The Journal of Ethics 25 (3):293-321 (2020)

Felix Pinkert
University of Vienna
Martin Sticker
University of Bristol
Several climate ethicists have recently argued that having children is morally equivalent to over-consumption, and contributes greatly to parents’ personal carbon footprints. We show that these claims are mistaken, for two reasons. First, including procreation in parents’ carbon footprints double-counts children’s consumption emissions, once towards their own, and once towards their parents’ footprints. We 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, we show that proposals to avoid double-counting have other unacceptable implications. Second, we show 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, we propose 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.
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-020-09345-z
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Do I Make a Difference?Shelly Kagan - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (2):105-141.
Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism.Peter Singer - 1980 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 9 (4):325-337.
One Child: Do We Have a Right to More?Sarah Conly - 2016 - Oxford University Press USA.

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