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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    nomotherearth June 26, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Man, that made me laugh. Mr Earth loves Logan’s Run. I didn’t know it was based on a book. My reading list keeps growing..

    Lara June 26, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    satire? really? i thought it was a great suggestion… ;)

    i wrote a piece for my school newspaper about our dress code, and similarly followed swift’s example from “a modest proposal.” i can’t tell you the number of students who started hating me for all my “lame” ideas that sided with the all-knowing “Them.” some people…

    m June 26, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    This post made me smile. I can think of a few people I should send it to….

    Laural Dawn June 26, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    It’s all very confusing. Some people don’t want us having children, but working in pensions I keep being told we should have lots of children to sustain our pensions.
    Much too confusing.

    Violet June 26, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Whoooohooo! Since we’re adopting “existing children”, rather than creating our own, can I just crank up my A/C, stop recycling and, oh, I dunno, toss styrofoam peanuts around the yard?

    No? Aw, crap.

    Emily June 26, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    For the record, I clicked on your post because I liked the title and I was expecting satire!

    I was really torn about fertility treatment because it felt wrong to go to such lengths to create an extra burden on the planet when we could adopt.

    We did it anyway.

    austrian dyspeptic without a blog but I hope to get one soon... June 26, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Oh, the death of satire….

    I remember having a letter published in the Globe that addressed Stephen Harper’s wrath that was aimed at polygamists. I wrote that my six wives and I were unable to understand why he was so steadfast in denying our rights to publicly proclaim our love and devotion. I received a telephone call from the paper asking me if, indeed, I had six wives.

    Such are the times we live in.

    It’s enough to make one dyspeptic, even if one isn’t Austrian.

    Julie Pippert June 26, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    You made a LOGAN’S RUN reference alongside your literary reference title and OMG I totally was thinking Logan’s Run before you even said it. (Although sheesh isn’t 30 a little young for offing the “elderly.” Dude, I’d be so past dead it’s not even funny.) (And speaking of funny, isn’t it funny that Logan turned up on Gilmore Girls as the old guy?)

    Okay be back shortly with actual germane comments.

    Nicole June 26, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    I read a lot of the child-free stuff you linked to and found it somewhat disturbing.

    I mean I get the not wanting to have children thing and I even partially get the environmental reasons. My husband and I had reservations about bringing a child into this world and country in its current state. That was more a commentary on our cynical outlook than anything else.

    What I don’t get is what seems to be a child-free movement. What do these people hope to accomplish in the end? Seems like if they really cared about the environment it would be better to try and raise environmental conscious little people rather than stop having little people all together.

    We have one son and he may very well be the only child we have (still too early to tell) and yes one day he may grow up to be a Hummer-driving jack ass rolling his eyes at his mildly granola-crunching parents who cloth diapered him, breastfed him, recycle and made his organic baby food from scratch. But, I highly doubt it considering we are the people that will be raising him and I doubt Hummer-driving and massive energy consumption will be top of list of values we will instill.

    Julie Pippert June 26, 2007 at 3:37 pm


    1. It’s cool, I got the satire from your title. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay that suggested the solution to the Irish famine was that the Irish eat their own kids. Very cool. I love lit refs. It allows me to prove all that university debt and time was worth something. LOL


    2. Whoop whoop! I love it. You re going to send this to the author and his publication, right? Because it rocks and he needs his face rubbed in…err right family friendly blog…as I was saying he needs to see this counterpoint to understand how ridiculous his proposal is.

    Plus, he needn’t look to Logan’s Run or Swift. How about glance at China? Their zero population plan is going swimmingly. Or how about the zero population plan in the 60s and 70s, aided and abetted by “devil-child” cinema?

    If we altered our consumption and recycling, by which I mean also our culture and economy to a degree as well, we could do a lot more.

    The solution isn’t less people as he puts it; it’s more people use less and use what they use more wisely.

    Thanks for saying it so well.

    And let us know what Dear Mr. Reeve says in response. :)

    Mamalooper June 26, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    The future a la Logan’s Run can be embellished with a little Rollerball (i.e. all the crazy reality/game shows on tv now). Top it off with some Soylent Green and we are all set.

    On another note, having to spell out the fact that this is satirical is sad, sad, sad. Where is your sense of humour people?

    heather June 26, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Don’t worry, you are plenty good at the Satire. I got it and enjoyed it too. Well done :)

    venessa June 26, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    I would hope the title would instantly send up the red flag that just maybe you are being sarcastic, but you’re right. Ya never know…

    But it is true that we consume too many resources. However I think that the key to that article is “who live an energy-intensive lifestyle”. It’s possible to maintain current population or even grow, if we can use fewer resources. I about died the other day when I watched my mom wash all her dishes and then LOAD THEM INTO THE DISHWASHER. Are you freakin’ kidding me? We are in serious denial about the limited resources we need to live.

    slouching mom June 26, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Umm, HBM? You can definitely write satire. No worries on that score, ‘kay?

    Jenifer June 26, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Yeah I think you have satire down…now worries. If it was a picture of Wonder Baby in a pot I’d be worried. ;)

    Jenifer June 26, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Duh. That would be “no” worries. Hard to type with someone reading ChickaDee in my ear…

    Em June 26, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    “On another note, having to spell out the fact that this is satirical is sad, sad, sad. Where is your sense of humour people?”

    So true. What the heck is wrong with people? What would this poor, overpopulated world be without humor and wit (the real stuff, not the low-IQ fluff)?

    Karen June 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Oh, yes, it’s too sad, I find I can’t get taken very seriously in some “green” circles because I have three children – if one is too many, three is way, way, way too many. We’re eating too much, bathing too much and taking up too much space – does it matter that I am trying to reduce our impact, that I am making simple changes in our lifestyle as I find out more information and more options? To me it matters, but to many, it does not matter; it’s too late for me, in their eyes. This makes no sense as a political position, if what they care about is the environment, they’d have a powerful force behind them if they welcomed parents onto their bandwagon. Still searching for baby friendly greener pastures in my neck of the woods…
    also, satire good!

    nell June 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    What if, instead of just offing the old folks, we make everyone read this post, everyone in the world, and then anyone who takes it seriously we can push off the planet.

    Swift would be proud, by the way.

    Dawn June 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    Except David Suzuki.

    He’s a cool old dude. But the ones in line in front of me? The Old Quebecois?

    Soylent Verde, all the way.

    Damselfly June 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

    You crack me up!

    As someone who tries to be green, I actually was concerned about having a baby. But I think every child is a chance for new hope for our planet. And I think the next generation will grow up greener than we did and actually put less strain on our resources than previous generations, simply because we know more now and have better technology.

    ozma June 26, 2007 at 5:49 pm

    Well, now you’ve just made me realize that trying to get people to quit smoking has got the whole thing ass-backwards. True, there is a certain amount of pollution but that is surely offset by the dying younger thing.

    In fact, why bother with health and safety at all? Let’s just drive like maniacs. If we take someone with us, we’re SAVING THE PLANET.

    OK, were you being sarcastic? I hope so or I will sound like the biggest jerk ever.

    This reminds me of my idiot students who complain because poor people actually have babies. It’s as if through pure intuition we can figure out this totally impractical way to save the world. When there are about 95,000 OTHER things we should do.

    What are we saving the world for if we are also drastically undermining our ability to live in it happily? First, let’s get rid of private cars and recreational shopping and then we’ll talk about procreation. A child is not like a humvee–some kind of consumer choice that a person should forego in the interest of politically correct sensitivity.

    Teryn June 26, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    Wonderful satire! But it made me think …

    that it’s much healthier to have healthy children than it is to keep old people alive by means of pills and machines. Maybe kinder, too. Kids have good lives — does that lonely old lady in the nursing home who’s only alive because she’s on 37 medications have a good life?

    I’m not saying we should kill off the old people — but we’ve made it almost impossible for anyone to die a natural death. I think a true environmental choice might be to let someone go when it’s their time rather than pumping them full of pills for 20 more years.

    Tabba June 26, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    You can totally rock out the satire.
    And anyone who didn’t get that should just click away.

    That picture? Adorable by the way.

    Though I’m sure you knew that already ;)

    mothergoosemouse June 26, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Don’t you dare touch my granny, HBM. I don’t care if she does account for more than 25% of North America’s consumption of ice cream. She’s my granny and I love her!

    Serendipity, baby! June 26, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Wonder what he’ll think when the breeding crowd’s kids end up developing technology to improve the world and reduce our impact on it? What’s that I hear? Deafening silence? Thought so too.

    Mom101 June 26, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    The title alone made me laugh. But then, I thought you were going to suggest eating old people.

    At least the ones who can’t drive.

    Sarah June 26, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    I read that article, and it pissed me off. Most likely, the man flies all over the world, drives a sports car and eats imported sea urchins for breakfast.
    Plus, kids are the future and we have to put our hope in them that they will continue saving our planet and discover new ways to allow it to flourish under increasing strain on our resources.

    Beck June 26, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Bleh. So many “enviromentalists” that I know are just jerks – saying, for example, that we should just let Africa collapse in on itself because “the world” is healthier without them. Jerks. Of course, the western world/Japan is no longer reproducing at replacement levels and yet the over-population crowd is still banging the same tired old drum. Again, bleh.

    kgirl June 26, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    see? motherhood IS powerful!

    Blog Antagonist June 26, 2007 at 9:20 pm

    I do so enjoy good satire, thank you! And I agree about the ludicrousness of such a suggestion.

    MotherBumper June 26, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    sweet juju, you made me cry with this one.

    Tracey June 26, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Thank you for the smiles! I have to find Logan’s Run, now.

    metro mama June 26, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    You’re full of p&v today, HBM! Love it.

    Lawyer Mama June 26, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    OMG, Logan’s Run popped into my head too!

    People who read you regularly get it. You’re one sarcastic chica and that’s what I love about you. I remember reading in a Douglas Copeland novel something about a character who was clinically diagnosed with having no sense of humor or irony. I’m convinced there are really people like that.

    I’m off to go unplug Granny.

    SUEB0B June 26, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Environmental concerns were the top reason I didn’t have kids. I don’t fault other people for having them though – many people seem to need kids in a way that I just don’t relate to.

    We do not live in a planet of infinite resources, and I fear that today’s children are doomed to live with a much lower quality of life than we had.

    Moondance June 26, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Sublime. From Swift to 1970s sci-fi (both literary AND cinematic). Thanks for this.

    tallulah June 26, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    We decided to influence our Earth’s future by adopting little beings already on the planet (except for one big OOPS). I really can’t understand why people go through all of the money and heartache to try to bring another infant in to the world, but you know what? I’m not them and to each their own. If that guy wants to run around and spout his green ways with child-free living….more power to him!

    Unfit Mother June 27, 2007 at 2:41 am

    “Soylent Green is people!” I’m sure someone already referenced that, but there is an ice float buoyanting out there with my mother-in-law’s name on it…

    MsPrufrock June 27, 2007 at 3:37 am

    Haha…very clever. I have a fondness for A Modest Proposal and wrote most of my persuasive-type papers in college in that style. I did it for shock value then (knowing some of my fellow students would have no idea about A Modest Proposal), but I think it’s a hell of a way to make a point. Thanks for a lovely post.

    chichimama June 27, 2007 at 7:48 am

    What a wonderful post-

    My grandmother always said that the major problem with society (and remember, this was decades ago) was that the environmentally and socially responsible folks often chose not to have children, or chose not to have large families. Therefore, their beliefs and ideals were not being perpetuated.

    Anonymous June 27, 2007 at 11:04 am

    For me it’s a choice between having kids, or having the resources to do things to help people outside my immediate family. I know many of you can do both and I so admire it. But I can’t. And I know other people that couldn’t–my own parents, for one. Although I like myself and everything, I am not sure that I’m a greater gift to the world than either of my parents’ minds would have been, had they chosen to educate inner-city kids (my mom) or be rocket scientists (my dad). I assumed Reeve’s piece was aimed not at people like you–who already have lovely kids and are doing well by them and are probably doing lots of things to help the planet too–but at people like me, who are on the fence and who really need to weigh some variables before making this huge choice.

    Yeah, the world needs WonderBabies. I just don’t think it needs MediocreBabies, or truly Bad Mothers. I’m sticking with CatBaby for now…

    wordgirl June 27, 2007 at 11:15 am

    Yeah! Look what happened to the Shaker community. Didn’t their religion forbid sex…even in marriage. The only way their belief system could get new members was through recruitment. And it died out, naturally. I can’t think about a world without kids in it.

    jchevais June 27, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Every once in a while, people should be reminded that nature didn’t plan for humans to have such long lives. For millenia, old age was what?… 30 years old? That’s probably why girls start menstruating at age 11 (most woman were considered lucky if they could pull off a couple of births with getting whacked too).

    It’s only in the last couple of centuries that our lives have been extended beyond the limits of what nature would call normal.

    Which is why nature is probably turning against the human race… (as some people see it)…

    However, one could also see it as the natural evolution of species. Climatic changes have been killing off certain species for millions of years.

    jchevais June 27, 2007 at 11:28 am

    I meant “without” getting whacked. My brain needs a proofreader.

    Anonymous June 27, 2007 at 11:41 am

    It is a tough debate. More people are having more babies, while the older crowd just keeps living longer. And who is to say how we are supposed to live as individuals? In countries where the amount of kids you can have is governed, they are getting more and more boys while girl babies are unwanted.

    Science For Kids

    the weirdgirl June 27, 2007 at 11:49 am

    You know what I’ve never understood? Is how many of the extreme “environmentally conscious” are pro-peace. Shouldn’t they be more war-mongering? That would kill off loads of us resource-swillers right quick.

    What’s really interesting is if you read Soylent Green today (the book, not the movie)… the horrific population numbers imagined in that book are exactly the same population we have right this very moment in the US.

    Her Bad Mother June 27, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I’m totally with anybody who says that we need to think twice about creating really large families, or at least, that those who choose to have really large families take responsibility for their environmental footprint. But then again, shouldn’t that be true of all of us? With children or without? The people who promote a child-free movement as *necessary* to environmentalism are being absurdly extreme. Having children puts a burden on the planet? So does driving a car, travelling, eating meat, eating seafood, wearing factory-made clothing, using air-conditioning, keeping domestic pets, etc, etc, etc. You name it, it’s a burden.

    And? Western population growth isn’t occurring at replacement levels. Western populations are actually *declining.*

    I think that the child-free movement is motivated by hatred of children, not by real concern over the environment. My child has far less impact on the environment than Pissy McAsshat with his ‘childfree vacations’ or Madame Beeyatch Von Anuslips with her twenty cats – so why aren’t we getting rid of *them*?

    Sorry. I’m getting cranky again. But when I see bumper stickers that say things like ‘the more children I meet the more I like my dog’ I get hot under the collar. Substitute any other group for ‘children’ and you’d have hate speech, wouldn’t you?

    binkytown June 27, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    You are right to question where that kind of thinking ends? You talk about old people, what about the unhealthy? People who are morbidly obese? Does he think they are much of a drain to the planet?

    Besides, love and planetary resources= very different things to consider.

    Tracysan June 27, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    As a card-carrying tree-hugger, I have to admit that I’ve never been exposed to the “child-free movement” before…but the “one-child movement” is something I am familiar with (see Bill McKibben’s Maybe One: A Personal and Environmental Argument for Single-Child Families). I have a big problem with this argument for exactly the reasons Chichimama already stated…if educated, socially responsible people limit themselves to only one child, then it seems to me that we are “breeding out” the population of educated, socially responsible people, leaving a gap to be filled by the children of Those-Who-Drive-Hummers. That CANNOT be good for the planet. I think that educated, socially responsible people should be having more and more kids until we have the numbers to actually make a difference in this country. Hmmm, I’m sure there’s a chink in that argument SOMEWHERE…

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