on the life and times of Britney Spears than the very essence of life itself.
evan, vancouver canada

I have not long had my second child and I often think about how the world will be when he is older. Thats why I made the decision to use reusable nappies as soon as I could afford them. We don't own a car so I travel by bus into town or walk if the weather is good. Some people might think they're right in saying others shouldn't have more than three children, but my cousin who has one child has recently fallen pregnant with twins.
Caz Mitchell, Gloucestershire

We're not the only animals on this planet, why not let some others get a leg up on their numbers.
, Alexandria, VA,USA

I cant say its the environment alone thats stopping me - why would I want to bring a child into this world with the level of crime that exists?
Karen, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

this has been a question that has concerned me for some time, but not for environmental reasons. There are simply too many unwanted children in the world who need to be adopted that there is no logical justification for bringing another child into the world. If you want a child to raise, why not adopt one who needs a family?
Chris, US

I think the solution would be some sort of control, like not having more than 1-2 children. I also think that everyone should not be able to have babies, like drug addicts and people with other issues. The governments should make sure take more care of families, to make sure that our young grow up to be good citizens. That way the next generation would be more educated, thus have more knowledge of how to prevent ecological disaster. Families need more support! Not just financial.
Selina, Finland

Increasing the population of our planet today is morally wrong. It is short-sighted thinking and lacks common sense. I saw a documentary done several years ago in which the Dali Lama was interviewed. He was asked,"What is the one thing people could do to change this world for the better?" His response, "Quit having babies." Doesn't get any simpler than that.
Richard, Seattle, WA, USA

Eugenics anyone? Just remember what happened when someone last tried such things, deathcamps are a short way behind forced sterralisation and selection leads to an elite. Shame on all commentators who have forgotten the sacrafice of millions in the forties to buy us the freedom to choose how we live our lives today. The social left and far right seem rather close ideologically from my perspective - a scary awakening if I'm honest. To all of you on favour of control, please think beyond where the resources for your next holiday will come from and consider life, liberty and choice.

Have children, don't worry about it. In a developed country *falling* populations are more of a problem, in terms of labour and providing for the elderly. Only developing countries have excessive birthrates as they often have basic health care and sanitation, but not enough education to allow family planning schemes to be implemented meaningfully (or often religious prohibition). It's actually quite dense to suggest people should not have children because the world might be a bad place. Let's just kill ourselves now, shall we? We'll never get sick that way.
Andy T, London

I would like to have kids but aside from the environmental issues I don't want to have to go through pregnancy. I'm thinking about adopting children if I get married when I'm older. At this point I know a lot of couples who have adopted kids, and they do have their own issues, but most of the families are happy.
Shi-Hsia Hwa, Penang, Malaysia

If you're so worried about the effects of overpopulation, don't stop at just not having kids. Kill yourself! Save us all the trouble of us having to listen to your pathetic whining, save us the resources you are taking up, and allow one more space on this planet for the child I want to have.
Michael Kossew, Barcelona, Spain

Excellent points made by Ms. Benn. As a household of 4, we constantly strive to minimise our impact on the environment wherever we can. This decision has even led us to choose not the best primary school in the borough but the one within walking distance - one less chelsea tractor clogging up the suburban arteries. If we all slow down just a little and think about the small changes we can make to our lives the future of our children will undoubtedly be brighter.
Nina Stubbings, London

I think we should limit cars to one per family, introduce congestion charge for each city and encourage small local businesses to thrive, killing off big chain stores. It will mean less waste, less pollution and smaller carbon footprint. Increase taxes on bigger fuel inefficient cars, increase taxes on heating homes with more bedrooms than children and increase tax on bin collection where recycling is not done. Don't blame families, blame the greed of the nation wanting bigger, better and more. I have 4 kids and we are more fuel efficient compared to most, if not all 2 child families we know. We recycle lots. We don't shop at M+S for our dinner bought in plastic containers that we heat up in microwaves, we go nuts and actually cook from raw veg and meat!!! A lot of people I know have fabulous kitchens only to heat up food, they claim to have cooked. It's a joke! You're the ones vandalising our planet, not the big families!
Abi Jenkins, Cheshire

Two hundred million people worlwide would like access to contraception, but cannot get it. That means a lot of young women doomed to a life of caring for children in poverty, when they would prefer a more fulfilling lifestyle. Meet this reasonable aspiration, and we would combine an act of kindness with a helping hand for the environment.
Hugh Guillebaud, Salisbury Wiltshire

Since the 70's I have spoken-out (locally) about the unsustainable and potentially disastrous consequences of uncontrolled, unregulated population growth. Now those predictions are becoming all to evident. Of all the challenges that face the world today there is none more pressing and in need of immediate action than the fecundity of the human species. Either we will find the will and a means to regulate and controll our numbers on this little spaceship we call earth...or Mother Nature will, and probably not in a way we will like or possible even survive. Concerned for the future, Lewis R. Lowden, North Star, MI, USA
Lewis R. Lowden, North Star, MI, USA

It makes me sick to read most of the printed comments. I have 4 children and I have less waste - less bin bags going out the door than 4 of my neighbours, each with the 'acceptable' 2 kids - why?, because I recycle. I don't go to fast food places, I cook (no, not heat up a M+S "dinner"... cook!), I don't travel by car to shopping malls (or even shop there) nor do I waste petrol on huge 4by4's that aren't designed for our roads. Comments made here are from unintelligent morons who may want to thrive off a dictatorship, but if we had a China type state telling us we must stick to 2 kids - then what else would the government tell us to do? As for 'undesireables', who are they? It's the middle class in our society who base opinions without thinking. Funnily enough, apparantly I have been classed a rarity by my FA, we have huge savings in the bank, no debts and we live a fabulous lifestyle. I care about my actions and I don't go round dictating to the shocking families around here who think it's ok to live waastefully. The earth is not dying because of big families... it's dying (if, indeed it is dying) because of the wasteful ones!!!!
Abi Jenkins, Cheshire

Wanting children is seen as a "natural" human instinct. But those instincts evolved a very long time ago, and they haven't changed to account for lack of predators, increased lifespan, or the massive energy demands of a modern industrialised lifestyle. The population is already too big for the earth to support with current practices; adding more resource-greedy bodies can only compound the problem. A toddler does not represent only a mountain of nappies -- it represents 70+ years of future energy consumption. Much speculative fiction of the 50s and 60s predicted that by now, people would have to earn the right to reproduce; unfortunately, I don't think that will happen until we have passed the crisis point we are fast approaching. Even more unfortunately, I suspect some people will still be surprised by the crisis.
Jenny, West Cork, Ireland

The problem is not so much population growth as the per capita ecological impact. It is well known that European emissions are going up despite a dwindling population, while the fastest growing countries (e.g. Nigeria, Egypt) are not much of a burden on the planet. Huge savings in per capita emissions and pollution are possible through more efficient technology ("factor 4") and better logistics. I would say if families choose to have more children, then we need to welcome them because their lives are intrinsically good and meaningful, even if that means budging up and reducing per capita consumption rates, especially given that the earth's resources, if sustainably managed, are enough to feed some 12 billion according to UN figures. Nor are we helping an integral human development by spreading western methods of contraception, for with it we are communicating a philosophy that sees children as a commodity or a burden, to be produced at will, rather than simply welcomed for their own sake.
Daniel, Salzburg, Austria

Several commenters have raised concern that voluntary restraint by responsible people will skew future generations genetic make up towards irresponsibility. No one knows if this is true, because research into this kind of thing is an even bigger taboo than talking about population. It was be nice to have some facts from geneticists, but we aren't allowed to by the politically motivated.
Chris, lincoln

there is far too many people on this planet and i believe goverments need to look and take serious action on this issue, look at the uk around 70 million people live on this tiny island and that number is rocketing further using up more energy, natural resources, and increasing global warming however the goverment could stabilies this number by bringing in law that requires evey person/family to have no more than one or two(debatable) child?children its not as if they would be breaking any human rites as they are allowed to have children but no more than the maximum number allowed i think it a fantastic idea and that we should tell the goverment to do something about it that is if it is serious about tackling the huge issues like our econemy, environment which will only get harder to achieve if numbers of people are allowed to go out of control thank you
Carl Holmes, wirral , uk

I remember in the 1970's that ZPG--Zero Population Growth--was being talked about all the time as a good thing to reduce the problems of our planet. That was 30 to 40 years ago! Now your article comes up with the same concern. Doesn't it seem obvious that married couples want children, and concerns for the good of the earth come second? I, too, wish that we could reduce the total number of people on the earth. The thing is: We all want to live and not die early. In fact, we live LONGER (that's a good thing for you and me, right?), so the only solution is to encourage people to have smaller families. I don't know if that will work . . . but it is certainly worth talking about and promoting. Wouldn't it be nice to have less of the land being paved over, less traffic, less congestion, less noise, less moving-things-around in big trucks, less crime (yes, it's "density" related), more natural space for soothing the soul . . . ? I think so.
Susan Evans, Atlanta, Georgia

Humans are the only animals that keep thier failures alive
bryan, Portland, Oregon USA

This certainly looks like the untouchable subject that someone has finally spoken up about. Kudos to Joanne for speaking on the obvious problem in the world. I have been saying for years that we are the virus on this planet, that the obvious answer is that there are just too many of us. Top of the food chain with shark like attitudes. I thought AIDS would be the culler of the human race for our times, but not enough it seems. Joanne thank you for talking on a hot topic that bears more examination, not more babies.
Donna D., Novato, USA

As I am about to turn 30, I have started thinking about this issue a lot lately. On one hand, I feel it is a huge risk to bring a vulnerable little life into this toxic world. My brain tells me it would be irresponsible to have a child in this polluted environment and I think about how my relatively small carbon footprint would grow dramatically. There are so many parent-less children in the world that need to be taken care of, and so many childless couples out there that could help to change this. However, on the other hand, there is biology. For the past year or so, Nature with a capital N has been nagging at me to procreate. There is a deep yearning for a baby that came out of nowhere and does not match up with the practical thoughts that are coming out of my brain. My body wants a baby, my mind thinks about the true realities and implications of this. I think about the healthy, beautiful city I live in and about how it is so environmentally aware and responsible, and how great it would be to raise a child here. I'm sure it's just my hormones talking, but a glimmer of optimism about our world and our future shines through my cynical mind, and I feel confident about raising a "green" child. For a moment the idealist in me sees cloth diapers, homemade vegetarian meals, riding bikes to school, environmental and international education and I think it would be wonderful, even fun. But, then you turn on the news and hear reports of the the horrific attacks on innocent people in Mumbai, our crashing economy, melting ice caps, and all of that imagined baby bliss fades away. The strongest glimmer of hope that seems to still exist for me (so far) - especially here in the U.S., but also globally - is knowing that Barack Obama will take the oath of the Presidency in less than 50 days. I'm hoping that he can truly help to make the world we live in a kinder, healthier and more sustainable one. You know, the kind where people can have a baby with their loved one if that's what they really want - without this flood of negative thoughts entering into the decision. So, for now, I stay conflicted and a little nervous about the baby subject. Thank you for your article, Joanna, I'm happy to know I'm not the only 30 year old thinking about this.
J, Portland, OR, USA

I am relieved to see so much concern and, basically, common sense being put forward by BBC readers. The Optimum Population trust has put the solution succinctly: AIM To reduce projected population growth of 2.4 billion by 2050 by at least 1.4 billion - to reach no more than 7.8 billion by 2050 instead of 9.2 billion (Current UN forecast). Every country should have a population policy that is environmentally sustainable for its own citizens and for citizens of the world as whole. An international protocol should be agreed which commits all nations to achieving environmentally sustainable population levels by peaceful and democratic means. Every country should act urgently to make family planning services easily accessible to all men and women. Every country should act urgently to improve women's rights and education, including removing barriers to women's control over their own fertility. Every country should encourage parents to voluntarily "stop at two" children. Every country should ensure that its own population has full access to employment, and that older people are enabled to extend their working lives. Every country should put its population policy into action alongside environmental policies to curb emissions and reduce consumption and resource depletion, to ensure global environmental survival. No one wants to stop couples from having babies - a sense of responsibility is what is needed.
John Halladay, Canterbury

Anybody who asks the question "Why did you want children?" obviously has some genetic codes missing and someone should pick up their slack. Also why target the Yummy Mummies? They aren't having enough children to sustain the current population. Have you thought of publishing this article where it is needed, like Yemen, West Bank, Nigeria or somewhere where population growth is an urgent problem?
Philip Thomas, Norwich

Just have one child. I did. Limit yourself and the world population will be lowered in a single generation.
Rodney, Baltimore, USA

We in the developed world with our massive carbon emissions should reduce our carbon emissions by the most, although of course every human should make an effort to combat global warming. In exactly the same way people in countries where the birth rate is the highest, corresponding roughly to Africa, S-America and Asia (excluding China), will have to bear the brunt of the fight on overpopulation, to put it bluntly. See: for maps and figures on birth rates worldwide.
Andri, Reykjavik, Iceland

Our population stabilised during the 70's and 80's but the current short term thinking of governments who are funded by rich capitalists means that the media and policy have become biased towards larger families.Of course,one or two of our politicians have religeon too.We will have to work longer and cure some of the major drains on health,i.e.obesity and Alzeimhers for instance and accept that growth cannot go on for ever,population or economic! We have to change the model if we don't want a world empty of other creatures teetering on war.
steve johnson., whitwick, leics. England

China's limits on reproduction are one way of solving the problem but how do you deal with accidental births? No contraceptive is 100% effective and you can't expect couples to have healthy relationships after having their quota of children if they are to abstain from practicing the art of reproduction a few times a week. I do however think families with 4 or more children are excessive. With 4 children and 2 parents each child has the access to a parents hand as they walk down the street. Any more than that and emotional, financial and environmental resources are of course stretched. Basically we all need to pull together and not pass the burdens.
Bob, Norwich

I agree with Joanna. I have brought the issue up to people in the past, and sometimes I get funny looks. I have one child. I have no issues with families with a couple of children, but I just don't understand the mentality that believes it's alright to have 4 or more children in the world today. Whether you can afford to care for that many children is one thing, but the strain on our planet is another. There are food shortages now with 6 billion plus people on the planet. What happens in 5 years? I think this is an issue that needs to be seriously addressed.
Elaine, Iowa City, Iowa

I agree totally with Alan above. We need to discourage the idea of having more that 2 children, perhaps by only giving child benefit to the first two, perhaps by giving benefits to people who do not have kids, perhaps simply through education. Everyone should consider carefully why they want kids, not just follow what they think is expected of them. If everyone who then still want kids, restrict themselves to two, the population should fall in a nice steady manner, and no need for panic measures.
Nana, Sheffield

Where do you stop, where do you draw the line? Perhaps those babies with disabilities, learning disorders or medical problems should be terminated? Perhaps there should be an exam to weed out the "unsuitable or undesirable"? Who's going to police this? And the penalty for contravention? While the sentiment is laudable, for any agency to decide either who has children or how many they can have is an infringement of civil liberties and smacks of ethnic cleansing. Its NOT the number of people but the lifestyles they choose to lead that is at fault. It would be much more ethical and sustainable to demonise air travel and other practices with a high carbon footprint, but I'll bet precious few of the whiners blaming population numbers would be willing to forego all their gizmos and gadgets, gas guzzling Chelsea tractors and exotic foreign holidays four times a year. THAT's the real issue. Rampant consumerism is to blame for the environmental issues, not how many children people should or shouldn't have. I think the responses speaks volumes about the real selfishness here - I can just imagine the outcry that would manifest if losing their beloved 1st world comforts was suggested... much simpler to sit there smugly and blame everyone else for "having too many children"!
anon, Hants,

I am approaching my thirties and have been wondering about the same issue. I discussed it with my mum a while back and she said she was not sure whether she would have children in this day and age. In her time, it was just something you did, whereas now it is socially acceptable to stay childless (or child-free). But the people around me are starting families now and although I am not particularly maternal, it does make you think. Europe is a very small part of the population problem I fear. The biggest problems are in third-world countries. People there have had big families (10+ children) for generations as there was the simple fact that over half of their children were unlikely to make it to adulthood. Now modern medicine has been brought to these areas, many more of the children are surviving, but the reproduction rate has not declined as far as I know. So suddenly you have more mouths to feed in a country where food is scarce. Is it really that good too interfere? It's an ethical battle for me...
Kelys, London

I agree with Joanna. Morally, I think everyone should be adopting instead of bring more lives into this world. But there is a big part of me, actually, all of me, which wants to get pregnant and give birth to my own child. My mom always talks about the joys of bearing your own child. I am not sure if I can be selfless enough to actually give up the possiblity of that joy.
Pooja Prem, London, UK

The problem is uneducated people having children, not only in the USA but 3rd world countries. It's very dangerous for the world and those poor children born into poverty. The funny thing is that usually the people who are well educated and have good jobs to support children don't have them, while the poor have a handful and can't even support a single child. Education is the answer. If half the world was educated properly or even at all we wouldn't be in this situation. Watch the movie Idiocracy.
Stephanie, RI, USA

This is indeed a rather complex question. When the survival of nature itself is at sakes, I think births should be limited in order to curb the terrible effect we have on it. On the other hand, changing our ways of consuming and educate future generations seems as mandatory as controlling birth.
Simon, Maceio, Brazil

Like someone mentioned before, once the population expands beyond sustainable size, the population crashes. That is to say, it resets to a sustainable size. So, that is basically one of the ways population can be controlled. Education is another way, as educated individuals usually have few or no children.
MECH, New York,USA

I think people should put more thought into having they just want a baby so they can buy the cutest new baby clothes or are they trying to carry on the legacy of a family? To a certain extent, having children has become "trendy" and I think society should reinforce that it is ok for a woman not to want children, or for a couple to be childless. I don't think putting limits on the number of kids someone can have will ever happen in America, but we can work towards making it more acceptable for couples to not have children. Also, many Americans are blissfully unaware of the current environmental crisis, so providing more education in this area might make a difference as well.
Meghan, New Jersey, USA


The planet has more than twice the population that will support a lifestyle of the 'West'. There is death control but little birth control in many nations. The population of Africa is doubling every 25 years! However, a child in the west will consume about 50 times more goods and services than a child in Africa. Land, especially forests, are being cleared to supply food and other products for all people, leading to environmental destruction that affects everybody. Also the use of fossil fuels is the principal cause global warming! Unless there is population REDUCTION, the ants will inherit the world.
Keith Openshaw, Vienna, Virginia, USA

The problem isn't having children - we've always done that. We can't simply stop people from having children. The problem is the lifestyles some of us lead, how many children some of us have and how long we live for nowadays. 2 types of stereotypical families contribute to this the most: The ones with a small family but with an extremely environmentally demanding lifestyle (the riches and so on) who think that the world is theirs and they can do what they like. (I know they're not all like that) The ones with a huge family who just can't stop breeding, just because they can and equally think that they're owed everything that's given to them (especially when they don't educate their kids properly and you know that all their kids are going to do is breed as well). (I know they're not all like that) What's wrong with having 1 or 2 kids and living a comfortable but fairly simple life????? Greed is the main issue - wanting the big cars and big houses or wanting too many children. If we all went for a middle-ground sort of lifestyle, things might be a bit better for all of us.
Mrs R, Stevenage

Fossil fuels have allowed this to happen. The minority world can only manage to provide for its current numbers, who use more resources and emit more pollution per head than any majority world country, because we invariably use their resources to do it. Those resources may be their oil, their gas, their wheat, their timber, their coal, their minerals and their vegetables to name but a few. As fossil fuels become more expensive and less available this unsustainable and unhealthy relationship will be seen clearly for what it is. Time to get those thinking caps on quick!
Stephen, Brighton, UK

Umm... unlimited nappies? loungeful of battery-op toys? I grew up in a time when there were hardly any disposable nappies in India; it was all 'wash and re-use'. Instead of battery-op toys, it was mostly about books, board games (read chess & scrabble), card games, cricket, soccer, badminton, ping-pong... As a toddler, there were Froebel blocks. It was perhaps the books and some chess of younger days, which saw me into grad school somewhere in the USA. And now, I see parents buying ridiculous toys to the extent where I think it harms the kids more than it does any good. Friends converting spare rooms into toy rooms filled with blinking plastic junk which eats batteries every week. It isn't exactly about the babies, it is about stupid parents, who think that buying more expensive toys is cooler, instead of perhaps reading them a book or teaching them how to play chess perhaps? What happened to taking children for a long walk in the woods or the beach every now and then? Can't get eco-friendlier than that, eh? So, 30-something lady, you're smart, get cracking and then read your baby a book or two! Wish you much luck!
Vishal Belsare, Bombay, India

Wow, what a topic for consideration and discussion. I am very strongly on the no-children side of the argument. I am child-free due to circumstance and initially not choice ... In my 20's I would have had children for the very reasons already given, 'its the next logical step after marriage', 'wouldn't it be nice to have a family' etc .... Well, grow up - I have .... Children are a gift not a fashion accessory and should be treated as such - have one or two at most and take responsibility for them - financially for a kick off, morally a pretty close second - love them and be committed to them - If you cannot do this - Don't have them ! - They deserve better .... If this sort of committment isn't for you then take a different route - like my own - be child free, be responsibility free and live a happy, stress free life ....... Oh, but don't forget being child-free does mean no reduction in taxes - so financially speaking do brace yourself for the gut wrenching knowledge that you will be paying for irresponsible parents and those on benefits to pop children out at will ......... think on !
Julie Kenna, Manchester/UK

Personally it seems obvious that 2 children should be a maximum and that this should be applied TODAY and not when this timebomb explodes. There have been comments about others regarding gene preservation of those who are intelligent and that seems prudent to me......these are the people who will shape our future. Life has to be something which is considered an ABSOLUTE gift, no more squandering and those who are born into this world should ONLY be the best we have to offer as a species. China has got this one 100% right. Scenario:the population is 1/10 of today's size.....would we have the same problems as today? The answer is again obvious. SAVE THE WORLD: this is how each individual does his/her part.
Chris, London

Some things to consider... If you think that humans have total control over this issue think again. At the rate we are trying to "rule" nature and agriculture it is only a matter of time before a massive unstoppable epidemic or epic environmental/industrial disaster makes the decision of population control for us. I have a feeling this beautiful planet earth can shrug us off a lot easier than most would like to think about. I don't think this excuses us from being aware and caring for our planet. It's just the way things seem to be going. Infertility is also on the rise in developed countries for some known (human created causes) and some unknown reasons. Another point is the availability to choose the sex of your child. With the advent of technology to do so and selective abortion there are some places in the world where there is already a ratio of up to 715 males to 500 females. This is also going to naturally curb population as there will be no female mates for much of the male population to mate with. I wonder what the social implications will be when there are 5 human males for every 1 human female?
Amy, Portland, Oregon US

In the "good old days" people had a lot of children because they knew that many of them would die before adulthood. Now, in the richer countries, medical care means that most of the babies born will grow to adulthood, and therein lies the problem. Without cultural changes, this problem will grow as medical care improves elsewhere - and the richer countries should set an example.
Lesley, Netherlands

Everyone in the world should watch "Baraka", "The Coroporation" and the online clip "The Story of Stuff". The developed world is locked into economic GROWTH. Satisfaction with the status quo, no matter how good; is never enough. The developing world is locked into breeding. It all looks hopeless to me. The beginning of the next ice age within the next 4000 years or so will force the population down though, as the usable land will eventually be reduced by about half. What are ya gonna do?
Judah Feingold, New York

Perpetuation of our species is a critical and fundamentally, pivotal subject that we've had to arrive at the point where it can be meaningfully addressed. We're not quite there yet, but getting close. Any decisions about perpetuation of ourselves require stringent values assessments and a high level of deliberation and international discourse, that like the issue of U.S. slavery, where it took awhile for the social political landscape become shaped so the discussion of the issue did not divide so deeply as to severe that which binds us. In other words, slavery was on the table as an issue when our country was formed politically, but the issue was so devisive that the country had to wait until other bonds established and grown would withstand the division the slavery question was inevitably going to create. I see the same with the population control question. We need to have the relationship between religion and government clear. We need to have the concept of survival firmly in perspective. With the development of a green world economy, once matured, and once our government has regained the public trust, will provide the backdrop to discuss and decide on the fundamental issue of our existence. A level of trust is required to even consider the implementation of whatever the outcome of such a discussion. We don't yet have that level of trust; but we're on our way. We know that a gainfully employed woman with access to birth control and with access to education for her young, providing the necessary hope ingredient, will actively manage her own reproductivity and make decisions on her own (rather than relying on cultural dictates).
Tanya, Napa, California, USA

Your own baby with your genes is awesome! It spurs you to become a better parent, directs you to responsibility, motivates you to care, demands your attention to issues such as the one described here. Overpopulation is a problem and nature will provide the answer - starvation and cannibalism. If the only resource available is human then like Wells predicted, we will be a race divided by our appetites. Personally, I'd rather give up my lawn for a vegetable garden for my baby to play in.
Mike, Knoxville USA

Perhaps the problem is not so much the new people being born, but the old people not dieing. Death plays an important part in mantaining a stable ecosystem and keeping evolution going. May i reccomend a Logan's Run style of solution? I think it could work!
Dan, UK

Read Jared Diamond's "Rise and Fall of Industrial Societies". It's not just industrial societies, but every civilization over the history of humanity has eventually collapsed, brought down by its own growth and prosperity. We're looking at civilizational collapse in the next 20-50 years, it's probably already started. It's inevitable and the course that Nature will take, and despite our illusions of rationality, we seem to be unable to change our behaviors to prevent or delay this outcome. We cannot escape the laws of nature, and philosophical acceptance of this fact is the best recourse in the absence of concerted and intelligent action.
Kris, Seattle, USA

ROLL UP! ROLL UP FOR THE BABY LOTTERY! Whoever gets all six number, and the "foetus factor" wins the chance to have a child!! But given all the negative things people keep saying, would a win be a blessing in disguise or a wolf in sheep's clothing??

My one big daily contribution to the environment is NOT having children - and I want a tax benefit for it.
mark, belgium

This was big issue in the late '60's. Many bright, well-educated friends decided not to have children because of the concern about over-population. Then, one looked around and realized the people who were continuing to have large families were the poor, who had no education. Many of the poor women throughout the world have no choice but to keep having babies, many even endangering their lives. It IS a mess NOW.
Cammy, San Diego USA

Having one child is sensible, whether its 3rd world or 1st world..more than 1 (excepts twins etc..) is a stress on this planet.. we don't want human race to die out.. Dinosaurs ruled this planet for millions of years, we are in this planet for only 10000 years, industrial revolution is only 300 years old..Its up to us now really, whether we want to live on ..or die off...
babu rajendran, India, Bangalore

Many places, including Canada, Japan, Italy, Russia, northern european nations etc. are in desperate need of more people and are trying ways to increase the population...if you want to talk about giant environmental footprints and HUGE to two countries with BILLIONS of people...India and China. Those countries are the largest contributors of population and thus the largest environmental footprinting in the world. China alone is responsible for approximately a third of the world population. So, although the population is growing, many places in the world are experiencing the lowest population growth in history. Yet, these countries are usually the most forward-thinking in their approach to environmentalism...probably because they have the most share of the worlds economy. So, until India and China step onto the environmental bandwagon...we're all going downhill.
E.H., Canada

To have children is ones own choice and I don't think anybody has a right to take that away. Coming from a developing country and living in a developed world I have come to realise that the corporates to fill their coffers come out with very fancy products for children and every parent just thinks its necessary for their child to have which in my opinion is just adding to the landfills and creating more garbage. If every parent thinks rationally and use only what is needed then we would never have to go through this discussion at all.
Rupa, The Netherlands

How ridiculous is this argument? Having a child or children is the right and responsibility of a couple in love. Taking care of the planet is our common and mutual responsibility. India can probably care for double her population if other things are properly prioritised; and the same goes for much if not most of Africa. Too many nations are heading for major troubles becuase of over-compensating for 'overpopulation': Gynocide led to too many men, too few women and set of major human trading; population stats loaded with seniors and not enough young people.
Nickie, Dallas

Arg, what is ethical? Whose ethics are we talking about.
DL, New York, NY

Uncontrolled breeding is the elephant in the room. Thanks to Joanna for removing the invisibility cloak! Let's encourage personal responsibility instead of expecting government to solve our problems. Redirectng cash away from benefits and into education will help incentivise those less focused on the issue.
Angela , Southwark

We should be able to have a maximum of 2 kids. Just to replace ourselves. If we only replace ourselves the population won't grow. It will shrink as not everyone has kids. So stop those irresponsible people who have more!
marie, london

Joanna Benn is a journalist, writer and consultant specialising in environmental issues, she is also single and sounds like she has never been in love. Planet Earth can't live on forever, enjoy it while it lasts.
Grant, Newcastle/UK

A pleasant change from the usual 'comments' following population pieces. The comments here - admittedly in a designated 'green' room - show what indigenous growth figures in well devloped countries have borne out: that people are able and willing to limit their family sizes when they feel secure in doing so. The real problem in such countries is the worship of growth by the political and business elites which have control of the national economies. These insist on perpetual population growth - by immigration if necessary - in order to fuel perpetual 'economic' growth. As we live in democracies in name only, we have very little if any influence on these elites. The current crazy drive to 'boost the economy' with yet more debt after an international debt crisis has clearly demonstrated that approach to be disasterous, is a good indicator of what will happen if say, the readers of this column, were successfull in beginning to reduce pop growth: govs and 'economists' would simply ramp up immigration, and fertility incentives 'to get us back on course' to the global catastrophe that they seem to crave. 'It's the stupid economy: stupid.'
Spamlet, Luton, UK

I love that the very next conclusion for some people after hearing "maybe we should reconsider vast numbers in procreation" is that the human race will die out in the near future. It's almost the as funny as assuming that if gay marriage is legalized, people will begin to marry animals and their siblings. Let's be reasonable here. Even if every person in my generation and age class refused to have a child there would be more than plenty to go around and keep the earth on the verge of destruction. The first ten minutes of the movie "Idiocracy" by Mike judge is a great representation of what I see our future being...check it out!
Jess, Providence, RI

The challenge will be stabilising the population but maintaining the increasingly frail population of baby boomers who become economically inactive but a drain on resources. We need either a sustained flow of new workers/producers or a dramatic reduction in demand. I suspect that a massive pandemic that makes the 1918 Spanish Flu look insignificant will take out a huge chunk of our population within my lifetime - nature has a habit of correcting overpopulation!
Alan, Southampton, Hampshire

It is the rich with larger carbon footprints and produce most of the carbon, yet they have much smaller families. Though obviously everyone has a carbon footprint, the real problem is actually lifestyle chooses of the few in the West. Even China's carbon footprint is due to the western demands. The couple of billions of people in India and China still do not produce the same CO2 as the EU and USA yet the combined population is less than a billion. Who is eating up the resources? Many of the few?
Iain Watt, London

Having 2 kids in a 1st world country is fine. Having 3 is just plain selfish: a reproductive take on Monty Python's "wafer thin mint" sketch.
Ste, Geneva, Switzerland

Also those of you who aren't reproducing should adopt. As our future relies on how our children are raised and the messages that are passed on to the young. It's important that you contribute by adopting as you'll be raising the future, make sure that good sense doesn't die with you!
DAW, York

If everybody who cares about the environment stops breeding, the whole of the next generation will be raised by those who don't give a damn. The only solution is to prevent 'undesirables' breeding. So, which group of society is going up for 'enforced sterilization' first? Would you like to choose? Before going down that road I'd rather at least try going without a car or eating less meat.
Darren, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Human ingenuity found plenty of new ways to provide more credit when the supply of money was being used at a frightening rate and look what happened there, No one saw that coming so why should the population crunch be anything to get exited about. Human ingenuity has given us the ability to save and prolong lives, hence this problem. It has also given us the ability to destroy life on an unprecedented scale. Surely, without population controls it is only a matter of time before resources become so short that we start using the latter to decide who lives and who dies, and losing a few of those fighters along the way will help speed up the process.
Paul Whyte, Hockley

While I agree completely that we're over-populated and its getting worse the root cause of this that's even more taboo a subject is of course the ideals of capitalism. The capitalist system is based on the principle of never ending growth, always consuming more, always making more things and always expanding the population to consume those things. Without an ever expanding population for instance social security is unworkable, who will work to pay the pensions of the old when there are more retirees than workers? The reality of course is that the current system is nothing more than a worldwide pyramid scheme, but one we have all either bought into or been forced into, it relies on an ever expanding base at the bottom and the moment that stops the whole thing collapses around us. Its coming and probably a lot sooner than most of us think/hope, the current crisis is just the start of it.
John, London

I agree with a lot of the comments here and the main article. I have a two year old daughter and I cant help but feel she, and her generation, are going to be in for a rough ride. At home, we have gone to a green energy supplier, use biodegradable nappies, swapped the light bulbs, keep the windows closed and heating off as much as bearable, I cycle to work, etc etc, but I know this is not going to be enough to resolve the issues which are facing the planet. Our way of life all seems centered on growth on finite resources, is it me or does the maths not add up on that simple statement. All the science and technology available to us is going to run out of solutions at some point if the population is left unchecked. A low energy light bulb still uses electricity after all and if the population keeps growing thats going to be more demand for more lightbulbs meaning more elctricity. It may seem draconian, but I believe that government benefits to familes should be limited to the first two children. With this in place, any family with more than two children is at least financially responsible for their growth as a social unit. By giving allowance to families with more than two children the state is directly encouraging population growth and the impact that that brings with it. I agree it is everyones right to reproduce, but there need to be limits otherwise none of our children are going to have a bright future.
Nick, Newbury

There should be some sort of expectation of people to minimulise reproduction. Couples in There should be some sort of large incentive going on to encourage people to minimise reproduction. Couples in this generation should only be having one child so that the numbers shrink. Its simple math, if two people create one then population will shrink. Then once it comes down to a health number we can sustain those numbers with a couple having no more than 2 children. Only if a mass amount of people get wiped of the face of the earth should we even consider reproducing like rabbits (which we appear to be doing at the moment). P.S. large families do not equal close nit families, infact when children of large families are fully grown they are the most likely to break off from they're original family and live completely separate lives, only visiting other members once a year if at all.
DAW, York

One child is ideal, two is acceptable, but any more is irresponsible and selfish.
David, Cheshire

Of all the world's nations, why is it that only China that has grasped the problem and done something positive about it? Maybe population control is a step too far for Democracy - and yet nothing is more urgent, as overpopulation is undoubtedly going to cause more and more problems as resources become depleted, food and water become increasingly scarce and climate change adds to the nightmare. I think this is one case where we will have to sacrifice our precious freedom in favour of rigorous state control, probably sooner rather than later. Soylent Green, anyone?
John E, Southampton, U.K.

I myself share many of the sentiments expressed by Ms. Benn (kudos for raising the issue). However, after doing some research I do not feel as if it is all doom and gloom. UN reports that the global birth rate has significantly declined. I like to think I take a more optimistic view to the issue and that, with education, the population has the potential to stabalize at a more sustainable level. I also applaud the men that have given this issue a lot of thought. A lot of men seem to just accept their instinct to want children of their own. I can't say that there is a right or wrong answer to have children (since there is no such answer), but the topic surely deserves more thought and consideration. All too many times do I see couples having children "because it felt like the next thing to do after getting married" or "it just happened" (as previously noted by Ms. Benn). In my opinion, these are unacceptable excuses in societies in which education and technology are very prevalent.
Annie, Fairfax, USA

The article conflates two issues. One is the writers like/fear of children the second is overpopulation. Having children is a marvellous life enhancing individual act. Overpopulation is the result of that desire. I would say people should have kids it is a great thing todo. If people spread out their children and have them later in life we should be able to reduce our population to a manageable size. Unfortunately when this does occur as it has recently in France, Germany, Italy and Scotland there is a mass panic and moves to increase population growth. Any loss of local population in western Europe can easily be made up through immigration. We shouldn't worry as natural creatures the system will tend to balance itself out eventually. Probably won't be very nice for the individuals involved but who knows humans are incredibly resilient we've survived 9 cold stages in the last million years so who knows the limits.
andrew, worcester uk

I think the population problem is caused by organized religion.Making babies is a lot faster than conversion to make you religion big and important. That is why population control is not well looked at by religious organizations
Nicolas, Garachico, Spain

Intelligent, successful and the sort of people who will alter their lives to avert such a crisis should be having children. They need to pass on their genes so that there are people in the future with the ability to solve these problems without reverting to wars over land, food and water.
Simon Densley, London

The human population will increase to a stage where there will be no food, water to feed itself, at that stage it will crash. This is already observed in bacteria which is undergoing population crash within hours of multiplication. But the bacteria still survice up to date. So let us multiple until we crash in order to human race survive for generations .
Henry Mwalwanda, Lilongwe

In early days of human civilization,we learned techniques of agriculture and we cleaned the forest,killed the animals,birds for our survival.As civilization moved forward we added more human population.Now we have reached at a level where with a small addition in the population will affect forest,animals,birds and our environment very badly.In my country,population is the biggest challenge but efforts to contain or reduce it are much less than sufficient.AlThough,I am against to the concept of abortion but population must be checked very strictly to save our planet.Therefore, I strongly support Joanna's point of view,because development of planet and the development of human beings are not two different things.
Sanjay Singh Thakur, Indore

I think it is the governments responsibility to do everything they can, without infringing on the rights of its citizens, to stabilize the population. There are a lot of initiatives that could be presented by the government to encourage families to have less children. Maybe tax breaks for families who have two children or less would be enough to give people the initiative to have less children, but the subject of The population explosion is avoided by many who have the power to make a difference.
Matt , U.S.

I agree with Gordon McStraun. People who aren't sure they want children shouldn't have them. They would be terrible parents. Personally, I've got 3 kids and I can't imagine life without them.
Sam Pepper, London, England

If the people who think and care about this issues don't have children then the entire population will consist of the children of people who don't. In the long run that is probably bad news.
Ben, Guildford, UK

It's not a problem. The world in 1960 could, without fertilisers and pesticides etc, feed about 4.5 billion people. Now the degraded soils available could manage to feed about 2 billion, once the oil runs out (about 20 years). By that time climate change will have limited the population that can be fed to about 1 billion. The rest (about 6 billion) problem!
Ken Allen, Ipswich

Surely the problem with overcrowding is more to do with the aging population rather than the younger ones? It is true that babies create an awful lot of waste (nappies etc) they will be our future whether we like it or not. Whilst haveing 2 children may seem like a plasible way to keep the population at a constant level in practice it won't as each parent will become a grand parent and a great grand parent and still jet off to spain and live an active life. On an economic front the aging population is also a mine field as much as the family consisting of 6 children with their People carriers. As people retire and there are no younger people to fill the earnings gap the pension fund will collapse as well as the benefit system and everything else. As it is i am set to retire when i am about 70 (i have no clue what it actually is at the moment but it will go up) Although this view is just as tutted at by the politically correct brigade as controlling births but i think more needs to be done with the aging population than the next generation. On a personal note i agree that large families are selfish, completely unnessary and bordering on anti social.
Holly Foster, Erith, Kent

Yes! Over-population is the biggest world's biggest problem, and causes most of the other ones. Of course each of us wants offspring. And that's fine. That is, if we each stick to the principle "One if you want, two if you must, but never a third." More of us will mean less for each of us. Geo.
George Lord, London

No one has yet pointed out that in many developed nations, the problem of overcrowding is not due to a high birth rate (or immigration as some racists and/or NIMBYs try to claim) but that the population is living for longer due to medical advances. Many devloped countries, Japan, Italy and even the UK do not have a replenishment rate high enough to maintain population levels and we will see a declining population. This is is a good thing. What is not a good thing is that with an aging population, people will either have to work for longer, or those who do work will be supporting a greater proportion of people too old to work. So aside from advocating that past a certain age medical treatment be refused I see no end to population pressures in developed countries. Population should also be proportionate to land mass, the UK is second only to the Netherlands in terms of population density, and being an island nation, if global trade were to collapse we would be entirely un-self-sufficent and population would collapse accordingly...perhaps that's what we need?
Steve, Southampton

I agree child benefit has had its day. If parents decision to have children was controlled by their own means, instead of being supported by politcal family orientated policies and benefits, this country would be a better place.
Fiona, leeds

Bacteria in a petri-dish expand their population exponentially, feeding on the nutrient rich jelly completely unaware that their energy supply is finite. Even up until those last few minutes the bacteria continue to divide and multiply in record numbers, blissful in their ignorance, until demand out-strips supply and the inevitable happens; they all die. Human population had remained relatively consistent for 10,000 years until the population explosion that started in the 19th Century and continues to this day. Like the bacteria in the petri dish we are unable to see the end in sight, we believe somehow that human ingenuity will save the day and that 'necessity is the mother of invention'. The human species probably will survive, but in what kind of world?
Douglas, Barnet

I can't help thinking that those who are responsible enough to think long and hard about whether they should bring children into the world are the ones who *should* be breeding, whilst those who pop them out at the drop of a hat are exactly those who shouldn't...
Rob Pallister, Chelmsford, Essex, UK

Back in 1973, when the worlds population was at 4 billion, Isaac Asimov warned that there would be 7 billion of us by 2010. We ignored him. The main problem is that our sole reason for being here, is to make more of us. I had my quota (2 boys) in my late twenties. This suits me because I do truly believe that two children should be the maximum - it gives you sustainability (of both humanity and environment).
Jon Slack, Nottingham, Notts

I completely agree, couples should encouraged not to have more than two children. The majority of the world's problems are caused by over population, but will this problem be tackled in developing countries? On a personal note, I am sick to death of listening to mummies moaning about how hard it is to cope with all their children. Just stop having them! It will be better for all of us in the end. I have one child, I can only just cope with that, work and life, so we're stopping there. It's the sensible thing to do.
Elizabeth Edgington, Leeds

Angela from Chicago makes the point that, without our current level of technology, it would be inconceivable that the planet could support even it current population of human beings. We have stretched the planet beyond its natural means through the use of technology. There is nothing to say it can't be stretched further and there are very promising technolgies such as GM crops which can help us do so. To put my comment in context - I love fish but rarely if ever eat it because of my concern for the oceans, I don't buy meat from a supermarket and have massively reduced my meat intake and I drive the most fuel efficient production car available. Concern for the planet does not preclude the search for technological answers to save it.
Reg, Brighton

Overpopulation is the big issue. It threatens not only our survival as a species but the survival of thousands of other species we share this planet with. We simply canot sustain our current standard of living and the idea of infinite economic growth is simply ridiculous. Climate change would not be an issue with a rational sized opulation. We spend money on saving children in the 3rd world, without thinking how they are to be fed, and how their children are to be fed. And yet we spend money on fertility clinics. Madness.
David Norris, Wadhurst, UK

I'm afraid that Gordon seems to have completely missed the point. There won't be a 'future' for anyone's children if the population continues to grow at the predicted rate. Sadly I don't think the human species is capable of self regulating its numbers. The urge to reproduce is too strong and the family unit is still the fundamental building block of society. The most probable eventualality looks like being a massive failure of the global ecosystem at some point in the future, resulting in an enforced correction to the human population. And although I'd hate to be around when it happens, being only in my early 30s I fear I might well be.
Stuart Willoughby, London, UK

It's tragic that human beings are not able to manage their population in a sustainable manner - perhaps it is survial instinct. Of course relative reductions in the environmental impact of individuals is pointless of the absolute number of individuals continues to rise. There seems to be an irony that in ignoring population control, society is destroying the planet for the future generations that will be part of the increased population we seem determined to want to generate. The Optimum Population Trust does some great work on promoting these issues. It is about time the UK Government had a population policy.
James, London

Yes, this is something I worry about- no-one I ask really worries about what sort of world their children will inherit. I thought A.V.Hill's observation (1959 I believe) that "If men breed like rabbits, surely they should die like rabbits?" is interesting. It suggests we should perhaps roll-back state-funding of things like infertility treatment- why bring more people into the world when natural feedback (from our lifestyles) suggests we shouldn't. I would like to see a proper cost-benefit analysis of having zero, one or two children that are well-educated and live a reasonbale, low-carbon lifetsyle. Perhaps that is the either-or option we should be advocating- if you want children, cut your ecological footprint.
Simon Barnard, cambridge

'WAR! Huh! Good God! What is it good for?' Well, keeping down the numbers for one.
Bob, Nottingham

just stupid people arent going to stop having kids be it for the econmy the enviroment or anything else its just not gonna happen kids are a natural thing that will never stop its also a beatifull thing that should happen i dont have kids but i want them and all of you who dont i feel bad for youo that somewhere oyschologically in brain turned youo off of them that blows sorry for youor loss but us normal people arent going to stop n thats just the way it is plain and simple from a plain and simple guy
Nick, New Jersey USA

Finally someone says what other people have shied away from. I find it rather galling to be lectured about my environmental impact by people with a fleet of children in tow, as assuming a decent lifespan, that's 70+ years of resource demand. My 2000 miles a year pales into insignificance on that basis, yet I'm the one made to feel guilty about driving or bullied into recycling schemes under threat of fines. Not adding to the population is surely considerably more beneficial to the environment in the long term than reusing carrier bags or switching to low energy bulbs, yet it's roundly ignored as it's a surefire vote loser. The environment doesn't care for politics. Tongue only half in cheek, maybe us child free folk should get carbon credits to trade on the open market? I'll offset my emissions from driving if you offset your emissions from adding to the population!
Phil, Watford, UK

I think there is a simple answer to this incredibly fraught question. Firstly, the human population of the planet is already too big to sustain itself and should definitely be limited (we know this from the biological and animal kingdoms, there cannot be continuous population growth without secondary catastrophe). If it does not self-limit, limits will occur naturally i.e. disastrously. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that any government could enforce a policy that would achieve this in a democracy without being lynched by an outraged population. The desire to have children being fundamental and the stated reason for biological existence: i.e. the survival of the species by reproduction. No current government could overcome that basic human emotional desire even if it is imprudent to continue population growth in this way. At least not until things have become so desperate, the solution becomes the necessity. As with all environmental issues, it seems, we will not stop until we have reached a threshold from which a radical turning back becomes the only solution. It is so radical a step to limit childbirth it is likely that most people living today will never accept it as an option. In 200 years time, the population may feel it is the the only solution to a real crisis of massive over-population and over-consumption of scarce resources.
Jez Evans, Clare, Suffolk

I'm very surprised - but pleasantly so - at the fact there have not been any 'it's our right to have kids' comments to this article. I totally agree that despite there being opportunities these days to be 'greener' (eg disposable nappies etc) when having children, the mere fact that particularly in the UK we are already overcrowded means that it's a space issue as much as anything else. As a woman in my 30s, it's very easy to feel swept along with all the friends having children and feel like it's what I should be doing. Most people find it difficult to understand why you don't want children, even if the reason is an environmental/ecological one, rather than just personal choice. I also think the comments made about spending less money on fertility and more on promoting adoption, are spot on. There are so any children needing homes I think it's a huge shame so many couples would rather have their own even in teh face of numerous failed IVF attempts.
Jo, London

I agree, the easiest way to sort out the environmental is to reduce the population. We should have free contreception globaly for all women who want it. One thing though, why as a childless person should I have to subsidise those who have children? Tax breaks should be removed.
patrick elsdale, edinburgh

Yep, Always critical to appraise ethics of anything. We place more restrictions on adoption and even pet ownership than on bringing kids into the world. I'd have to say the resounding silence you describe probably reflects the fact that folks are scared of you :-) With the folks I talk to, the answer is that they have children and will do everything they can to help make the world a better place for them to live in. I for one will never feel guilty for having the children I have (three fantastic boys) but will work to bring them up in as environmentally sound setting as possible with an appreciation of our impact on the world and how to minimise the negative components of it. For sure families don't have the monopoly on world guardianship but they do have yet another reason to care deeply for our planet, namely because it affects their kids. The developed world doesn't need to start stressing about family size- without immigration (as far as I'm aware), our population would be dropping. We do need to focus on how each family minimises its impact. We also need to support education and sustainable development for developing countries to ensure their children can ultimately enjoy the privileges we have had for many years that they deserve as much as we ever did.
P-J Noble, Neston UK

Cancer in my twenties was the perfect antidote to my desire to reproduce. I have no problem with the notion of adoption even of it means making myself a single parent (inferility is a big turn off for prospective life partners). There are plently of children out there who need to be adopted to make the most of them as valuable citizens in our society. I want to give someone else a chance as I know I have much to give to a child in terms of love and security. A child needn't carry my DNA to feel I am his or her father.
Conal Stewart, London

This seems a typically depressing attitude, very close to the idea of them coming here and taking our jobs. Yes we should be aiming for sustainability, everywhere, but there is certainly space for many more people. Rather than worrying think about saving the human, what causes populations to stabilise has been shown to be most affected by educating women. I think eradicating poverty has the same effect. Yet so many people are actually making these things worse, today's misguided greed makes us all poorer, and more cramped as people need bigger families in smaller spaces to compensate. Come live in Scotland, it's empty.
Craig Thomson, Edinburgh

It's not just your carbon footprint but also your carbon legacy. Having one child is being part of the solution, having two is perpetuating the problem, having more than two and you ARE the problem. If you live in the "first" world then your children have five times the impact of a child in the developing nations. For the sake of the other organisms on the planet as well as your own offspring please stop procreating.
Alan Sawyer, Melbourne, Australia

It's not just our planet, there are other species to consider.
Peter, Aberdeen

How long is a piece of string? I don't know what the population 'carrying capacity' of this planet is, but it is not an fixed value: It depends on what our expectations re. standards of living (thus resource consumption) are. My guess is that over the coming decades we will probably see a decrease in expectations -and aspirations- of what is a reasonable level of consumption due to increasing scarcity of resources: First world citizens will scale back their holidays, cars and living space as the developing world catches up. I hope that population stabilises below 8bn people- God knows we are already way over the Malthusian limit re. fisheries and arable land. Anyone who thinks that we should all return to an agrarian system worldwide is dreaming: Without industrial production of fertiliser there would be no way to feed the world's current population.
Joe, Perth, Australia.

I don't think it's unethical to have children - but I do think it's unethical to have more than 2 - at this level the population will gradually decline back to a more sane level. In fact, I think governments should do everything they can to 'encourage' people to stick to 2 children per couple.
Andy, UK

Wait for it - here come the usual army of sceptics to tell us they'll do exactly what they want and the heck with us concerned people. But the greatest environmental problem by far is the global population explosion and it will take immense changes in behaviour (or colossal environmental catastrophes - whichever come first) to reverse it. But actually the UK population is relatively stable. What the world cannot stand is everyone getting our lifestyle with its throwaway mentality and outrageous consumerism. Why shouldn't the rest of them have what we have? well, just because the planet can't take it. It's up to us to show a bit of restraint. But also the developing world has a big task ahead of it if people there are going to continue even with the level of existence they have now, unless radical steps are taken on population. It's going to be very unpopular! Oh, and by the way, you DON'T need a people carrier, giant mega pram or most of the other things we are told we need, to bring up a child. If you think you do, you are being misled. Please don't subscribe to the arms race of ever bulkier child-stuff. There are (a few) sensible alternatives available if you give a damn about the place your little one is going to grow up in.
Chris, Blewbury, Oxon, England

I have given this topic a lot of thought in the past. I have decided that having children with an eye on sustainability is entirely possible. It is said that a sustained modern population can exist if each woman in the population has 2.1 babies (statistics are fun like that). In some developed nations, the numbers are significantly lower than that, causing a different sustainability concern (see: Japan). The real environmental sustainability issue come from nations in which the rate is higher than 2.1. I think what I am getting at is that raising children is not only sustainable, it may be responsible. We just need to aim for a zero total population growth.
Erik, New York, NY USA

I agree with Joanna ... it is a very touchy subject. I would like to see a kind of licence to have kids put in place so that only the most suitable parents have kids. I would then set a limit on how many kids people could have. .... but it is not going to work is it? Not when our government and Europe are stating that we need more immigrant workers to fill the low cost jobs and pay the pensions of the old. Not when poor nations don't have access to contraception, or wealth that would reduce the need for large families. The fact is that whilst people are viewed as growth assets, then there will always be encouragement to have more kids.
Steve P, Sheffield, UK

I made the decision to not have children about 17 years ago. It was my thoughts on why would I want to bring a child up in a world the way it is (or was then) and it's got worse over the years. Don't get me wrong, I used to be a Nanny and seem to have a "thing" for children, ie. my friends always pass them to me when they can't get them to stop crying etc., but sorry, no, the way the world is today, I don't feel it would be fair on that child; not knowing what kind of life they would have in say 20 years time. I'm lucky in the fact that my partner of 17 years agrees with me. The world is too bad a place to bring up a child. I don't agree with the people that say "oh well, it's the next step in our relationship" or "we just want one". To me, that's just being selfish and people need to think ahead. Also, maybe I'm not being politically correct in saying this, but parents need to be vetted before having children too. The Baby P situation only strengthens this view with me.
Fiona Stewart, Poole

I think Joanna is entirely right in her concerns. Even if people decide to go ahead with having children I definately think it is a moral decision that must be thought about seriously. Especially in the case of couples who only have kids because they feel it's the norm or those couples that are unable to conceive naturally. Why spend years, and thousands of pounds on fertility treatments, that make you feel inadequate as a human being when there are huge numbers of children (maybe not perfect little new born babies - but children, all special in their own right)needing loving homes. In the way that we are having to reconsider our social norms in the face of climate change - switching to energy efficient light bulbs, turning the TV of, or insulating the roof. Maybe we should also start re-assessing our approach to infertility treatment. Why not invest more of the money and effort spent on hormone treatment, surgery etc on the adoption process. If adoption became more efficient, waiting lists for children cut and peoples pre-conceptions and attitudes altered then maybe this would not be so much less of an attractive option. Surely, thus benefiting the environment and child welfare, and providing deperate couples their dream of children....
Jenny Leon, Brighton

Without the technological advances in agriculture, we would not have enough to feed the population as it is now. What happens in 12 years? I think that is quite alarming, and something that needs to be considered when thinking about bringing new life into the world. Plenty of children already born need someone to take care of them, so why not adopt. A response to that would be "but I want to have children of my own." However, just because the child did not come out of your body, does not mean he or she is not yours.
Angela, Chicago, USA

Bluntly, if you fail to breed, the future will belong to the offspring of people who do. If you wish to terminate the line of your existence, then so be it. But don't try your guilt trip on the rest of us.
Gordon McStraun, UK

I'm in my mid-30s, and I have no intention of having children of my own. I count myself extremely lucky that this biological urge seems to be missing from my brain. I agree with all the points Ms. Benn made, but sadly I think it's unlikely that people will be able to repress such a natural urge through mere logic.
Jerome, Nottingham

I totally agree with Joanna. The one thing that is creating all of our problems is over population. If the worldwide population came down or even just stabilised what a nicer place it would be. Won't there ever come a time when the Governments say "enough is enough". Yes, why not go ahead and build another runway - the only reason it's needed is because of over population. Keep chopping down the rainforests - the only reason it's happening is because of more of more demand on our natural resources because of over population. Why do you think fish stocks are dwindling and wild animals are facing extinction - because there are too many of us - pure and simple. The solution is so obvious but no one ever talks about it. By the way, I don't have children and have no plans to.
Lesley Harrigan, Rayleigh

I agree with Joanna, there are enough human beings in the world as it is. We should follow China's lead and restrict families as to how many children they may have. I myself have decided not to have children due to the state of the world at the moment, it wouldn't be fair.
Dawn Craven , Bingley, Bradford - England

People in this country are very children-oriented. Some Germans worry about 'Germans dying out'. Well, I think it might ease crowding in some places if there were fewer people in them! The real trouble with children and the whole question of having them is that those most in need of not having them are so poor as to render the question academic - they are having children, and there is not much to be done about it as long as they remain desperately poor. It is not ethical to expect the planet to support 10 billion people - we are a large animal, not a small one, and we consume far more than any other animal by reason of our culture, or civilisation, or call it what you will. I do think only people who can afford it should be able to have children - I don't see paying taxes for people unable to pay their own way or that of their children. But this again is a debatable point, and, in any case, rather academic. When I see children, I see want, care, disease, and a grim future, but I also see our only hope. Do we want to continue existing as a species? Some hard thinking about this matter is needed!
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany

Population control whether personal or federal (especially federal) will not become an ethical consideration for the majority of the human population of the world until societies start to collapse beneath the weight of their own numbers. Like what happened to the Easter Islanders. Most people simply need to learn by feeling. The sad thing is that if widespread suffering is brought about by population pressures then it will make a laughing stock of our species' claim that our minds have triumphed over our physical evolution. It would be as if we are mindless and simply driven by our instincts.
Arno Hayes, Cape Town, South Africa

Well done Joanna, it's good to see someone in the media has the guts to raise this issue. Too many times have I seen this mentioned only to be met by howls of indignation about a persons right to have children. Large families have to become a thing of the past. Not neccesarily through draconian measures, education would be better along with more subtle financial measures. Child benefit has perhaps had its day.
Alan, Nantwich

If we stopped having children then we wouldn't have to worry about the environment as the human race would cease to be.
Gary Shaw, Belfast, Northern Ireland

I think Population control is a widely overlooked issue and because the consequences will be for the next generation, noone will be willing to do anything about it. The population at the moment is nowhere near sustainable. In future years it will, however, get much, much worse. When resources start to dwindle and these issues become a reality, then and only then will it become a priority for governements. But for now humanity will thrive while the world dies.
John, Birmingham/UK

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