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The Taunt...

There is a discussion on Alternativebaby atm about whether or not it is environmentally responsible to have more children that it takes to simply replace the parents (so more than two, but this should be extrapolated to blended families, imo, because if a couple have two children, then split and find other partners and have another child, then split and find other partners and have yet another child, etc. obviously the end result is more children than parents)...

Anyhoo...

Ok, obviously, as a parent of nearly four children, I'm hardly going to side with those people who believe having more than two children, or even having any children at all is to blame for the demise of the environment. In fact, I'm going to (far more predictably) argue that large families (for the purpose of this debate, families with three or more children), share resources more economically and therefore are not to blame for the environmental issues we currently face...

Anyway, feeling mildly irretated by the assumptions of this discussion - that more people automatically use more resources - and go to another parenting forum; Essential Baby...

The very first post I read is titled: How much is too much?

Roflmao, can you see what is coming...

A mum has just been toy shopping at the mid-year sales and spent over $500 on birthday and christmas presents for her soon to be one or two year old - an only child. She admits that before Christmas she is likely to add a couple more things to the booty as well... Value totalling $635... Everything mentioned is made of plastic (I'm not adverse to plastic, btw, my kids have plenty of the stuff)...

A couple of other families admit to spending this much on their kids - they have two kids each...

A couple of other respondents say it sounds a bit over the top, but hey, if you have the money, why not...

OK, so to me THIS is the problem... Not families like mine with nearly 4 children who wouldn't spend $600 throughout the year on ALL their children combined, let alone on individual children (and no, this is NOT because other friends and family pitch in, so far the boys have received no presents from anyone but us this year), but it's not even about the money... It's about the idea of buying ONE or TWO children that much stuff!

And isn't it the parents of (generally speaking, obviously not all) only children or two children who are more likely to get their kids lots of toys and clothes etc? Or is that too much of a generalisation - not unlike the generalisation that families with more than two kids are being environmentally selfish and unaware...

C'mon people, instead of saying, hey don't have more than two kids. Why aren't we simply saying, hey don't consume more than X amount of crap per child! Smaller families don't consume less, in my opinion, they consume about the same, it just doesn't reach as many people...

Comments

katef said…
This is going to sound super judgemental but you started it LOL...

This stuff just blows my mind... $500 on one child just for Christmas??? Are you kidding me!!??? If these people took even half that much each year and gave it to a charity of choice how much better of would society be as a whole? Or even if they just spent less on 'frivolous toys' and didn't live with huge credit card debts and mortgages they can't sustain.... it's just ridiculous. What child needs that many toys?

It smacks of our throw away, 'I must consume or die' society to me... and heck I like to consume with the best of them, but I am pretty mindful about over doing it. I guess I am naive too as the amount you've quoted just blows my mind! That would like $1500 just on Christmas presents for our kids.. last year we spent about $500 but only because we got the trampoline! For M's first birthday we bought him a $20 tray of trees (50 trees) and a $6 top.... oh man are we ever cheap!
Sif said…
Kate, LOL, this is what I'm saying... I'm sure there are large families out there who DO spend this much and more on each of their kids each year, but they're - thank goodness - in such a small minority it would barely register...

Most large families I know of don't, and simply couldn't afford to, even if they wanted to, spend this much on "child consumption"... So, why point the finger at us large families when trying to resolve the resources/environmental crisis... If you're going to have fewer children BECAUSE it is better for the environment, let that attitude also be reflected in how you "as a conscientious, environmentally aware, parent of one or two" consume on behalf of your child...
casso said…
But they're not children forever. They grow up to become individuals who consume (by necessity) a certain amount of energy, a certain amount of water, a certain amount of food and all the requisite commodities that any adult at a base level will require in a Western society.

Sorry, going out right now but will be back later to discuss.
Sif said…
Yes, but the problem with the human population on this planet isn't the actual numbers... It's how much we "choose" to consume, and HOW we choose to consume. So, if we teach our children to consume BETTER then future generations won't have the same impact on the environment that the current generations have.

As well as this, in Western cultures, the issue isn't overpopulation - in Australia, for example, we're not quite reproducing 1:1, which is why the Govts are trying to encourage MORE reproduction... The number of people having 4 or more children, is half that of people choosing to have 1 children, and that doesn't even count the people having NO children, which is also about 12% these days (so about 23% of the population are having 1 or less children, while only <6% are having 4 or more (and that percentage is steadily dropping)...

So, it's in less developed countries that the overpopulation issue arises, but those countries aren't contributing nearly as much to overconsumption of resources as we "far less populated" Western societies are...

Overpopulation is not our issue, over-consumption is, and our children CAN learn to consume better and smarter IF we set the example, as a society... That includes the parents of 1 and 2 children...
HipbubbyMama said…
I dont know, I cant honestly find much to agree with the argument that large family=environmental irresponsibility, and agree Sif that it's how the family consumes that's important.

I'm planning to spend $500 in Xmas presents this year mind you..to buy a wii for ALL of us, (mostly me!! haah!)

Spending that much PER child blows my mind too.
Stitch Sista said…
There is a further argument to the amount that our adult children consume, and it's the fact that if we have five children, who each go onto have five children, who each go on to have five children etc then we've contributed to that many more children who become adults who are consuming.

I don't know what I can say to that to be honest as it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

I am certainly not willing to argue that people shouldn't be allowed to determine their own family size. I would say at least in western society, the size of familes have self limited anyway due as you've mentioned to cost...

Anyway yeah that's way too much money IMO to spend on a child that age. Honestly they get a rush about the pressie that lasts a minute or so and then they're onto the next one. I'd much rather get them one or two special things to treasure.
Sif said…
Rach, I guess I'm saying, that if we have two children, who are them more likely to go on to have two children (than one of five is to go on to have five - the vast majority of children from large families don't go on to have equally large families themselves, or the number of large families would not be dropping as dramatically as it is)... But those 2 children learning wasteful comsumer habits, where as the one of five children learn environmentally economical comsumer habits, then the consumption rate between the 25 grandchildren (which is a highly unlikely number anyway), and the 8 grandchildren (of the couple of who only had two children), is likely not going to be that vastly different...

If large families, for example, make a habit of passing things on through their families - siblings sharing the use of cots and children's clothing etc, as each successive child has their own children - and smaller families believe they're endlessly "entitled" to buy their own kids NEW equipment and new clothing, then aren't the large families consuming about the same as the small families...

Only when a family of one or two children can prove to me that their "footstep" id definitely and significantly smaller than our, then will I listen to the argument that I've been irresponsible in having more than two children...
casso said…
Footprints are difficult to assess, Just because you have one child doesn't necessarily mean you're a rabid present-buying machine either. Buying new toys in our family is rare. We did it a couple of weeks ago and I felt quite guilty when I did so. Mostly we purchase at markets and car boot sales and most other families that we associate with do the same.

It's basic number crunching. Just because a few people over-consume within their smaller families doesn't mean that all small families do. Just as larger families aren't necessarily all doing their bit for the environment doesn't mean that some aren't working hard at reducing their carbon footprint. So a family of three in a similar environment and similar ethics to those of a family of six will necessarily have to consume less, just because there are fewer of them. Over time the exponential growth of the population stems back, at each arm of its growth, to an individual. It's not how many of those individuals came from big or small families but that they existed at all, thereby allowing the future families to exist and placing further stress on the earth's available commodities .

I'm in no way talking about population control either, but I also think it's pretty naive to think that a family of six people have the same environmental impact over the next hundred years than a family of three.

Sure it's how the family consumes that is important, but each person HAS to eat and drink a certain amount. If that individual eats foods that aren't cultivated in a manner that supports the long term environmental needs of the planet (like eating imported fresh foods - often they are even cheaper than local goods) then that person is even more of a drain on the world's finite resources.

Thinking about overpopulation shouldn't be restricted to a narrow parochial view. Saying that Australia isn't reaching 1:1 population growth doesn't mean much. We need to look at global needs, global demands and the distribution of needs and wants to determine how long term concerns like this are to be analysed. Also longevity of population is an important variable to consider.

I just think it's absurd to think that a small family necessarily MEANS a wasteful one. Your last post seems to makes this assumption as fact!
Wow Casso, Sif and others!
This is the type of thoughtful discussion of the issue I really hoped to have with my thread. I hope it isn't necessary to say to you Sif that I in no way think you or anyone with 4 or more kids is wasteful or selfish. I came across that POV as I said, and wanyed to tease it out. I already feel as if I have 3 kids, just that one of them hasn't come to us yet. I wanted to discuss the issue to get it straight in my head- to know that my choices were really deep down ones I was comfortable with.

So, Casso, you've articulated beautifully the aspects of the issue that I was feeling torn over. Thanks very much for your perspective.
Bin said…
I don't judge anyone for the size family they choose to have either, but have to agree with Casso that I take exception to the assumption that small families necessarily go overboard with "stuff" and bigger ones don't. It probably depends on who you've been exposed to, but there are more than average larger families in the Defence Force communities (my theory is that being away from family people want to create more of your own, don't know if that's true) and a family with less that 3 kids is unusual. There are 5 boys across the road and they would easily have as much "stuff" per kid as Mitchell does and we certainly don't try nearly hard enough to cut back on our consumption for him.

I also would be surprised if these people that spend $500 on their only child for Christmas are claiming they have an only child for environmental reasons, if they do then they are definitely completely hypocritical!!

From my experience, if people have chosen to keep their family small for environmental reasons, they are also much more environmentally responsible than the average in all other areas of their lives.

On the other hand, maybe some people are saying that is their reason because it's seen as trendy or whatever to be environmentally conscious these days and they don't want to admit that their real reason is that they like being able to afford lots of cool stuff like plasma tv, etc... I don't know.
Sif said…
"Just because you have one child doesn't necessarily mean you're a rabid present-buying machine either."

"but have to agree with Casso that I take exception to the assumption that small families necessarily go overboard with "stuff" and bigger ones don't."

Now, see, both of you (Casso and Bin), have put words in my mouth right there. *I* never made the assumption that parents of one or two children necessarily overconsume - by pointing out that smaller families create less wear and tear on items is not making that assumption at all, neither is suggesting that large families will often not replace items as often because their income has to go further - these things are evidenced in large family forums and thread fairly regularly, and not necessarily by families who are environmentally aware, but simply have economic constrains on them, as many larger families do (which is why you read so many parents from larger families saying that "things" mean less to them, etc.)... Larger families, out of necessity, buy in bulk more often, and that in and of itself reduces packaging, for example... They can *usually* (though I did point out the exceptions) not afford to buy take away as much, again a reduction in use of packaging...

Yes, I TOTALLY agree that small families that are small due to environmental conscience may not fit the profile of overconsumption, simply because they are actively trying to consume less, but I DO think there is a bit of a trend toward using this as an PC reason not to have (more) children... And families with less children, or no children do still live in houses and drive cars etc. without using those resources to the their nth, for example.

So, just as it is unavoidable for people to eat and drink, and therefore more people means more eating and drinking, it is unavoidable that smaller families will often use the same resources as larger families, but not as economically simply because they don't have enough people to using the consumer good to the same degree as larger families.

So, in the end, you've both agreed with me that it is HOW families choose to live, and NOT how many people are in a family, that has the biggest influence on how environmentally friendly a family is, LOL. That was my point - big family, for sheer size are not necessarily less environmentally friendly, so the common assumption that more children means more danger to the environment is, in many cases, erroneous, just as the assumption that smaller families are more wasteful, in many cases, is erroneous...

In other word, stop pointing the finger at us large families when discussing the demise of the environment...
casso said…
"And isn't it the parents of (generally speaking, obviously not all) only children or two children who are more likely to get their kids lots of toys and clothes etc?"

"But those 2 children learning wasteful comsumer habits"

"smaller families believe they're endlessly "entitled" to buy their own kids NEW"

You mention that larger families buy in bulk because they consume more. Are they, on the whole, buying mass farmed foods? Buying meat? Buying non-recycled toilet paper? Because what I was saying is that frugality alone is not evidence of a small environmental impact. Economic frugality can actually mean the opposite because what is cheap is not traditionally what is 'good'.

Larger families may produce greater wear and tear within their family, but goods that a smaller family use are still passed on and re-used, it's just that they are worn and torn by others. My mothers' group has an annual clothing exchange for mothers and children. Gifts are readily exchanged of children's toys that have come to the end of their life (in terms of interest by the child), clothes that don't fit, even food that has been grown in their garden. One family in my group recently held a communal permaculture gathering where we all got together and built a big spiral vegetable garden in their backyard from which all of us can expect food. This is all within a group of people who don't have any more than two children each. Many of these people have chosen specifically not to have any more children for environmental reasons. No matter what the motivation however, a whole group of like-minded individuals acting as an extended 'family' in effect creates the same benefits of what you describe happening within a larger family (sharing, extended life of goods, buying in bulk, etc) without any of the problems of long term exponential population stress.

"but I DO think there is a bit of a trend toward using this as an PC reason not to have (more) children"
-What's wrong with that though? Is the reason really the problem? Surely people who put themselves out there to say that's why they're not having any more children would strive at some level to consume less just for appearances sake? Doesn't matter the motivation, it's the action of decreased consumption that is what matters.

"And families with less children, or no children do still live in houses and drive cars etc. without using those resources to the their nth, for example."
- Why does everything that leaves the house of a small family equate to being thrown away to you? The huge increase in groups like freecycle and ebay have shown people who may previously have little interest in reusing for environmental reasons that such an attitude can actually be beneficial means that many more goods from all sorts of households are now being included in a much larger 'cycle-of-life'. Yes my family may still be living in a house but it's still a small house on a small block of land in the inner city surrounded by public transport that we use heavily. Larger families are often being pushed out into outer suburbs where public transport is in short supply, parents resorting to purchasing another car and increasing their footprint in a huge way, just to have the space they feel entitled to for their larger family.

"it is unavoidable that smaller families will often use the same resources as larger families, but not as economically simply because they don't have enough people to using the consumer good to the same degree as larger families."
-This just cannot be taken as truth because it is simply not true. Just even thinking back to before we had Harriet I regularly swapped clothes with others, bought food in bulk with others to share out, used public transport (actually it was almost exclusively back then, the car only got used for a big monthly shop) and tried to minimise our waste. Including Harriet in our family has meant we have bought things like a new high chair. We borrowed a change table, never bought a cot or anything since she co-slept, bought everything bar a few items (a couple of toys and two outfits) brand new and have since passed on everything that we have finished with. Just because we didn't pass that on to someone that lived under the same roof doesn't mean that it wasn't re-used.

"in the end, you've both agreed with me that it is HOW families choose to live, and NOT how many people are in a family, that has the biggest influence on how environmentally friendly a family is, LOL."
- Uh, not at ALL! I never said that! It is not necessarily how many people are in the family yes, but that works on both sides of the coin. It is how many people exist on the planet full stop. And if you are producing more people than the replacement value of yourselves, then you are making a much larger impact on the earth's resources over the next generations. You just have to be. Your four children will grow to have more of an impact than my one child. There would have to be a huge overconsumption on behalf of the one person to consume the equivalent of four people's transport, food and production needs. Sure, that *may* happen, but it is a huge assumption to make in order to support your theory.

"In other word, stop pointing the finger at us large families when discussing the demise of the environment..."
-LOL, you're the one who started this.

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