How to handle Anti-Population people

February 2, 2010

Wow, there certainly are a lot of us out there - but cmon, whos as amazing as your child? Photo by Arenamontanus

Wow, there certainly are a lot of us out there - but c'mon, who's as amazing as your child? Photo by Arenamontanus

This week’s question came from a member of the Council: what do you do when you’re confronted by people who feel that the mere act of having children is wrong? That might sound a little weird, but there is a subset out there who believes there are more than enough people on the planet, and adding to that population only adds to the strain on Earth’s resources (one such group has their philosophy laid out on their Voluntary Human Extinction Movement web site.)

This kind of thing can come more often when you’re a vegan parent, as the vegan community sometimes overlaps other groups like this one – at least, that’s been the experience of at least one member of the Council.

So what’s to be done? Obviously, you’ve got a difference of opinion on the matter, but it can be super easy to feel uncomfortable in a group gathering. Here’s some of what our Council of Vegan Parents had to say on the matter.

First, make sure this is what you’re dealing with. As Elaine points out, some people are simply nervous and uncomfortable around children, and babies in particular. That really could be all that’s going on.

Next, who exactly are you dealing with? Are you being confronted by a vegan anti-populationist or an omnivore one? While it’s not exactly the same thing, Al’s been in discussions with people who try to justify their meat eating with their decision not to have children. His response might help you with omnivores, and it was along these lines:

“While I’m not a fan of using numbers to argue, if you were to calculate the amount of land used to feed my vegan family of four it would be LESS than what is used to feed your omnivorous family of two (assuming you eat roughly the same amount of animal ‘products’ as the average American family does). Same goes for carbon footprint. So if you two went vegan and had a couple kids, you’d be responsible for less environmental degradation than you are right now.”

(Of course, as Al notes, this assumes that his children will choose veganism once they’re old enough to do so, but we’ll go with that as a pretty decent assumption 🙂

If you’re talking with other vegans, try focusing on what we have in common. Celeste (and many others, including myself) can’t figure out “why people within our movement feel the need to judge and alienate other vegans.” As she puts it, this goes directly against veganism’s compassionate foundations.

Just like the decision to adopt a plant-based diet, the choice to have children (or not to) is a personal decision for most people, but it’s important for everyone to realize that your family choices don’t fall inside any “Official Definition” of veganism held by any major group I’m aware of. In that context, resenting other vegans for their population choices makes about as much sense as resenting vegans because they listen to Lionel Ritchie. As Celeste says, “Instead of attacking fellow vegans, I hope for unity in a common cause of promoting compassion.”

It’s also important that big life choices like children don’t get reduced to a simple equation. Steph hasn’t experienced this particular situation, but she feels that framing things in a way that frustrates our basic human needs (and the need to reproduce and raise children would definitely apply!) is an incomplete perspective. Celeste’s spouse also brought up some of the absurdities that can present themselves if the discussion gets drawn out: it can easily turn itself to talk of mass suicides, which doesn’t make sense for anyone involved.

Finally, live like you love the planet, regardless of how many people you feel it can handle. Al suggests that you buy locally (and fair trade) when possible, favour hand-me-down clothes and toys, recycle, compost, buy used things, etc.

Ultimately, the choice not to have children is a choice, much like the choice to have them. By respecting each side and trying to focus on things we have in common, we can be more effective as vegans, as activists, and overall as human beings. (Then we can unite against Lionel Ritchie. I kid, I kid. No idea why I picked that name, honest!)

What about you? Have you been in situations with people who judged you unfairly simply because of your family? How did you deal with it? Let us know in the comments!

A huge thank you to Council members Elaine, Al, Celeste, Doh and Steph for their input on this one!

(Photo by Arenamontanus)

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

jendiggity February 4, 2010 at 3:45 pm

I'm trying to figure out why the anti-human population people don't commit mass suicide. This post reminds me of the (fabulous) movie, Idiocracy.

I certainly would want to smack someone who tried to tell me I shouldn't have a child in order to save resources while they chomp away on a hamburger. I think there are plenty of resources on the planet to feed us all and then some, if we just got a little smarter and more organized. There are great sources of food that are virtually untapped (like spirulina). A lot of people starve, not because of a lack of food, but because of corrupt governments and lack of education. I am definitely in favor of programs to try and convince people to be smarter about their procreation, but you will NEVER get people to stop having babies altogether. It seems futile to put so much effort into trying to convince people to stop when those efforts could be put towards trying to do something to relieve the problems that are blamed on “overpopulation”. I don't find the cause of the group you linked to noble at all.

Huge pet peeve: While I think it's great that so many people these days promote greener lifestyles, those that do so and continue to consume animal “foods” bother me a whole lot. The impact that animal agriculture has on our water supply (quality and quantity), soil quality, and health is staggering. It seems like the most logical place to start if you really want to make the world a better place.

jendiggity February 4, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Oh. So sorry. Looks like the issue of suicide actually IS addressed on the VHEM website. Of course it would be the most frequently asked question because it makes so much sense. The answer seems like a cop-out.

jendiggity February 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm

One more comment and then I'll shut up: I know some of you think we should all be respectful of other people's views, but the comics and handy “why people REALLY want to have kids” chart at that site are offensive and I can't pretend to respect people whose views are counter to just about everything I believe in. I'll respect their right to think what they want and express themselves, but I won't pretend to like them or bite my tongue if I disagree.

jasondoucette February 6, 2010 at 4:42 am

I looked for the suicide explanation too – wasn't it “it wouldn't be enough of a change” or something? The group tries to have bold ideas but clearly doesn't think big enough 🙂

Population February 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm

One shouldn't dismiss a movement because some people who advocate its views do so in mean spirited and alienating ways..we'd not like it done to veganism, and by the same token it shouldn't be done to other movements, such as these folks. They are with the exception of extreme ones like vhemt, not “anti-population” but are against additional growth of the population. “Anti population people” are as representative of the larger group of folks concerned about population as the raw fruitarians are of veganism as a group. Make that the “saliva isn't vegan so no kissing” group.

Some of them are impossible to talk to, but most can be engaged. Just as they may have blind spots about eating choices, it would be a cop out to give ourselves a free pass on our own potential blind spots, by suggesting that an obnoxious vhemt or other web page or cartoon means we can dismiss their concerns.

I do wonder about that phrase “why people within our movement feel the need to judge and alienate other vegans.” Somehow I doubt most of them are thinking to themselves “I feel a need to alienate people” No more than most vegans say to themselves, “I feel a need to alienate a meat eating person” It's usually someone in distress or depressed about the state of the world and where its heading, concerned about suffering if the trend continues. Some can't be reasoned with and want to scream in our ears, but that's a small minority. Compassion goes both ways. Try to listen to the pain and concern lying behind their anger or behind their judgment. As vegans we've been on the other side of that. They are probably, in most cases, not upset that we have a kid or two but upset at another set of worries, some real, some exaggerated or imagined on their part. They see a vegan or environmentalist seeming to go along with the pressure to have kids, and then tell themselves that the world is now really going to hell if even the vegans have decided that population doesn't matter at all. If they can hear that you aren't doing it out of pressure, and that you understand and agree that population does matter, that it needs to stabilize and maybe even reduce over time. Kind of like us vegans seeing thte burger eater at the local green group but then hearing that they are not completely blind, they realize there are issues about food, and are thinking about it and about making changes but personally aren't at a place where they can be totally vegan. We vegans can be just as close minded to new ideas as anyone. How many of us know the current population isn't that so oftencited “six billion” you hear, but a hair shy of seven billion?

jasondoucette February 7, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Thanks for the insightful comments!

Vegan February 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

I'm a vegan parent. I think genetic churn is good, when done with regard to local resource availability. That is, have *one or two* vegan kids and live as greenly as possible. Adopt them if that's your preference, from as genetically varied circumstances as possible.

Here's the thing: A population needs genetic diversity to survive. You know how all bananas we eat are all from one genetic strain, such that if some disease like Black Sigatoka fungus manages to kill off that strain then we will be out of bananas? This actually happened in the 1950s, and it was only because there were other strains to choose from that another edible banana was found. I think the same is true of the human species. Who knows what diseases will develop (especially in factory farms, and as climate changes) to sweep across the human population in decades to come?

The concept of hybrid vigor–an increase in the performance of hybrids over that of purebreds, most noticeably in traits like fertility and sterility–also comes into the picture here. Species can use this genetic variation to survive. Some people exposed to HIV do not get AIDS; what's special about their genetics? Who knows if there's a random gene in your own DNA that might prove key to humanity's future survival?

ARguide February 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm

I think it's important to take this issue as seriously as you would take any other environmental issue. If someone asked you, “Why do you drive an SUV?” or “Why don't you recycle?” I would think that most vegans would take that question seriously, instead of saying it's as inconsequential as “Why do you like Lionel Ritchie?”

Concern for the environment may not be part of a textbook definition of veganism, but as vegans, we should have compassion for all living beings and that includes concerns for wildlife and their habitat.

jasondoucette February 19, 2010 at 3:35 am

To be clear, I wasn't trying to claim it was inconsequential, but rather that it made more sense to focus on what we have in common. There's always room for a healthy discussion, but resenting people over our differences when we have so much else in common seems counterproductive. I apologize if my quest to make a joke at Mr. Ritchie's expense got in the way of the core messaging 🙂

bitt February 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

what do you say to vegan people who condemn those who have kids?

bitt March 1, 2010 at 6:50 am

what do you say to vegan people who condemn those who have kids?

xveganmomx March 9, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Wow! THANK you for this! As a vegan (and a parent, but not parent of vegans since they have yet to CHOOSE to go beyond vegetarian), I've been almost mobbed by the VHEM folks or other vegans who don't want children. They left me wondering what happened while I was busy incubating my babies and looking inward rather than outward. I feel a lot less alone now… well as less alone as a vegan in the deep south COULD feel LOL. An insightful, helpful, and sensitive article!

jasondoucette March 9, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Glad we could help! If you have any questions be sure to get in touch.

sarah March 10, 2010 at 4:41 pm

My boyfriend is an “anti-population person”. Any ideas on what I can say to him?

jasondoucette March 10, 2010 at 5:14 pm

Yikes, if this is in the “I want to have a child with him” context, that's a tough one! I think there's a macro (whole civilizations) and micro (individual children) perspective, and it helps a lot to separate the two. Would one more person on the planet be so bad if that person has a good chance of sharing your values and beliefs?

Samuel January 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm

You’ve actually not presented any substantial arguments, so I don’t exactly know how to rebut this other than to say.

Please confront actual arguments that are being made by the ‘anti-population’ movement.

Also consider the benefits for all of mankind of having a reduced population. Humans put strain on resources, that are not limited to simply food and land. Humans also create pollutants which aren’t limited to carbon.

Also consider that the majority of people born will be omnivores, and quite frankly. The issues of population will make themselves known long before such a universal shift in dietary choices could take effect.

I don’t understand why you would willfully turn such a blind eye to an environmental issue which is a common topic of conversation among academics in the field.

I also don’t understand how you can claim that reproduction is a need. It clearly is not. If you do not reproduce you will not experience negative health effects. Reproduction is an urge, and desire…much like the urge or desire to eat fatty foods…such as meat, or cheese.

And the fact that a person eats meat does not invalidate that argument.

I don’t mean to respond to this long after the fact, but I found this…and I don’t know. It’s not a good argument.

Just a bunch of cop outs.

Brandon January 16, 2012 at 8:29 am

If I could only upvote you, Samuel…

Sami January 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I’ve recently decided against having kids in favour of adopting, it makes little sense for me to be against animal breeders because of how many homeless domestic animals there are yet to support the same problems in human society.

I think it’s a far more productive approach than being anti kids.

Kate January 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm

It’s worth noting that although it’s true that a vegan foursome has a smaller carbon footprint than an omnivorous twosome, at the very least the childless omniverous couple’s carbon footprint has a cut-off point. Having children makes your footprint potentially neverending, which obviously means it may eventually be bigger.
Furthermore it’s a bit of a cop out to say ‘having children is a personal decision, therefore no-one can judge it’ or alternatively ‘having children is a basic human desire, therefore we should not prevent people from doing it’. There is no reason why personal decisions should not fall under moral rules – committing adultery is a personal decision but that doesn’t mean that morality should not govern it (and that may well include judging people who act immorally).
And it is not true that we should never stop people from fulfilling basic human desires. Most people would agree that you whould if fulfilling that desire would result in a consequence worse than the consequence of simply not having a basic desire fulfilled. For example having sex is a basic human desire but if it involves rape then it should be prevented. Overpopulation might be such an awful consequence.
As for mass suicides, some extremists will advocate this as an anti-population growth measure. But even if an anti-populationist doesn’t, there are perfectly good reasons for opposing both childbirth and mass suicides. An OBVIOUS one might be that killing is worse than preventing births. Just like being anti-infanticide and anti-abortion is compatible with being pro-contraception.

and @jendiggity it is worth pointing out that lots of anti-populationists realise that third world starvation could be solved by redistribution of resources. They are anti-population growth because of the mass extinctions that will certainly result from exponential population growth than with third world starvation. This is not a problem that can be solved by any other means than limiting human population (not necessarily at this current level but at some point). Even if we stopped eating meat and adopted greener lifestyles and stopped climate change if the population keeps growing and growing millions of species will die out simply because there is not enough space in the world for them.

Kate January 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm

*should not whould
Oh and before I get shouted at for comparing overpopulation with rape I just want to point out that I was using an extreme example to illustrate a point. If you accept that an awful consequence can sometimes justify the prevention of the fulfillment of a basic desire you can accept that the ‘it’s a basic desire so we can’t stop it from being fulfilled’ argument is bogus.
And by ‘anti-populationist’ I just mean anyone concerned about population growth, not just those who want humans to die out.
@jason doucette your micro vs macro argument is one that really grates with me. This is exactly the same argument as the one that says ‘well one more person eating meat doesn’t make a difference’, and as a vegan you would probably accept that that is not an acceptable argument; one person’s decision to eat/not eat meat is important. The argument is even less convincing when talking about population management – if you have one child that can potentially lead to a never-ending supply of more people.

Canaduck March 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

Celeste’s spouse also brought up some of the absurdities that can present themselves if the discussion gets drawn out: it can easily turn itself to talk of mass suicides, which doesn’t make sense for anyone involved.

Yeah, and if we legalize same-sex marriage, it won’t be long before people can marry children and goats and desk lamps. You’ve heard that one before, right? Slippery-slope arguments don’t work for a reason–they’re absurd. You can’t possibly be suggesting that we shouldn’t be acknowledging the very serious and very real issue of overpopulation because doing so is going to lead to mass suicides.

I have vegan friends with kids–most of them don’t have kids, but some do. They’re raising them to be (hopefully) compassionate vegan, environmentally-aware adults, and that’s awesome. And you’re absolutely right that people should NOT be haranguing you about your choices. That said, though, I don’t think it’s fair of you to pretend that they’re just spiteful, judgemental busybodies, either. They’re environmentalists like you, and like you, they’re aware that many of the choices we can make in life have negative consequences for the planet. Having children in a world that’s desperately strained for resources is one of those choices, just like eating animal products when veggies are available, driving a car when you could walk or take a bike, or buying something that was grown 1000 miles away when there’s a local alternative (this is one I need to work on myself.)

Having kids doesn’t make you a bad person or even a bad vegan, and again, you do not deserve to be harassed. But please don’t act as if people who are concerned about overpopulation don’t have a point.

There’s a good link on this topic here, if you’re interested, regarding overpopulation and the rapidly increasing rate of extinction: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/overpopulation/extinction/index.html

Kristian April 5, 2012 at 12:43 pm

HAHAHAH I wouldn’t worry about these anti-population idiots. They’ll just die off anyways. Darwinism.

Observer April 13, 2012 at 12:56 am

Canaduck – Slippery-slope arguments aren’t always a slippery slope — sometimes they’re a real slope. Years ago, people might have laughed off the idea that giving women the vote would lead to a population of women who hold jobs, make their own money and never marry; it would have been a slippery slope. Guess what — it really happened! Maybe not a direct cause-and-effect, but definitely a snowball.

Kristian – I’m sure they think you’re an idiot breeder, too, HAHAHA…. sheesh. *eyeroll*

I actually agree most with Kate, as it so happens. Although I do have one more thing I’d like to add to the thinking-pool. While many things are brushed off with a ‘It’s my/ a personal choice’….consider, that producing more people is a choice that affects everyone — we ALL have to occupy the same space as those children. More people means fewer available jobs, more cars on the road, rising housing costs, more environmental degradation…it’s my business if I want to throw batteries into the landfill, but you’re the one who will eventually be drinking the water they leak into.

However, until One Child Per Family becomes a necessity — and I wouldn’t be surprised if some day in the future it may — the best answer seems to be what so many people here are already doing. That is, leave as small of a footprint as possible, and do your best to ensure any offspring you DO have follow your example. (Although if they someday decide to buck all you stand for, drive a Hummer, eat bacon-cheeseburgers and develop marshlands, there won’t be much you can do about it, then.)

PS> Why don’t I commit suicide? Because then I couldn’t harass morons. That makes life worthwhile. 😉

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