A Modest Proposal

June 26, 2007

(Edited below – more news on how to be a better human being. Check it.)

So I was idly flipping through the newspaper the other day, when this caught my eye:

“Anyone who decries environmental degradation, and who really cares about the state of our planet, should give some serious thought to not having children,” wrote David Reeve. “Each additional person consumes a huge amount of resources over their lifetime, especially if they live an energy-intensive lifestyle such as we enjoy here in Canada… We can voluntarily cut down our population now, or do so under duress in the future.”

David Reeve isn’t suggesting anything new. Organizations that promote “child-free” living as environmentally conscious have been pushing their message for a long time now. The planet is already over-populated, they say, and becoming more so every day. Anybody who has children just compounds that problem. We’re full up here, people. No one else should be boarding the Good Ship Earth.

Every extra body, the argument goes, is putting us at greater risk of capsizing. Specifically, every extra child puts us at greater risk of capsizing. But wouldn’t it be correct to say, so does every body who insists upon living the full lifespan accorded by our Western standard of living? All those unproductive seniors, flying to Florida and tooling around on their golf carts, don’t they put an unnecessary strain on the planet? Why are we keeping them around? If our boat is so crowded, why are we letting so many useless and burdensome people stay on? And, aren’t we supposed to be protecting women and children first, not encouraging sterilization of the former and discouraging birth of the latter? And aren’t children, like, small?

Didn’t we all get the message from Logan’s Run? The only way to get things under control sustainably in a world threatened by over-population and depletion of limited resources is to kill off all the old people. We need children for renewal, for their youth and vigour and potential contribution to society. What do we need retirees for?

And why stop at retirees? In Logan’s Run, they killed off anyone over thirty (twenty-one in the novel upon which the movie was based). Thirty’s a bit extreme, I think, but why not fifty? People over fifty are starting to slow down, starting to become burdens to society (especially, I might add, the childless oldsters, who have no families to shoulder part of the burden of their care.) Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to the planet if human beings voluntarily jumped ship once they’d passed the peak of their usefulness?

What? Does this sound like the ravings of a oldster-hater? No – I’m just being practical. I’m being environmentally conscious. I don’t hate old people, I just hate that people make the choice to get old and become a burden to society and the environment when they could be sacrificing themselves for the good of the planet instead.


It pains me to do this, but for the benefit of anybody out there without a clue, please read this before you hate-flame me. I do expect that you do all have a clue, but there were a disconcerting number of readers of my post on discipline and purloined ducks who really believed that I subject my toddler to the Ludovico Technique, and so I remain unconvinced of my own ability to make a satirical point. Personally, I like old people, except maybe not so much the ones – or anyone – who hate children and/or who think that sustaining legions of domestic housepets is somehow better for the world than raising good human beings.

This is the future. Live with it.


And, because I know that you are always yearning – striving – to be better than you are (you know, because to do otherwise would be bad for the planet and all), I thought that you might like to know about THIS safe and healthy alternative to culling the oldsters.
Also, you might like to hear me ramble pedantically about ethics and parenting and duckicide on the Motherhood Uncensored radio show, tonight at 10:30EST. Check it at MU, or just click below (you’ll be able to catch the recorded show by clicking the button below after tonight.)

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    Indigo Children June 27, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Too funny.

    My younger, childless sister came to visit me after my son was born and asked if we were going to have any more kids (i have given birth to two and have two stepchildren that do not live with us). When I told her we might, she said, “That is just irresponsible. you have already more than duplicated yourselves.” I just smiled.

    My mother also makes these type of comments often. “Oh god, I hope you or your sister (older) do not have any more kids.” You would think they are misbehaved brats the way they talk. They are not. My mom can’t get enough of my kids.

    They don’t get that the reason I might have more is because I love it. I have loved every minute (ok not every but most of the minutes) of their lives. My 12-year-old has the biggest heart of anyone I have ever met. She has been involved in social movements, civil rights and environmental education. She makes the world better just by being in it.

    Why should I feel ashamed of wanting to have more kids, Why did I feel a little embarrased to tell them when I was pregnant with my son–even though the pregancy was planned and celebrated?

    The ultimate misunderstanding of why one would have children.

    A quote from a cheesy 80′s song that I spent too much time lip-synching to:

    “I believe the children are our future,” says the pre-Bobby Brown, pre-drugs Whitney Houston.

    How can you argue with such an overused cliche?

    ewe are here June 27, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Funnily enough, it seems to me that i’s always those child-hating couples that leave the biggest environmental footprint: expensive vacations involving lots of flying around the world, big expensive fuel-sucking cars, more house than they need, lots of eating out, lots of throwing out of food they never bothered to cook because they went out instead…

    My dad used to jokingly say he should form an ‘Anti-People’ movement…. which means, of course, that no babies means no humans eventually…. :-)

    Oh, The Joys June 27, 2007 at 1:54 pm

    A Swift kick in the writer’s *ss, perhaps?

    Anonymous June 27, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    tracysan: educated, socially conscious people can also try to help the kids of Those Who Drive Hummers to become more socially conscious than their parents. I think it all comes down to where you would be most effective.

    Gidge June 27, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    I’m just glad you didn’t suggest we EAT the seniors bcse I don’t think they’d be so tasty.

    Nancy June 27, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    To be serious for a moment, I love how he says “Each additional person consumes a huge amount of resources over their lifetime, especially if they live an energy-intensive lifestyle such as we enjoy here in Canada…” but his solution proposes reducing the PEOPLE and not the ENERGY-INTENSIVE LIFESTYLE. In other words, he arguably wants people to keep up their own selfish lifestyles while future generations (if there are to be any) must pay.

    I guess I’ll be one of the first to go in the future, since treatment for my disease is costly and those deciders would probably realize I’m a burden to society. So it was nice knowing you, HBM.

    Christine June 27, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    This all drives me nuts! Not you, those people who think we can’t sustain the planet if we keep having kids.

    I totally get your satire! Are there really people who wouldn’t get this post? Weird.

    Her Bad Mother June 27, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    Gidge – no, of course we couldn’t eat the seniors. They’d be gamey, and tough to chew.

    Major Bedhead June 27, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    I don’t know how you could NOT get that this was satire, but then, some people have a sense-of-humour-ectomy done.

    I thought this was hysterical.

    And I couldn’t comment on the previous post, but that Che shirt is hysterical. Where do you find these things?

    Catherine June 27, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    I definetly remember reading A Modest Proposal in High School…who could forget it?! :(

    My husband studied Ecology and Biology for his undergrad degree, and this was actually something that was very much important to him as we considered how/when/if to have children. And in considering (international) adoption, we considered the implications of bringing someone specifically into the most highly consumptive place in the world.

    Of course, you’re right – the answer is not to stop production, but to steward what we have much, much, much more appropriatly. I appreciate what you said about the mother’s and children…good perspective…

    painted maypole June 27, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

    wait… but then who will run all around the house looking for the kitty with my daughter, all while making “meow” sounds under his breath, if my 83 year old grandfather is gone?

    Why don’t we just kill the morons? Or… everytime someone goes in to buy an SUV, they are sterilized and forced to drive a hybrid instead?

    aimee / greeblemonkey June 27, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    Um, I made a similar comment at a dinner party once and the whole room shut up and stared at me like I was Dr. Evil.

    Anonymous June 28, 2007 at 12:01 am

    well there is always going to be some arse saying that we our over-populated and that we shouldn’t have children.and people die and people are born its called a life cycle so those arses should just deal with it.LAVENDULA

    Chaos Control June 28, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    I vote for just getting rid of all the rapists, child abusers and murderers instead. How? I’m afraid I don’t know the answer but I’d sure like to investigate sending them to the moon. They are what’s a waste of space and resources, not our children.

    eastcoastelle June 28, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Ooh… you made me cry (in front of the in-laws no less).

    My own little girl is still at the clinging little monkey stage, but even now there are brief, very brief moments, where she already seems so independent. It seems to happen so fast.

    eastcoastelle June 28, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    Duhh… totally posted this comment on the wrong post (no your modest proposal did no make me cry :)

    Fairly Odd Mother June 28, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    At one point in my life, I would have been all for offing anyone over 50. However, as that number starts to get closer and closer, I’ll have to say, “let’s all just go down together”.

    Mama Luxe June 28, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Love the post and the references.

    About large families–I would suspect many of them create less of an environmental problem (at least in the short term) than smaller families–because they HAVE to live thrifty and reuse, recycle, re-purpose (unless they are just mega rich).

    Granny June 28, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Gamey and tough to chew checking in to say hi.

    Good post and yes, I totally get the satire.

    the mad momma June 29, 2007 at 1:30 am

    ummm..okay – so we dont have any more children. all of us. the whole world. we just stop having kids cold turkey so that we can save the earth. and then we’ll all be dead and the earth will be safe for who?

    Jacque Dixon June 29, 2007 at 2:35 am

    My first thought was same as Nancy’s:
    “Each additional person consumes a huge amount of resources over their lifetime, especially if they live an energy-intensive lifestyle such as we enjoy here in Canada…” but his solution proposes reducing the PEOPLE and not the ENERGY-INTENSIVE LIFESTYLE. In other words, he arguably wants people to keep up their own selfish lifestyles while future generations (if there are to be any) must pay.”
    That is what got me. Ignorant.
    The next bit ‘o info I must agree with is what Mama Luxe said about large families being frugal, passing things down, instead of buying, buying buying, etc… yes, we are a large family, and we have to budget. We stay home most of the time. We do not have time for frivolous shopping, etc. We use organic cleaners, buy the organic food we can afford and grow our own in a large garden. We cloth diaper, breastfeed, home birth. We have goats we milk and actually are letting them mow the lawn – and weeds. We are by no means perfect, but we are not sucking the future out of the planet, either.
    Having a large family is not what a lot of people think it is.
    Oh – and VERY funny satire. Very funny.

    Veronica Mitchell June 29, 2007 at 10:57 am

    I have wanted to write a post on this for weeks, but knew from me it would devolve into an unfunny, spittle-flinging rant. Thank you, thank you for doing it better. Jonathan Swift is standing up in his grave and saluting you.

    Rebecca June 29, 2007 at 10:55 pm

    Oh my god, Brava! brava!

    Shannon July 1, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    I like you, Bad! I was thinking Logan’s Run before I even got to your paragraph on it. (We named our son Logan after that movie!)

    Great post, only a fool would not recognize your satirical ability.

    KBAB July 4, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    I get the satire.

    I’m just tired of getting lumped into a group of “crazies” because I choose not to have children. Everyone who chooses not to have children does so deliberately and for a variety of reasons. While I think my husband and I would have some pretty kickass offspring that could definitely make the world a better place, that doesn’t override my reasons for being childfree.

    That doesn’t make me crazy or an extremist. Just making a choice.

    Yeah, I get frustrated when I see people that have 3, 4, 8 kids trailing them. But I don’t know their life. Selfish people exist. Some choose to reproduce and others don’t. Not everyone who is childfree takes island-hopping jet vacations or drives a Hummer. I don’t have a car, I recycle, I reduce my consumption by not buying anything new that I can find used… and I’m sure some people with kids do the same.

    Her Bad Mother July 4, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    KBAB – choosing to not have children doesn’t make anyone crazy. Preaching the child-free life as morally superior is, however – to my mind – ethically suspect and intellectually unsound. I don’t begrudge anyone the choice to not have children – so long as they don’t insist that I should be begrudged *my* choice.

    We do best for the earth by leaving a light footprint. We can do that with children, or without.

    Anonymous July 31, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    You know what i say? i say that this is a good idea and NO, i really don’t care if anyone disagrees with me because This is FACT. This is reality. Im serious. If people would just wake up from their own world and stop being so selfish, then maybe, just MAYBE, people would stop “predicting” that the world is going to end. I don’t care if i sound absurd. Im just saying, if you Wish to have children, then please, help our Earth, and just have one. At least one. Please. No, im not be hypocritical about this, im trying to say if people take it easy and have just one child, think about it- The world wouldn’t be so populated. Human beings have children everyday. It isn’t some kind of crime to have children. Just have one. Why don’t people try HEAR Earth’s warning instead of being selfish. Agree, Disagree.
    I could really care less. I just wanted MY opinion heard.

    Al_Pal April 10, 2008 at 12:14 am

    “everytime someone goes in to buy an SUV, they are sterilized and forced to drive a hybrid instead?”
    Heh. There’s a thought.
    As the eldest of four kids, at age 31, I’m pretty glad to have grown up in a ‘big’ family–and really glad that we’re all fairly eco-conscious. (at minimum, we recycle and drive vehicles that are at least 20mpg. I compost and drive a 30/38 car.)

    I’ve seen people claiming that having kids is a direct contradiction of eco-consciousness before, and it is so ridiculous!
    If ‘green’ folks don’t have kids, how are there going to be any kids that know to be green?

    Plus, there was that article in the last year or so about how, even after rebellion, kids tend to follow the political beliefs of their parents. So, clearly, we need conscious people to breed! :D

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