While the world talks Hummers versus hamburgers in the debate over which is worse for the planet, some greenies are taking it a step further and asking: "Who cares?" The real problem facing Mother Earth starts with an "h" -- but it's not something you use or something you eat, it's something you have.
Having children, particularly in wealthy, Westernized countries where people devour far more calories and resources than other more populous nations, is disastrous for the environment. If you want to make a big impact -- and not the carbon kind -- recent environmental studies conclude the best thing you can do for the planet is to make the choice not to have children. In fact, according to one recent analysis, "the carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the other environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives -- things like driving a high mileage car, recycling, or using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs."
GINK is the new DINK, they say. GINK stands for "Green Inclinations, No Kids" and is a green play on the "Double Income, No Kids" acronym, DINK, that came about during the American yuppie boom in the 1980s.
GINK is controversial, but it's catching on among a certain set of urban millenials worried about the future of the planet. Not satisfied with more commonly known green habits -- think bicycles and taking the bus, meatless Mondays and organic vegetables, turning off the water and turning off the lights -- they're reconsidering reproduction.
In America, having just one child increases your carbon footprint by a factor of six. A family of four in Phoenix is a family of 12 somewhere else. It's not only conceivable, it's correct to assert that a single male who eats red meat and drives a truck to work every day will contribute less in his lifetime to global warming than a vegetarian mother who recycles, reduces, and reuses but raises offspring. It's similarly complex to the debate over true environmental impacts in agriculture -- think tearing down a forest to mono-crop soybeans for highly-processed vegetarian mock meats in the freezer aisle, and the food miles and lost carbon capture that goes with such an enterprise.
GINK is radical, powerful, extreme. Going child-free is a profoundly personal choice, one that's not typically encouraged in our society (cue your mom asking when you're going to give her a grandkid). When a woman reaches her ripe old 30s without having given birth, the questioning becomes all but incessant for many. Married and cohabitating couples who never have kids are often assumed to be strange or infertile. In our culture, we take pity on people who don't have kids and are confused by people who seem happily kid-free. Like the buddy who chooses a life of blissful bachelorhood, we wonder: "What's wrong with them?"
One thing's certain: the birth rate is dropping. Many people are GINKs whether they realize it or not!
For individuals making that choice, the benefits are many:
1. It's cheaper. No daycare, no college tuition.
2. It's easier. Starving artist? Busy executive? Urban studio apartment dweller? Add a kid to the equation and life gets a lot more difficult. GINK couples are free to spend their time how they please, taking vacations and pursuing their interests. Is this selfish, or just authentic?
3. It's liberating. Many people have children who don't really want them and do it out of social custom and guilt, and high child neglect and abuse rates are evidence of this. Some people just really aren't meant to be parents, and aren't happy as parents.
4. It's green. Really, really green. Suddenly, meatless Mondays don't seem so meaningful.
5. It's not for everyone. But it's also perfectly okay.
This is a guest article by Sara Ost, the editor-in-chief of EcoSalon.com, the conscious culture and fashion website for women of substance and style. More from EcoSalon:
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.