Having Kids Probably Won't Destroy the Planet



  • Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of total water consumption in the U.S., and nearly half of the food we grow — more than 30 million tons per year — is never eaten
  • At least two percent of the entire U.S. energy budget every year is spent on growing, transporting, and storing food that will ultimately be wasted
  • The average Texan consumes twice as much energy as the average American, and eight times as much as the average person in China

Fears of overpopulation and global food scarcities have led some pundits to criticize parents for contributing to the problem by bringing more children into the world. But Sheril Kirshenbaum, director of The University of Texas Energy Poll, argues that this blame is misplaced. In a recent op-ed for The Atlantic, she contends that a more effective way to save the planet would be to use existing resources more efficiently and cut down on the millions of tons of food that go to waste every year.

The idea of extolling birth control as a go-to measure for combating overpopulation is nothing new. In the 1960s, several academics issued alarmist predictions that within decades the world would become so crowded that global famines that would kill millions of people. Why didn’t this come to pass? Evolving gender norms and advancements in women’s rights may have had a lot to do with it, Kirshenbaum writes:

“During the last half-century, in both developed and developing nations, more women were educated, joined the labor force, and had access to birth control, making better family planning possible. Meanwhile, scientific innovations like antibiotics and vaccinations kept families healthier. As a result, women all over the world chose to have fewer children. The global fertility rate has fallen from close to five live births per woman in the 1960s to about 2.5 births today and will continue to decrease in the future.”

Obviously, it would be premature to say that the world, and the U.S. in particular, have solved every problem related to the earth’s booming population. But by developing more efficient agricultural practices and cutting back on wasted food, it is possible to make vital resources more available to people around the world, Kirshenbaum argues:

“One way to have an immediate impact would be to simply limit the food we waste, which accounts for nearly half of what we grow in the United States. That adds up to about 1,400 calories per person per day, or 31 million tons of food per year that’s grown but never gets eaten. An enormous amount of energy is involved in planting, fertilizing, harvesting, packaging, shipping, storing, refrigerating, and preparing food that goes unconsumed. Wasted food is wasted energy.”

Citing findings from the UT Energy Poll, Kirshenbaum argues that those responsible for bringing more people into the world are also among the most invested in the planet’s future:

“People with children tend to be more concerned about the environment than the general population and more interested in changing their behavior to be smarter consumers. For example, parents are consistently more likely to acknowledge that climate change is occurring. They also express more interest in purchasing energy efficient cars and installing solar panels.”

Read the full article on The Atlantic’s website for more of Kirshenbaum’s insights on solutions that could help meet the needs of a growing global population.


About The Author

Rob Heidrick

Writer, McCombs School of Business

Born and raised in Austin, writer Rob Heidrick has spent several years as a contributor and editor at local magazines and community newspapers. He...

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