In a thoughtful essay in a recent issue of the London Review of Books, Meehan Crist reflects on the question of whether or not, given the current state of the world, it is still “OK to have a child?” Surveying a range of views on the subject, including on the world’s so-called “carrying capacity,” i.e. its ability to sustain a certain maximum human population, she rightly notes that this question misses the mark—it’s “a glaring category error.” It tends to personalize environmental responsibility, as if it were a question of consumer choice. It is not. The individual’s decision about whether or not to have children will not solve a global structural problem.

“Most obviously, it shifts responsibility for global emissions from systemic actors like fossil fuel companies and governments onto individuals. By doing so, it gives corporations a pass while placing moral responsibility on people who live within systems where they are not free to make carbon-netural choices. It accepts as inevitable the neoliberal order that has driven the climate crisis, and insists that our responses to this crisis take place within the same system.”

In fact it was an oil company’s PR campaign that pushed the notion of one’s “personal carbon footprint” into the mainstream. They know where decision-making power lies. And so they spend untold millions on mendacious mystification.

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