Better family planning for a better planet

When I was 10 years old, my parents took me on a trip to see some of my relatives in India. I remember riding in my uncle’s car on the drive from the airport to his apartment and seeing extreme poverty in real life for the first time. I had vague notions of what poverty was from those sponsor a kid in Africa commercials I saw on TV, but those were sanitized versions of paucity compared to what I was taking in as we flew down Mumbai’s empty streets at three in the morning.

Emaciated bodies in grimy, tattered clothes, lying asleep on cardboard squares beside mounds of garbage. Rickety rooftops of corrugated sheet metal balanced precariously atop decaying brick walls. The smell of sewage that ran like streams out of the slums and towards the main road. The confusing sight of children my age, and younger, awake and meandering under the flickering street lights.

My father spoke softly as I peered out the window, “See. See how people live.”

I think both he and my mother wanted me to take it all in, and realize how fortunate I was to live in comparatively regal conditions. I’m grateful that my parents took me on that trip, where I could bear witness to how inequitable this world really is.

~ ~ ~

I went back to India when I was in my early twenties. I remember going for a walk and being stopped by a begging child who must have been eight years old or so. He motioned his hand to his mouth. I took out my wallet and before I could slide out a few rupees, I was surrounded by another five kids, all of them making the same gesture and looking at me through wide, sullen eyes. I gave each of them a few bank notes, and packed my wallet away as more kids raced over. I scurried away before they could get to me, tears streaming down my face. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do more, and never have I felt more undeserving of the privilege I possessed by no other virtue than simply being born in a particular place at a particular time.

For all the good that we’ve achieved as human beings, we’ve left a shitload of people behind, and we’ll continue to do so as long as we continue to deny the biggest, most obvious yet least discussed problem facing our planet: overpopulation.

And that problem doesn’t just affect poor kids in slums, and it isn’t just confined to countries in the developing world.

Sad about those kids begging for food in India? Well they’re there because people don’t have access to contraceptives, face cultural taboos about birth control, or don’t have the goddamned common sense to not have kids they can’t provide for.

Worried about climate change? Well guess who’s at the heart of all that pollution. It’s the colossal body of consumers who need electricity for their homes, gas for their cars, and clothes for their backs.

Pissed off that you have to sit in traffic for an hour every morning just to get to work? Well that’s because there are too many people making the same journey as you.

Scared about eating genetically modified organisms? Well they’re in your food there because there are too many mouths to feed and too little arable land to grow crops organically.

Frustrated about the astronomical cost of housing? Well, that’s what happens when there’s a massive demand for homes, a massive demand that’s driven by – yup – too many people.

We live on a finite planet, and it can’t support a perpetually growing number of inhabitants. The more people we put on this planet, the more we have to elbow each other out of the way to get onto a packed subway, or shove each other out of the way to catch an aid box from a UN airdrop.

Not a single problem we face becomes easier to solve with more people. Not one.

~ ~ ~

I decided in my early twenties that I would never have children. Admittedly, that’s in part because I know raising children would genuinely make me unhappy; it’s not something I want to dedicate a bulk of my life to. But the idea to go childfree was first sparked by the sights and sounds and smells of the slums surrounding Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

I don’t think I’ll miss out on much by not having kids, and I’d argue that’s the case for anyone who chooses not to procreate. I’ll have far more time and energy (and money) to dedicate to causes and endeavours that matter to me. I’ll be able to pack up and move on short notice to a new neighbourhood, a new city, a new country, all without having to worry about how my kid will feel being uprooted from his school and his idiot friends.

There’s a chance you’re reading this and you either have kids or want them. You might want to tell me how enriching and fulfilling it is being a parent. Save your breath. Kids can be cute and funny and smart and all that shit, but not everyone needs to have them. In fact, fewer people need to have them, and the people who want them need to have less of them.

I can’t stop you from having kids, and I’m not going to ask you to kill your already-existing kids (duh). If you’ve yet to have kids, I’d say quit while you’re ahead and keep it that way. If you want kids, maybe have one and leave it at that. You’ll get all the purported joys of being a parent without adding excessively to the planet’s demands.

Already got some little shits munchkins running around? Instill in them the idea that having one child is more than enough, and if they have a desire for more, they can adopt from one of the many orphanages around the world or close to home that are bursting at the seams because they’re – surprise! – overpopulated.

I’ve been meaning to write on overpopulation for many years, and this is a really shitty stab at it, but at least it’s a start. Hopefully I’ll be able to put more cogent pieces together in the future, but between my commute and my job and running and all the other duties of daily life, I don’t have much time to research and write, let alone run after some little whining, shitting, needy disappointment. And trust me, that’s exactly what my DNA would produce.

Image via Bored Panda’s 17 Powerful Images Showing The Devastating Effects Of Overpopulation

About rasheedclarke

Award-winning author. Marathon runner. Exceptional dresser. I'd like to be all those things.


  1. 299792458

    “I don’t think I’ll miss out on much by not having kids, and I’d argue that’s the case for anyone who chooses not to procreate.”

    Except if you’re one of the majority of people who actually want to procreate because of biology (I know you probably think it’s actually because of society’s conditioning and therefore not a “real” reason).

    This whole article gives the impression that you’re some angsty, unhappy individual and you’ve found something general enough to redirect the blame, in this case overpopulation. Instead of asking how we can make things better despite overpopulation (btw, what exactly is “over” population?) you suggest we just stop having babies. You’re an idiot.

    • Hi 299792458, if that is your real name.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your thoughts. To address your points, I’d say that while there may be a biological component to wanting to have kids, we’re by no means slaves to it. And you did correctly identify my stance on the impact of societal mores on people’s mindset when it comes to childbearing. For example, a recent Volkswagen commercial shows a couple having more and more kids, which necessitates bigger and bigger vehicles: That’s precisely the kind of narrative that leads people to want larger families, while ignoring the environmental ramifications of all those kids and all those vehicles.

      I’m not all that angsty, to be honest, but I can see how my post could have given that impression. I’m honestly just someone who wants more people on this planet to be able to enjoy the advances that people like me have been lucky enough to have. That becomes harder to do on a planet with more people, because resources become all the more scarce.

      The problem with making things better despite overpopulation is that we never really address the root cause of what’s wrong. And I do believe that the root of many of our problems comes from having too many people, too few resources to support them, and a dangerous road to environmental degradation if we keep trying to pump out more resources, rather than reduce the need for them.

      And I didn’t merely suggest everyone should just stop having babies. I know that’s unrealistic, to say the least. So I did say that if childbearing was absolutely essential to someone, that they limit the number of kids they have to one.

      My apologies for the late reply, but I hope there are some decent responses in here to the points you raised.

  2. Tom

    The biggest issue with the world is it’s taste for the flesh of dead animals. We grow hundreds of billions of tonnes of crops to feed to animals and then claim we don’t have enough land to grow crops organically! Animal agriculture is the biggest cause of pollution the world has ever seen and yet the issue is not widely publicised nor reported on. People will be poor (as in no money= no food not no money= less apple devices) until this is addressed. So Rasheed while i’m sure you feel smug about doing your bit for the world by not having offspring, what are you putting in your mouth?

    • Hi Tom,

      Forgive my late reply. You raise a valid point about the resources spent on raising livestock. It does indeed take a massive amount of crops, water, and land to raise animals for meat. That being said, I do eat meat myself, and turning myself (or everyone) vegetarian would still be only a partial or temporary fix to making resources more abundant and accessible. If sheer human numbers continue to grow, there will always be a need for more land for crops, more water for those crops, and possibly more GMO-infused crops to satiate ever-increasing demand. Not to mention that more people will still create more waste, more emissions, and take up more resources for needs unrelated to diet.

      I don’t feel smug about not having kids; it just makes the most sense for me. But I will say that a combination of smaller families and people choosing to eat less meat would be a formidable one-two punch for the good of the planet.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and leave your thoughts.

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