This week, Professor Roy Scranton, who teaches English at the University of Notre Dame, wrote a disturbing piece for the New York Times. In it, he discussed the question of whether people ought to have children thanks to the supposed environmental catastrophe looming on the horizon.
Scranton wrote that he cried when his daughter was born “for sorrow, holding the earth’s newest human and looking out the window with her at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves.” Scranton gloomily explained, “My partner and I had, in our selfishness, doomed our daughter to life on a dystopian planet, and I could see no way to shield her from the future.”
Considering the possibility of climate change, Scranton suggested that perhaps his mistake was “having a child in the first place.” He says, “If you really want to save the planet, you should die.”
This sort of logic is nothing new. People fearful of the apocalypse have always suggested that avoiding having children should be a moral option. Jewish tradition suggests that when the Pharaoh threatened firstborn male children with death, Moses’ mother stopped cohabiting with her husband. Moses’ older sister, Miriam, told her mother that to do so was sinful: “Pharaoh’s decree extends only to this world, but yours extends to this world and the world to come.” Moses’ mother and father then conceived Moses.
Perhaps this would pose a serious moral problem in the midst of an apocalypse. But apocalyptic thinking about climate change and human technological development is Manichean and unwarranted.