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AOSC Seminar
September 6, 2018

The Ethics of Making Babies in the Face of Climate Change

Travis Rieder
Berman Institute of Bioethics, JHU

Climate change is no longer coming; it’s here. And the path we’re on is not good. After decades of claiming that we absolutely must not allow the earth to warm more than two degrees Celsius, we now face the very real prospect of a future of three or even four degrees global average temperature rise. And every increase in temperature will bring yet more disruptions and more harm to millions of people.

The ethical stakes, in other words, simply couldn’t be higher. And yet we continue to discuss how to decrease emissions among a global population that hasn’t shown any serious motivation to make the changes needed. There is, however, another potential solution: rather than trying to decrease emitting activity, we could also try to decrease the number of emitters. We could, that is, discuss trying to decrease the number of new people coming into the world. Doing so, it turns out, would be powerfully effective, is relatively easy to do, and could be started right now.

The case for mitigating climate change through procreative changes—logically sound though it is—upsets and offends people. There seems to be something wrong with saying that we should have fewer children rather than more. In this talk, I will suggest that it only seems that way; in fact, careful ethical reasoning counts in favor of promoting smaller families as a means of combating climate change.