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New publication dispels recent arguments surrounding procreation and carbon footprints

18 August 2020

A new article co-authored by Dr Martin Sticker and published in the Journal of Ethics, has shown that recent arguments that suggest having children is morally equivalent to over-consumption are inaccurate.

In 'Procreation, Footprint and Responsibility for Climate Change', two reasons are presented to argue against the thought that procreation contributes greatly to parents' carbon footprint.

First, including procreation in parents’ carbon footprints double-counts children’s consumption emissions, once towards their own, and once towards their parents’ footprints. The authors show that such double-counting defeats the chief purpose of the concept of carbon footprint, namely to measure the sustainability and equitability of one’s activities and choices. Furthermore, proposals to avoid double-counting have other unacceptable implications.

Second, it shows that the key arguments for a supposed moral equivalence of procreation and consumption overgenerate and lead to unacceptable consequences in many cases, such as for the work of doctors who save lives or enable procreation.

Finally, it proposes that rather than counting children’s emissions towards their parents’ carbon footprints, we should consider these emissions as part of the parents’ carbon impact, i.e. the difference that their choices make to the overall global carbon emissions. It is from the perspective of impact that we should think about the ethics of procreation in an age of climate change.

Further information

Pinkert F and Sticker M. 2020 Procreation, Footprint and Responsibility for Climate Change

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