Is it selfish to have more than two children?
Currently standing at 61 million, the British population continues to escalate beyond control. With constant advances in medical technology, an increased awareness of health needs and an obsession with general wellbeing, society provides infinite resources to further our life expectancy by prolonging it. Medical developments also contribute at the other end of the spectrum as the development of advanced fertility treatment and assisted reproductive services allows life to be brought in where conception cannot naturally occur. These technological triumphs must surely be commended; as humans we should relish the expansion of our species. Surely we should consider ourselves lucky to live in such prosperous conditions as we regard poverty and short life spans as tragic, yet we can never fully appreciate the value of what we have. Over-population is inevitable, though simply taking up space is not the issue; environmentalists are essentially concerned with each individual’s contribution to global warming. Indisputably there are less dramatic methods of reducing environmental damage; it is a current issue which we face everyday. Perfection cannot be achieved by restricting the population.
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Overpopulation poses environmental hazards
While we can combat our negative impact on the environment by recycling, walking and using electricity efficiently, this is only worthwhile to an extent. As long as we insist on continued procreation, the problem is only going to exacerbate. Each child born will potentially drive, take holidays and shop, all of which contribute vastly to the ecological footprint when put in perspective with the rest of the population. Although people can be persuaded to limit their extravagance as the issue increases in reality, it would be unreasonable to ban cars and aeroplanes altogether and insist people bought their clothes second-hand. Furthermore, it would put entire industries out of business, simply shifting the environmental burdens to further aggravate our economic crisis.
Limiting the number of children is not the answer. Such a level of state control and interference in private lives may cause a repugnance to solving further societal issues. If all nuclear families contained a maximum of four, many would feel they had wholly fulfilled their duty to the environment by undertaking such a sacrifice. The current majority of British inhabitants tend to feel some sense of responsibility, evidenced from simple gestures such as walking to work and reusing plastic carrier bags. In suggesting such a drastic measure it seems the government underestimates the current extent of the public’s co-operation.
Children would be born aware of ecological issues
By entitling families to only two children, we would be secure in the knowledge that there are only so many of us capable of causing negative effects to the environment and from a utilitarian perspective, that there are fewer people to be affected when global warming hits. If all families had two children who were aware of the justifications for their existence in pairs, people would be conditioned from birth to preserve the environment. The extent of the problem would be epitomised by the limited sizes of families.
If such freedom is diminished at the hands of the state, people are far less likely to react willingly. Awareness of the issues is not enough; something must be done about them. The theory that children would be inclined from an early age to take action against global warming would require much explanation and encouragement from their parents; this cannot be relied upon as parenting techniques and educational backgrounds vary on a huge scale. Particularly young children tend to lack the capacity to appreciate the degree of environmental concerns.
Personal responsibility would improve in general
If having less children will encourage individuals to take responsibility for the carbon footprint, they will be forced to do so for other aspects of daily life. If families are restricted to two children, the repeated incidents of teenage pregnancy can be addressed; perhaps flippant attitudes would diminish if there was a risk of only being eligible to have one or no children in adulthood. In addition, the quality of living standards will be upgraded as the job market will be freed up consequent to a smaller working population and state benefits will far less frequent, leaving money in the budget to contribute to other causes.
Responsibility is likely to decrease, particularly as individual freedom is limited. Currently people may have as many children as they like; it is expected they will care for them all. However, if there was a strict limit on reproduction, rates of abortion would be likely to increase as people feared penalties for exceeding their allowance. Arguably this would just lead to immoral behaviour and diminution of personal values. Furthermore, by having two children rather than four, couples may feel they have already made a significant contribution to the environment.
There would be fewer unwanted children in the world
A person’s lack of existence equals a person’s non-use of environmental resources. The rule that people could only have two children would have to be absolute; parents who had exceeded the limit or were unwilling to exercise their parental responsibility towards a child (intending to have two more) would not be able to give their children up for adoption. Doing so would simply increase the number of people in the world, as parents could then theoretically go on to produce two children. As a result there would be more homes for children and less work for the authorities.
Although adoption could not be facilitated, families will not necessarily live in harmony. Unwanted children may in fact be worse off living with parents who do not want them, as is evident from the mounting number of child abuses cases. While parents will be forced to take responsibility and it does not seem unreasonable to require them to care for their own children, the children themselves may benefit from living with foster parents or those unable to have children of their own.
The state should not pay for a family with an excessive number of children
It is selfish for parents to have too many children, especially if they do not possess the material means to care for them. People should be allowed to have a reasonable number of children (I am not attempting to dictate the amount) but they should not be rewarded with countless tax credits, housing benefits and prioritisation.
Children can, and often are, conceived without the explicit intention to do so, and thereafter certainly can't be dismissed out of hand. Furthermore, those children, whilst supported in their youth, can potentially grow into adults who contribute more to the economy than they cost in welfare payments.
Replaces autonomy with state interference
People have come to expect democracy and take their freedom for granted; the right to found a family is protected under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It would be extreme to impose such a dramatic level of control simply for the protection of the environment, which is a continuing but not imminent threat. In a society which frowns upon China’s ‘one child’ policy, it would only be hypocritical to engage in a similar practice. Heroic measures have been imposed to save lives and bring more into the world; it would be a conflict of ideals to prevent life.
Given some of the circumstances in which many British inhabitants find themselves today, it would perhaps do no harm to be governed by paternalism. Though this may be interpreted as unwelcome control, if such restrictions were implemented they would be backed up by a worthy justification. If the measure proved effective it could perhaps be considered making its application temporary, so as not to infringe on individual freedom. However, it must be noted that an individual cannot enforce any right to reproduce; another person is required who is under no obligation to consent.
Replicates China’s ‘one child’ policy
In an effort to alleviate social, economic and environmental problems, China resorted to a permanent policy of limiting couples to one child. Though allowing two children is more lenient and will provide children with better social skills, by limiting their number we are condoning the activities in China. The policy has arguably caused corrupt behaviour, with forced abortion, female infanticide and parents killing their own daughters. Thousands of baby girls are abandoned each year on rubbish heaps and in orphanages where they die of neglect. It seems entirely incomprehensible why a democratic country such as the UK would even consider following in China’s footsteps. (1)
The ever-present threat of global warming is increasing; people are facing the facts that it may actually confront them in their lifetime. Campaigns in defence of the environment continue and while most people are willing to take some action, they will not go out of their way. It is difficult to enforce eco-friendly behaviour and so available options are somewhat limited. China’s policy has proved successful so far; in 2007 it had prevented an estimated 400 million births. (2) The implementation of a similar policy in a sophisticated, democratic country would have far less disastrous results.
Acceptance of state control in one area will extend it to all areas
If we acquiesce in the implementation of such an intrusive measure, there is nothing to suggest the state will leave it at that. Our freedom and autonomy would rapidly disappear as the government would no doubt be tempted to impose further restrictive regimes to tackle other issues. We may be limited on the number of cars and houses we own; it may be decided what we spend our money on and what career paths we follow. To put an allowance on the number of children we can have is a situation unimaginable in our society.
The increasing dangers we pose to the environment has been a pressing issue for some time; few other factors warrant such severe attention. We allow the state to impose control in times of war but our freedom is otherwise maintained. It is unlikely we will find another cause so deserving of such action for some time.
Exerts a preference for conventional families
Increasingly we are confronted with alternative family structures which fail to meet the criteria for the traditional family model of two parents and two children. In a step-family the restriction on children may prove problematic should the new couple wish to add their own children to their existing families. Similarly, if a person enters a relationship with someone who has previously had two children, they will have to find someone else with whom to start a family. It would be increasingly difficult to enforce the limit in the case of multiple births; serious moral concerns would be raised if a woman was forced to select one or two children from those born.
The simple problem of anomalies is no cause for concern; the policy in China recognises a number of exceptions. Minors who give birth are exempted, along with rural couples and ethnic minorities. Where both parents are only children they are excused from the policy; identical provision is made for parents confronted with multiple births. However, it could be argued that a wide availability of immunity would only undermine the policy.
What do you think?