I'm always a little irritated when I hear about population control or the irresponsibility of having more than so many kids. I found this article while deleting accidentally-saved drafts on maple footprints, and I decided to write about it after all.
When I'm finished with a gallon of milk, I throw the bottle in my car and, when I go home, add them to our recycling bin in the garage. I keep a hamady bag next to my desk and fill it with scrap paper (rough drafts of essays, map quiz practice sheets, outdated flyers I've removed from bulletin boards). I use some of it to make lists or so I don't get acrylic paint on the carpet, and whatever I've collected by the time I go home next gets tossed in the recycle bin at St. John Vianney. Clothes I don't wear anymore go to St. Luke's Street Ministry; clothes too worn-out to wear I make into something else. For the most part, I avoid using paper napkins. I made a gift for a friend from a green glass balsamic vinegar jar; I filled an emptied peanut butter jar with cough drops. I shy away from bottled water. I walk to Mass and the grocery store when I can. On my shelf right now are a burned-out lightbulb and an empty 10-oz apple juice bottle, waiting to be turned into projects.
I am thrifty (read: stingy) and I honestly enjoy walking, but most of these environmentally-friendly activities come from a desire to treat the earth with respect. We ought to: it is a gift from God.
But the earth is not God, and we need to remember to keep our duties in perspective. As a student I have a moral obligation to complete my schoolwork thoroughly; however, if a friend had a rough day and needs my shoulder and my ear the night before an exam, I ought to hug my friend. Love for God first and neighbors second should rule our lives; other duties follow.
Caring for the earth -- treating so great a gift with respect -- should flow from, not supersede, our primary duty to love.
Here we need to distinguish between love of humanity and love of neighbor. It's easy to "love humanity," for humanity is merely a collection of our neighbors, minus what makes them actually human.. We can "love humanity" without having to deal with a human response. We can "love humanity" but this love carries with it no risk of rejection and it is therefore a cheap form of love.
We were specifically instructed to love our neighbors, and our neighbors are real people. They have faces and middle names and favorite colors. The hairs on their heads have been counted. These are the people we ought to love. Your spouse and children are real people; the ozone layer is not. Contracepting to reduce greenhouse gases is putting humanity ahead of neighbor, promoting a vague, faceless cause instead of loving people.
The lede paragraph in the article asks: "Will there be enough food? Enough water? Will planet-heating carbon dioxide gas become ever more uncontrollable?" These are horrible questions to consider when planning a family.
First of all, we shouldn't really "plan a family." Just as the Son is love become incarnate, so too ought children be love become incarnate. There's a reason the "how to make babies" talk begins with "when a man loves a woman..." Love transforms from an abstract concept to a physical being, a child conceived in his mother's womb. "Family planning" involves an attitude of "I love you, but let's decide when/whether to let our love become incarnate," which is simply wrong.
Secondly, given the amount of food we waste in this country, we really shouldn't pretend that we worry about food quantity. Food will never be appropriately distributed over the entire world, and if we did run short, I don't think we would notice. We would continue to eat our dinners and ignore larger parts of world.
Third, though food is necessary for survival on a physical level, we are not merely physical beings. We are also spiritual beings who will live forever. How does fasting appear in the light of eternity? I don't want to trivialize starvation, only point out that it is an evil suffered, not an evil committed. Evils suffered damage the body; evils committed damage the soul. The human race has survived famine before; we can probably do it again.
Quoth the article: "If you are serious about your carbon footprint, think: birth control."
Interestingly enough, artificial forms of birth control are really really bad for the environment. The Pill is essentially a collection of hormones, bad for the environment and bad for your body. (Honestly, why would you want to mess with women's hormones more than necessary anyway?) With other forms of artificial contraception, the packaging and the items themselves get thrown away, filling landfill space, or left in a parking lot or in the woods, littering. The factories that produce these products and their packaging also produce greenhouse gases.
One way to avoid having children is to abstain, or to abstain during fertile cycles (which you can figure out easily if you have a thermometer). This leaves no carbon footprint whatsoever.
At heart, though, this isn't an issue of the methods of preventing conception but whether to prevent conception at all. Every time a husband and wife express their love this way, they must know that their love might become incarnate and they must be open to this possibility. Otherwise, they are qualifying their love and love must not be qualified. Love doesn't come with modifiers, dangling or not. Love does not precede a cum clause. Love is not followed by conjunctions. Love is "I (completely) love (completely) you (completely)," not "I love you, but let's be careful" or "I love you when you're not fertile."
The article continues: "The greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more significant than the amount any American would save by such practices as driving a fuel-efficient car, recycling or using energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances," according to the study.
This begs the question: which children are extras and who decides? Look my little sister, kid #5, in the eye and tell her. I dare you.
The article goes on to say that "under current U.S. consumption patterns, each child ultimately adds about 9,441 metric tons of CO2 to the carbon legacy of an average parent--about 5.7 times a person's lifetime emissions, he calculates."
The writers of Our Sunday Visitor's Daily Take blog comment better than I ever could:
First of all, what is that even supposed to mean? If we start thinking about our future children in terms of how many metric tons of carbon dioxide they will produce, we may need to consider the possibility that perhaps we are not called to the vocation of motherhood and fatherhood in the first place.
The article mentions that this awkward statistic takes place "under current U.S. consumption patterns." Who's to say that these "extra children" will follow current U.S. consumption patterns? Most couples having "extra children" (we'll say more than two) tend toward the Catholic/homeschooling variety -- countercultural enough not to follow the current consumption patterns. They are probably wearing hand-me-downs, driving vans and buying food in bulk. They probably don't take long or frequent road trips, leave a big-screen TV flashing at all hours or fill landfill space with used contraceptives. I wouldn't be surprised to find that a normal family of seven or eight leaves a carbon footprint similar to that of a normal family of three or four. Big families just don't follow normal consumption patterns.
In the light of eternity, how much of this matters? The heavens and the earth, including the ozone layer, will pass away, and when it does my carbon footprint will be erased. My first duty is to love God, and from my love for him flows a desire to respect the gifts he has given me. I will recycle not for the greater good of the vague mass we call humanity, but to express my gratitude to so great a Creator.