As I was driving home yesterday at the end of the workday, I heard a very interesting advertisement on the radio (yes, I'm one of those who must listen to the radio or to music while driving): It was an add about condoms, mainly directed to men, and it was sketched in the way of an opinion survey, where different men said why they used condoms. One of them, a happy, chirp, young man said:
"Because I want to save the Planet."
This hit me and got me thinking. It was in the very begining, loud and clear, and put in a way not only that it sounded reasonable, but it sounded noble. But how's that? How do you save the planet by using a condom? Well, you use a condom to prevent the transmision of venereal diseases, and also to prevent pregnancy, or in other, more simpler words: to avoid having kids. So, while, yes, saying that you save the planet by doing your share in stopping the propagation of sexually transmitted diseases, in many environments, with established couples that "not sample on the side", the function of condoms is to prevent the birth of children. Unless, of course, you think that condoms are only used by people with multiple sexual partners, most of which are casual, and that established couples use other means of birth control.
However, starting with the presumption that condoms are used by a wide range of people in a wide range of sexual partnership arrangements, then the purpose of these are double in many cases (avoid diseases and children) or serve to one purpose: birthcontrol. Now, from that message, could you think that "saving the Planet" would be in any way related with "not having children"? Well, actually, yes. Though in several developped countries the population has been aging - meaning that the number of elder people is larger than the number of younger people - in many other countries the population has continued to grow, and grow enough to keep our global population growing - thus not only compensating but surpassing the low in growth in those countries with aging population.
Okay, that sounded too "technicist", so let me explain this quickly and simply: while in richer countries people have less and less babies, and they have more old people than young people, in poorer countries not only have they more young people than old people, but they actually have enough babies to compensate the lack of babies in richer countries, and then some.
To make things worse, the resources of our planet aren't well distributed, with less access to food, education, health, infratructure and so on in the countries with higher population growth rates, while those with a lower growth rate enjoy a surplus of resources they then transform into something else. Thus, the food needed in a poor country, it's converted into biofuel in richer countries that swim in food and other resources. In the meantime the prices of everything hike up and even the richer countries are developping within their citizens ample rings of poverty. The way things go - and there's an European Crisis that proves me right - soon we won't be speaking of "rich countries" only about rich people and rich corporations, which will float on a sea of poverty keeping the resources from the planet, for their own excessive consumption.
And what does that have to do with children? Well, the more children are born, the more pressure is put on the resources of the planet. It means more poor people, whether your baby belongs to one of the poor or one of the rich groups. It's another mouth to feed, another kid to put through school, another child to clothes and shelter, another kid who would consume toys and all sorts of goods, than then will put pressure on the job market, on the unemployment rates - either your kid gets the job or not - the demand for fuel, housing and so on. Let me see if I can say this straight and simple: a baby isn't "a baby": it's a person who will have to fight for a job, will need social insurance, healthcare, education, food, transportation, housing, communications, all sorts of infrastructure, and so on. A baby is a person in the future, with the needs of the future, living often in countries that haven't invested in any of these in ages!
Do you save the Planet by choosing to be Childfree? Well, you for sure don't put more pressure on the lean and ill distribuited resources of the planet, you have more time to dedicate to a job or different causes to seek saving the planet (yes, you can do that with a kid, but let's be honest, with a kid you SHOULD pay attention to the kid too, while the Childfree could invest the time you spend on the child either in more voluntary job, or resting to recover energies to be able to do more job than what a drained parent can, but it all depends on the parent and their view about what parenting is). So, the answer, I believe is "yes". You can save the Planet and have children, but you can also hot have children as your wait to aid into saving the Planet.
Being Childfree often isn't just about one reason: "I don't want a child because they would have no space in my life", "I don't want a child because I want to save the planet", "I don't want a child because they don't deserve to live in such a rotten place", etc. Being Childfree more often than not is a decision you have gotten to through a series of elements. You don't feel like it, you worry what sort of conditions would receive your child, you believe that the last thing the Planet needs is another person adding to the contamination, you have decided to dedicate yourself to a project that means more to you, or you decided to work with other people's children, thus give that part of your time to them, or simply you know you can't stand children, you don't get along with them, thus you avoid them (the "but it would be different with your own children" conveniently hides the fact that children attract children, thus you may like your own children, but you will have to deal with their friends, their classmates, their birthday parties and so on), or simply that you like your life the way it is without children and you don't want to give it up.
As becoming a parent should be a decision made only on one aspect "I want to be a parent", "I don't want to be left alone when I'm old", "I like babies", "that's what adults do", "I want to 'consumate' and fulfill my marriage" - choosing to be childfree isn't also a one variable decision.
Finally, what also hit me from that advertisement of condoms was, how acceptable and natural it sounded coming from a man, but would have been the same coming from a woman? The Law can't force you, but society seems to believe that men are entitled to choose not to have children, while women must have children. A man can choose to protect himself, not to have children and even deny the children they have outside the wedlock, but in many countries women can't even decide to abort a child they don't want, not even if that child is the result of rape.
Childfree and Childfree women still have a long path to go.