Our first child was born at the end of August. I am not a young parent; I was born in 1974, and in the span of this one generation, global carbon levels rose by nearly twice as much as in all of human history before. I teach environmental law, so naturally people get around to asking whether my wife and I struggled with what it means to bring a child onto this troubled planet, and whether it is a good thing to do at all.
I take the point. James added his seven pounds, 10 ounces to a planet where humans and our domestic animals together outweigh the other land-based vertebrates by 24 to 1. As an American, he can expect to emit 16 metric tons of carbon a year, compared with five for a French newborn and about two for a baby in India or Indonesia. Unless he’s a saintly hermit, he’ll have little personal choice about that carbon load. Most of it is dictated by the roads, engines, and sources of energy that will keep him cool or warm, provide his food, and move him around. He can’t opt out of these systems without opting out of human life as we live it now.
Sometime not too long after he starts asking about the change from winter to spring, or the migration patterns of the geese that sometimes pass high overhead, I will need a way to explain that climate change is destroying habitats, acidifying the oceans, and making large parts of the planet’s land uninhabitable for people. To quote the cards from friends and family that we’ve lovingly placed around our apartment: Welcome, baby.