24 November 2009

Too busy?

Is it more selfish to have offspring or not to have them?
That's the question I asked myself the other day.

I used to believe that it was more selfish not to have them.
Let's rewind a few years back.
I migrated to Australia to a relatively low density urban environment.
I grew up in a low density community (village of 600 people) and was partially schooled in a small city of 150.000 people.
To most world standard largely populated areas I grew up in an environment that was not oppressive and offered a lot of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Although even in my teens I started to sense that the world was getting rather busy.
I was lucky enough to travel to some of the most populated areas in the world and witness population explosion in its worse manifestation: India's large cities.
It was a shock to see all those masses having no room to live.

India's overpopulation problem (*1)
The population problem started to become evident to me when I kept on hearing that at the current rate the world was going to get busy, very busy.
Very reputable sources were predicting a population explosion that, unless something catastrophic would happen, would effect the way we live tremendously.
That knowledge lingered in the back of my head and just would not go away.
When I married I decided that I would not follow the common peer pressure of starting a family.
Despite coming from a family of 4 siblings I decide that I was not cut out to be a dad.
I am sure that most viewed my decision as selfish probably not knowing my reasoning.
At the time, there was not real talk of climate change, overpopulation and current other social problems that we are facing today when I decided that having offspring was not the best idea.
However I was somehow feeling guilty that I did not follow what society was expecting from me: perpetuate what was “natural”.

After hearing a comment that having children is selfish the other day, I asked myself the question.
The commentator said that having offspring is a selfish expression of yourself: you wanting to perpetuate yourself with your children.
While some might view the comment totally out of line and actually absurd, I am lead to believe that there is some truth in it.
Why is it that well educated people with knowledge of the evidence that the world is overpopulated continue on the old adage: populate or die* (Australian Government slogan in the 50').
Could be arguable that the opposite is true: populate and die?

We are depleting our resources faster than we can replenish them and while all the efforts toward sustainability are focused on reduction of the use of those resources, there is very little talk on how to tackle the root of the problem: overpopulation.
The Public Health Association of Australia however seems to recommend this.

And what has this got to do with kayaking?
Simple: the population explosion is impacting my paddling environment.
No longer can I just decide on where I want to paddle and just head off.
These days a trip has to be planned carefully around holidays (avoiding them) and climate.
If I want to have a half assed experience of remoteness I have to pick the time of the year that other people don't favor: winter.
That certainly was not the case just a decade ago.
My neck of the woods, or shall I say surface of the pond, has experienced an unprecedented population growth.

India's crowded beach; not my scene (*2)
While the growth it’s dismal compared to some real big cities in the world, I don’t ever wish that my place would become so busy that an actual wilderness experience will no longer be possible unless I am prepared to travel so far away from home that I will have to use my annual vacation to reach those places.

Indonesians play in the water at Ancol beach during the Eid al-Fitr holiday in Jakarta, Indonesia on September 21, 2009. (REUTERS/Crack Palinggi) (*3)
Have I answered myself the original question: am I selfish?
Not totally, however I sense a certain rewarding feeling that I have not contributed to the problem.

There have been many mass extinctions of species in the history of our world. The planet seems to have taken no notice whatever. There will no doubt be more in the future. If we are foolish enough to precipitate our own mass extinction, I am pretty certain this will have not the slightest effect on the ultimate fate of our planet.Saving the planet may be a nice catch-phrase, but the real challenge is saving ourselves."
(from the Ad Contrarian 12JAN2010)

published under the Creative Commons licence from this author
*1 here
*2 and here
*3 source http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/11/on_the_shoreline.html


  1. Either way, children or not, you are not selfish. You are first being true to yourself. Some have soul's that ask for children, it's the only reason to have them. Some, apparently you are one, are called to seek the solace and quiet of being alone and one with the outdoor world in its natural state. I honor you for such a thoughtful decision and wish that some (less than adequate) parents had come to a similar decision. We each have our calling and make our contribution to this world in our own way. Do your thing.

  2. Geez Gnarly, could you pick a more controversial discussion point? I accept your right to choose, but you did so based on your desire to not have children or to not be a father, rather than to address the global issue of over-population. I think you will find the organic growth rate of population in Australia is below its replacement rate, and has been since 1975, with immigration contributing to actual population growth. Undoubtedly there are regional issues, particularly in countries such as India and Mexico, however there are serious underlying issues that need addressing, including poverty and lack of education. Back to the idea of "selfishness" though, why is it that adults who choose not to have children pull out the "over-population" arguement when clearly that is NOT their reason for making such a choice? It just sounds smug to me. Cheers - FP (father of two gorgeous little girls)

  3. FatPaddler, I am not a father however I only try to understand how a family person could feel on this subject.
    I respect your choice (maybe instinctive) for the calling of fatherhood but I remain puzzled by the comment I heard a few years back where parents of a 4 (adult) children revealed to me that if they knew the population problem would escalate to the current rate they would have opted to not reproduce.
    Unfortunately I can’t think locally but globally: the world populations will shift to areas of lesser density. Australia has a relative low population now but that will not last.

  4. Updated November 02, 2011 16:23:13

    This week the world's population ticked over to 7 billion. By 2050 that number is expected to grow to 9 billion.

    From water shortages to rising sea levels, experts from the University of New South Wales and the University of Melbourne paint a grim future for life on Earth.

    Read more at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-11-02/7-issues-facing-7-billion-people/3610318


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