A recent New York Times article about feral and outdoor pet cats "killing billions of birds" annually is showing great popularity. And it's helpful to urge people to spay their cats and to keep cats indoors whenever possible. However, cats have already been introduced into the wild, and the overall problem is now insoluble. You might reduce feral cat numbers significantly by killing outdoor cats, but they are so smart that some would survive, and those would multiply again. I write this not as a cat lover, but with a cold assessment of all the factors involved. That cat's out of the bag, as the old saying goes.
I'd like to put the cat problem in perspective against overpopulation, climate change, weapons, and pollution. To me, these are more basic problems that also lead to situations that "kill billions of birds" every year. To explain why I think this, let me first pose a question. The Zaire strand of Ebola, a dreaded hemorrhagic virus, kills 90% of infected people; thousands have been perished from it in multiple outbreaks. Why then has it not spread to kill everyone around the world?
You might think the answer would be sanitation or modern health care--and those may be factors. But the main answer turns out to be that the ebola virus multiplies too quickly within its host, and the host tends to die before the virus has a chance to spread widely enough to keep on going. Similar to ebola, humanity can be viewed as a virus that is killing off its host, the earth and its plants and trees, much too quickly. We all see it around every single day--construction, building, growth--much of what people like to call "progress".
Many people act as though they live in isolation, instead of realizing they are stranded on a planet with seven billion other humans. They are selfish when sharing space locally with others, and they continue to destroy necessary resources more quickly than they can be renewed, living mainly for almost immediate gratification. And they vigorously defend "their rights" to do so. Noise, air pollution, water pollution, guns and crime, over-consumption of non-renewable fuels--all of this is a result of there being too many people needing too much too quickly. Do you doubt that humanity cannot survive forever this way? Perhaps not even for much longer.
But, but you say--I can't fix any of those problems any more than I can solve the feral cat problem. In a fit of despair, it is easy to say, why even recycle? Why deprive myself of anything now?
While I cannot control other people, I can make my own choices. I can decide to restrain myself in several ways that will not constitute a terrible sacrifice for me. I can choose not to cut down trees that would otherwise live for
centuries longer than my own and provide habitat for animals. I can
choose to eat less meat (which beside improving my own health, kills fewer animals). I can also choose not to create more humans by having children, which is arguably the single most effective thing a person can do to help save the planet. I will even go so far as to argue that not having children can improve the lives of many people.
This opinion of mine, of course, is destined to be very unpopular. I am certain to be made fun of, if not threatened, by folks who haven't looked deeply enough into the matter, or who simply don't care. People will feel they are being judged if they have had children. I'm sorry, it's true, I am judging them in a sense, but not with hostility. I just want this to be talked about going forward. All of the kids and adults who now exist, exist. But why do so many people make having children a major life goal?
Now, I don't advocate banning people from having children; it wouldn't work anyway. The efforts by China, for example, to persuade people to limit family size to just one child per couple has been met with all kinds of resistance. But I do want to express what I believe--that's the big right of a free country, right? To express views that might be deemed unpalatable to some. I do want to stop the intimidating taboo of silence about overpopulation. It is too important not to talk about it. The question of why everyone wants to have children deserves examination. Does having kids--or more kids, as the case may be--really make life so much better? I am not persuaded.
I'm tired of the argument that children are what make peoples' lives worth living. A child, or children, may be a source of great joy to parents, or sometimes, a source of great suffering too. But either way, do parents really think that people who do not have children are to be pitied? Yes, that is the stifling assumption that underlies the everyday platitudes that I hear. People make their choices. If they have children, they definitely shoulder more financial strain, just like people who build on the shore get their houses flooded more often. It's a choice, and we don't all have to make that choice. And we don't have to encourage more people to make a choice just because lots of other people made that choice before them.
If I could make any single change in the world at this moment, it would be somehow to persuade those who are now young not to have children. I can say first hand that being childless is not so bad. There are so many things to make life worth living, your budget is not as broken, you have time to develop yourself in many other ways. And there is no shortage of other people around me needing nurturing and help, so my nurturing side easily can be fulfilled. Nor am I afraid of what will happen if I live to be quite old (do people really have children merely in the hopes that those children will care for them as they age?), Nor is there any danger of there not being enough parent-less children--if I wanted a child in my life, I could have that rather quickly, by fostering or adopting. I can even enjoy the children that friends, neighbors and relatives already have. So it must be that people mostly want to reproduce a child who has their own genetics, whom (ideally) they can relate to and understand better. But does it really turn out that way? I know a lot of parents locked in a state of struggle, either with their children or because of needing to send their child to college, or for many reasons related to their own children and the child's needs having to be a life priority.
Think about this then, if you are considering having a child. You can no longer expect children to be living in a friendly world. The world is not friendly to adults even now. Jobs are scarce, affluence is hard to come by or retain, and the natural environment is rapidly disappearing. War and crime are spreading. People are overcrowded in their living spaces already, and have trouble getting along with each other.
Young people, please to look deeply into this "urge" to have children. Are you going to reproduce by accident? From social pressure? At least, if you do decide to have children, do you know deeply within yourself why you are doing it, what kind of life you are setting yourself up for as a parent, and what kind of world your child will inherit? There is no need to have a child unless you directly choose to do so. In my opinion, bearing a child is unlikely to improve your life in any way whatsoever, and is in fact quite likely to make your life more difficult. Children being born now are less and less likely to thank their parents for having had them as time goes on, because the future of the planet does not look so bright. I hope I am wrong, and that a significant portion of people become more restrained and more conscious of how we are all connected with each other. That would indeed be a miracle, and I believe such a thing is possible.
Given my pessimism about the future, all the more reason to enjoy the present. I'm going to stop now and go have a day. If anyone even reads this, I fully expect to be considered a kook. That's how crazy the world is.