My Eco-Conscious Neighbors Can’t Stop Procreating

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disposable diapersPortlandia isn’t broadcast on TV in the UK – why should it be? But I watch snippets of the show where and when I can. And it’s not because I’m a Portlander; I haven’t set foot in the city since 1999. Not that I need to: I have my own little Portland right here in North London.

The folks around these parts have never met a recycling bin they didn’t like, from the little blue ones provided by diaper services to the tall brown ones for gardening refuse and the counter-top types for compost. They cycle to work universally, buy their produce at the farmer’s market (or, in a pinch, Whole Foods), wear organic cotton and shun beef. They protest when they hear a chain restaurant is sniffing around for an empty storefront (it’s kept them away so far). And they read The Guardian, the bleeding-heart daily newspaper that advocates eradicating refrigerators and riding public transport to the seaside destinations as far away as Greece.

So I’m not certain what to make of the latest trend among my neighbors – the trend towards having a third child.

I confess: there are no official demographic numbers to support my hypothesis. All I know is what I see: pregnant women. A lot of them. All pushing double strollers with or without a third kid following behind on a scooter. I hear the joyous news from at least one local mother a month. If there is a fertility crisis in the city, I can’t see it for all the massive muumuu-clad bumps in my line of vision.

I can understand the appeal of number three. These parents love their little ones, obviously. They have flexible hours, as writers, musicians, academics and local politicians (and SAHMs, obviously) tend to. The economy sucks. I’ve stuck at two, but there have been days I’ve considered flushing my birth-control pills down the toilet.

But can parents of three truly justify calling themselves environmentally responsible? I don’t have to do the math – as I said, I see the diaper bins outside the door in the morning. Even if you’re recycling non-disposables for the third time running, you’re still increasing your footprint, carbon or otherwise. You’re inevitably buying more fast fashion, even if it is only underwear and the odd pair of swim trunks, then washing loads at a rate of two a day. You’re likely extending your house and more than likely buying a bigger car – albeit a Ford C-Max.

On the bright side, if you can call it that, larger families are less likely to go anywhere – even on a train, which may actually turn out to be the easiest way to travel with a brood. Perhaps families of five waste fewer fruits and vegetables; and the bread’s not going moldy with all those grilled-cheese sandwiches being churned out.

And yet, and yet. Regardless of how dearly they love their children, notwithstanding the possibility that the third kid could grow up to be the Einstein or the Obama of the mid-2000s, or discover the clean fuel that’ll finally end our dependence of foreign oil: is it worth all the rigamarole of leading an environmental life if you’re just going to mitigate it with a third?

(Photo: SerrNovik/Shutterstock)


  1. Andrea

    June 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    WTF???!!?? Three kids is considered environmentally incorrect now?? A third child leaves a bigger footprint that 2? Good grief, what is WRONG with you?? Critiquing people’s reproductive choices, and it’s not like we are talking about 5 or 6 children, we are talking 3 for pete’s sake.

    Yes, I am one of 3. No I wasn’t the 3rd.

    • CW

      June 14, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      Even if people do choose to have 5+ kids, what matters most is consumption rather than family size. If you’ve got that gas-guzzling SUV and huge McMansion, it doesn’t matter whether you have a single child or half a dozen. And frankly, it has been my observation that the folks who can actually afford a wasteful lifestyle tend to have smaller families. The bigger families are too broke to afford a lavish lifestyle.

    • Andrea

      June 14, 2012 at 11:17 pm

      Yeah CW, you are right. This whole article royally pissed me off. Like some people need yet another reason to be smug. Good grief.

    • whiteroses

      June 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm

      Personally- I don’t think it’s anybody’s business how many children I have. My husband and I recycle. We don’t own a dryer. We’re a one-car family. And our first child will be diapered with disposables, because frankly I can’t picture doing the cloth diapering thing. .

      I’m speaking as an only child who grew up in America- who is married to a man who is the oldest of four. Like other posters have said, it’s not about overpopulation- it’s about overconsumption.

  2. Catherine

    June 14, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    Yes! Now I get to be EXTRA smug because I’m eco-conscious AND have only one kid! Let’s all argue!

  3. Candace

    June 14, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    What a tacky article.

    Believe me, my family of 5 has a smaller carbon footprint than most families of just 4.

    • CC Pat

      June 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      Tacky is being kind,Candace. Pointless was the first thing that came to mind for me.

      I have 4 children and raised my 2 grown step children as well. Who knows, maybe we should have consulted the eco-conscious police before having the last 2 or 3 children?

      With your attitude I would say to keep taking those bc pills.

    • CW

      June 14, 2012 at 9:10 pm

      Seriously! My family of 5 has a MUCH smaller carbon footprint than the typical “1-and-done” family in our social circle. We share a single economy vehicle and my husband commutes via public transit. Most families we know with only a single child both parents commute 1+ hour/day each in their own gas-guzzling luxury SUV’s. We have a modest home and try to avoid buying things new. They have 4-5 BR 3000+ sq. ft. McMansions loaded to the gills with stuff all purchased brand-new. We garden, cook from scratch, avoid red meat, and use poultry & fish “as a condiment” rather than basing meals around it. They eat a meat-heavy diet that is primarily based on takeout and “convenience” foods. Our vacations tend to be infrequent and relatively local. They frequently jet off to far-away destinations. The problem isn’t overpopulation but overCONSUMPTION.

    • kate

      June 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Im glad i wasnt the only one offended by this. I have three, and dress, house and feed them accordingly and im pretty sure the planet isnt going to die an untimely death because of us. Whos business is it if I like having a larger family? its like 3 is the new 6. Maybe i’ll have a fourth just to say STFU to these kind of people.

  4. Katie

    June 14, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Im one of 9, my parents must have been awful people.

    I, on the other hand, only have one child, so I am getting me’self a smug t-shirt that says something like, “I only have one child therefore I am better than you”

    What is this ‘article’ even?

  5. Another Steph

    June 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    This is officially the most stupid, pointless and offensive article on the site – and I’m including everything Rebecca Eckler’s written.

    Editors, do you ever reject anything? Ever?

  6. Another Steph

    June 15, 2012 at 12:33 am

    Yep, what CW said. I read a statistic on the internet awhile ago, and I can’t find it now so it may be bunk but the point is valid, that a ridiculous number of people, something like 50, in Bangladesh consume as many resources as a family of four in the UK.

    It’s not about population, people, it’s about how much each individual is consuming.

  7. T.

    June 15, 2012 at 4:44 am

    While it is true that people in Bangladesh consume less than US people (duh) it is true that every children born in a First World Country consume a lot.

    Sorry. You may not like it. But is is still true.

    Of course, if you are stark poor, your 5 children will consume less than one of a wealthy family, that doesn’t mean that it will consume few.

    Sorry to break into your bubble, but this is the site:

    and this is the US ecological footprints VS its capacity:

    Notice how much the US is above what it should be?
    EVERY PERSON adds to the footprints.
    Yes, even your fourth kid.
    He is a person, too.

    I know. Flames are going to rain down on my head.
    You know? I don’t care.
    Truth doesn’t stop being true because somebody doesn’t like it.

    Since somebody mentioned Balgnadesh, here is it:

    Yes, it is lower than the ecological capacity… But what does it mean exactly?
    It means that we, first world people, are living out of the global resources above what we should, ethically speaking.

    I am not saying anything more than: the person in the article is right.
    We should have less children.

    Am I pointing a gun at your head screaming to stop RIGHT NOW?
    Am I forcing abortions, or advocating for China-Like policies?
    Am I saying a ugly truth we would like not to know?

    (And, please, if you start with denialism about the global warming and how we aren’t really exagerating our consumption, I would like to revert you there

    (In case you are wondering how I know: my thesis in statistic was about how much various countries consume and inquine comparing with both their GDP per capita and their HDI. This is how I came to having an interest in the debate. I have a master degree in International Economics with a focus in Statistic).

    • Michelle

      June 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Like most of your comments, tl;dr

    • CW

      June 15, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Until I start seeing a huge trend towards small families in this country living non-wasteful lifestyles, I stand by my assertion that we have an oveconsumption problem rather than an overpopulation one. Now, it is true that if both families have equal per-person consumption, the smaller family will have a smaller total footprint. But most small families in the U.S. aren’t remotely living a “green” lifestyle so they have no reason to feel smug.

    • Andrea

      June 15, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      Denialism isn’t even a word. Denial will do just fine on your sentence.

    • T.

      June 16, 2012 at 2:54 am

      Andrea, I am Italian and therefore sometimes I make such mistakes 🙂 Thank you for the correction, sadly I can’t edit the post 🙂

  8. Ipsedixit

    June 15, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I didn’t find the article that offensive. I think it was more calling out the hypocrisy of those who claim to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle, rather than all families. Even if you’re carbon foot print is small, you’re bringing another consumer into an already overpopulated world with finite resources.

    • Andrea

      June 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      And it is also NONE of our business how many children someone has. As long as they support them themselves and not with our tax dollars. Or maybe we want to do like China and legalize how many children can have?

    • T.

      June 16, 2012 at 2:58 am

      Noone is advocating for forced government family planning. You can have 25 kids, if you want. Just like you can have 25 SUVs.

      Still, both things have an high impact on our planet.

      What I personally argue is that you should know the fact. What you do with that knoweledge is up to you.

      Do this means that, if you have 25 children, you should fell “guilty”?
      Your business, not mine. Feel guilty or not, You know the datas.

      (I reiterate my being from another country and ask patience with my grammatical and spelling mistakes :))

    • Ipsedixit

      June 18, 2012 at 10:25 am

      Angela, put your crazy back on the shelf and gain some reading comprehension skills. The article above mentions the hypocrisy of families who claim live a “green” lifestyle, not everyone. At no point did the author advocate the need for a government mandate on the number of children one could have. I honestly have no idea where that came from. The fact remains that we have finite resources and the world is not hurting for people.

      I think most people could care less about the number of children you have, but don’t claim to be environmentally conscious while doing so. Casually “green”, sure, but certainly not a spokesperson for the green movement.

  9. justhypatia

    June 16, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Sorry but if you are going to complain about the environmental effects of reproducing it seems rather pointless to do it when a couple is already two children in.

    The only way to be *green* in that sense is to never have any children.

    If you aren’t willing to go child-free, complaining about the 5-person family compared to your 4-person family is trying really hard to find something to complain about.

    • CW

      June 16, 2012 at 11:01 am

      Even if you are childless, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are “green”. There are plenty of DINKS running around in gas-guzzling SUV’s, eating meat-heavy restaurant meals/takeout, with McMansions filled with stuff purchased brand-new, and jetting off on frequent vacations to exotic locales, etc.. Obviously a 0 or 1 child family *COULD* have a smaller total consumption than a larger family making a serious effort to be “green”. But most don’t.

    • T.

      June 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

      CW, as I answered before…

      Two problems:

      Overconsumption and overpopulation.

      Of course, both can be present in the same moment in the same family, or neither.

      A family can have no children and have few consumption or it can have 9 children and a lot of consumptions.
      And all the in-betweens.

      How much one and the other adds to the global problem, I think it depends on some rather complex calculation.

      HOWEVER having many children in a First World Country does impact on the enviroment.

      It is like buying a SUV. Sure. Go ahead if you so wish, but don’t tell me your choice is green or neutral, because, datas on hand, it is not.
      Then, do what you wish. But be sincere.

    • Ipsedixit

      June 17, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      All things considered, a family of 2 adopting the same “green” efforts as a family of 5 will have less consumption.

      Comparing an environmentally conscious family to those that drive around in gas guzzlers is comparing apples to oranges.

  10. A Different Andrea

    June 16, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    It’s obvious most readers didn’t get the point of this article. Can’t say I’m surprised, seems to be the norm for mommyish readers.

    • Andrea

      June 16, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      No, I’m pretty sure we got it. She wants to be smug because she only has 2 children. Some people cannot feel good about themselves without putting someone else down. The last sentence of the article says it ALL. A child does not “mitigate” anyone’s environmental efforts.
      The whole thing is offensive and insulting.

    • CW

      June 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      It has become the norm these days to view babies as burdens rather than blessings from God. The worst anti-child vitriol comes from the so-called “childfree” movement. But it’s present in the slightly-less-nasty form in the POV of the author. The world does not have an overpopulation problem. It has an overconsumption one. Therefore the solution is working towards reducing per-person consumption levels rather than worrying about family size.

    • T.

      June 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

      CW, the world has TWO problems.

      An overconsumption problem, and a overpopulation problem.

      One does not exclude the other.

    • Another Steph

      June 17, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      We got the point. And honestly, I think it’s a good discussion point. But it was made so poorly that it went past, “Hey, isn’t this something interesting to ponder?” and into, “Listen to me smugly brag about how perfect I am and how hypocritcal my neighbours are.”

      T, I don’t agree that we have an overpopulation problem but let’s just pretend for a moment that I do. That doesn’t mean that the presence of one automatically means the presence of the other. In other words, if you’re overconsuming, it doesn’t mean that you’re overpopulating, and if you’re ‘overpopulating’ (I use quotes because really? 3 children is overpopulating?) you’re not necessarily overconsuming.

    • Another Steph

      June 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Sorry, just thought of something else I forgot to mention.

      There’s also a serious logic fail, especially in the last sentence. The author acts like environmentally friendly living is a points system, where you get five points for each day you recycle but lose three hundred points for having a child, and whoever has the most points at the end wins. She’s seriously and unfairly judging her neighbours actions and motives, and she doesn’t stop to consider that maybe, just maybe, her neighbours are making such a green effort because they intend to have large families.

      Plus this sentence: “I confess: there are no official demographic numbers to support my hypothesis.” There’s no official anything to support any of your hypothesis.

    • Another Steph

      June 18, 2012 at 3:10 am

      I am not a Professional Skeptic, and I have no desire to go around quoting number, it is a behaviour that I find annoying, but I can start if it is absolutely necessary.

      Yes, we have an overpopulation problem. Meaning: there are too many human beings on Earth. This is a fact and I can start strutting numbers and researches.

      What does it means? It means that we can’t give a reasonable standard of living to all people in the World.
      I don’t know, but as I said I could research, how much we should reduce our consumption to give all the 7 and counting billions of people on Earth something of what we have. But I wager it would reduce consumption to several centuries ago, in matter of well-being.
      I know that, for giving all the people on Earth what we have, there would need of 2 and half planet Earth of resources. This is a rather old study that I can find out, if you wish to wiev it. I think the number might be greater now, since as I said the study is some years old.

      In the US, in 2008, the Per Capita CO2 emission (counting only it which is, really, not a good way to explain enviromental impact, but lets pretend it is) was 17.5 metric tons.
      And it is a lot. Look here for comparison:
      (I do hate quoting numbers. Groan).

      You can argue that children consume less. It might be true. Now. But children grow up to become adults, and adults consume a lot.

      I don’t overly care about what this article says, I don’t care about point systems. I don’t care about how much if any children or SUVs or what you want you have.

      I DO care about scientifical truths and people who don’t face harsh realities. And the harsh reality is that in this overpopulated and polluted world, having many children (your choice about how many is many. I don’t care. At all.) is a decision that impact heavily on the planet, much more if you came from a First World Country.

    • T.

      June 18, 2012 at 3:11 am

      Sorry, the previous Another Steph is me, I made a mistake 🙂

    • Another Steph

      June 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Look T, I think we pretty much agree, I think our major disconnect is in terms of our definition of the term ‘overpopulation’.

      In a very simplistic sense, i.e. in terms of room, the world doesn’t have an overpopulation problem. As you say, the problem is that the world doesn’t have the resources for our population, and I view that as a consumption problem.

    • T.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:29 am

      Well, of course, if you think that it would be OK to come back to a level of consumption akind to the one we had some centuries ago (with all the problem in health and standard of living that it would create) I guess you are right, Another Steph.

      But I am kind of attached to electric light^^

      I prefer fewer people living better than a lot of people living badly.

      And in a First World Country we still, sadly, live “off” resource that our countries aren’t technically producing.

      But I got your point 🙂

  11. katthevamp

    June 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    How old are your naighboors? Because that has alot more to do with population growth than number.

  12. Jess

    June 18, 2012 at 7:05 am

    I’m not getting the point of this. If the three children families ~weren’t environmentally aware, would that make things better for you? So instead of having three children and trying to offset that with recycling and taking public transportation, they had three children and carted them around in multiple SUVs and wrapped them in Styrofoam, that would would do you fine?

    People do the best they can. Some people want children–which is a good thing, since the developed countries still do need children to be born if we want to hope to retire at some point and keep our countries running–and some don’t. It’s not really a big deal.

    What kind of IS a big deal, though, is writing and publishing a comment-bait article based on a knowingly false thesis. You don’t have to stop writing just because you can’t find a reference to support your hypothesis, but you should consider changing your article when even a casual eye can find a reference to REFUTE your point:

  13. Amy

    June 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Large families are not a burden on the environment. They are a wonderful thing.

    I do believe the author is jealous of the efforts of this family, and having a third child was the only negative she could find.

    Dear author, please stop obsessing about your neighbors, and search for better writing topics. If this were for an English class, the grade would have only been a D. The grammar was good, but the content and supporting data are minimal at best.

    • T.

      June 19, 2012 at 1:35 am

      Amy, I am sure there are people who refute the overpopulation truth.
      Just yesterday I met one who refute holocaust and denied that nazi had ever killed jews. So, people can deny pretty much anything, including the colour of the sky.

      BUT it doesn’t make it true.

      Let’s pretend it is not true, anyway.

      STILL First World countries are living off on other people resourches.

      Check the US lines and you’ll see that the US consume far more than it should.
      And every people add to that line.

      So, even if “large families” would be wonderful, enviromentally speaking, that might -might- be true if you relocate in, say, Bangladesh.

    • Another Steph

      June 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm

      T, are you familiar with Godwin’s Law?

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