A few years ago Bill McKibben (better known for his pessimistic book The End of Nature and his anti-genetic-engineering book Enough) wrote a book called Maybe One, explaining his reasons for getting a vasectomy and deciding that one child in today’s world is enough. The book was a critical success but a commercial failure, and is out of print, though you can still buy new copies through Amazon.

More an apologetic and qualified plea than a prescription for change, the book argues that changes to human lifestyle alone are not enough to curtail ecological disaster in the next century, that even by the most optimistic current forecasts human population will peak at catastrophic numbers, and that voluntarily reducing one’s family size in the West has a vastly greater impact than a similar family-size reduction in developing countries where ecological footprint per person is much less.

McKibben is strongly opposed to coercive fertility reduction programs like China’s, and to attempts to make people who opt for larger families feel guilty. He candidly admits the erroneous predictions of  ‘population bomb’ Malthusians. He dispels the myths that ‘only children’ are lonely, deprived or anti-social, but acknowledges that life for ‘singletons’ is in some ways more challenging than life with siblings. He argues that setting limits on immigration (though they need not be severe) can also help to reduce the impact of an exploding population. He explains why getting people to reduce their per-capita consumption is so much more difficult than getting them to reduce their family size (though both are necessary, he argues).  He discusses the reasons for people’s reluctance to adopt instead of having a second child themselves. He acknowledges that smaller family sizes will soon put a new burden on healthy economies as the baby boom reaches retirement, and that even smaller family sizes will prolong that period of extra burden. And then he lays out his proposition in a single sentence, and asks us to think and talk carefully and frequently about it:

No decision any of us makes will have more effect on the world (and on our lives) than whether to bear another child.

That’s it. If you want to hear more about why he belives that discussion and education on this one proposition is so important to the future of the world, E: The Environmental Magazine has a lengthy online interview with McKibben.

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