We hate to start the new year on a negative note … but you know we’re going to do it anyway. How many would-be parents think about the personal suffering of those with physical or mental illness, ongoing wars, racial injustices, and human unkindness, not to mention our brutal treatment of animals?
Mark O’Connell, in his article in the August 3, 2014 New York Times Magazine, has mulled over it all. “What A Raw Deal for the Poor Little Guy,” delves into what children face simply by being born, and his own parental angst about a world that is doing badly.
O’Connell takes the reader on a journey from the time he was about 10 years old when his father took him to a nursing home to visit a female friend. In the bed next to the friend another “impossibly ancient and decrepit” woman, agitated with the indignity of old age, said, “look at what’s happened to me.” Her voice was pleading and the young O’Connell was shaken, enough so to upset the applecart of his innocence.
O’Connell first read Samuel Beckett in college, “with his sense that to be born at all was a form of damnation.” In Waiting For Godot, the Pozzo character reminds the reader that “the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”
O’Connell went on to read the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who stated without apology that “The world is just a hell and in it human beings are the tortured souls on the one hand, and the devils on the other.” Schopenhauer also posed a bold question: If procreation was not accompanied by pleasure, but rationally deliberate, wouldn’t people feel so sorry for the upcoming generation and that they would spare children the “burden of existence”?
In spite of his philosophical acumen, O’Connell’s wife had a son in March of 2013. While he sat in the hospital with her and the baby, he read the Irish Times. He was horrified by the news: “massacres, rapes, recurrent outbursts of savage recreational violence, a world built on a seemingly unshakable foundation of economic cruelty and injustice, the continuing project of environmental destruction … What a world. What a species. What a raw deal for the poor little guy.” No kidding.
Kudos to Mark O’Connell. He went into fatherhood with eyes wide open, while he continues to struggle with his simultaneous love for his progeny and his own pessimism about “the world we chose to bring him into.” He thought twice about the pitfalls of life, and the state of the world before making a child. Given his wisdom, we choose to believe that he is likely to have just one.
About one of every nine Americans age 12 and older takes antidepressants. That makes them the third most commonly used prescription drug and the most used by people 18 to 44, according to a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study involved almost 13,000 people between 2005 and 2008. A 2010 update indicates similar results.
What is particularly shocking about the results is that about four times as many people are on antidepressants as there were in 1988. While it is true that the statistic does not mean that four times as many people were depressed, it does indicate that four times as many people were taking antidepressants.
In the first chapter of our book Enough of us: Why We Should Think Twice Before Making Children, we consider the possibility that the children we hope to create as individuals are not always the happy people we dream of raising.
The results of the study are sobering reminders of just one aspect of the perils facing anyone brought into the world.
A deeper analysis brings even worse news. According to the study, only “about one-third of persons with severe depressive symptoms take antidepressant medication.” And of those Americans who take anti-depressants, more than 60 percent have taken it for at least two years, and about one in seven have taken the medication for 10 years or more.
Another reason for concern is that, “Less than one-third of Americans taking one antidepressant medication and less than one-half of those taking multiple antidepressants have seen a mental health professional in the past year.” This could mean that those who are continuing with their meds may not be getting timely advice from a mental health professional, especially for those who are combining drugs.
It deserves pointing out that the study indicates the frequency of antidepressant drug use at any one time. It stands to reason that over the course of a lifetime, a lot more than one in nine adolescent and adult Americans will be candidates to take these drugs for depression and/or anxiety.
We wonder how many would-be parents take the odds of producing contented kids into account before deciding to procreate.
Climate change denier Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma sits on the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In January he is likely to become the chair of that committee. So what does this mean? It means that when it comes to environmental protection, the most important person in the Senate is hostile toward the idea of keeping the Earth’s air clean.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina “estimates that around 2.1 million deaths are caused each year by human-caused increases in fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny particles suspended in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory disease.”
As we discuss in our book Enough of Us, even as industrialized countries around the world reach agreements on curbing fossil fuel use, world population continues to soar, especially in developing, or Third World, countries. And as these countries develop, they will be demanding more energy-hungry comforts, contraptions, and conveniences.
Just this week President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached a loosely constructed agreement on curbing climate change. Much of the agreement concerns cutting back the use of coal.
Inhofe is a conspiracy theorist. He believes that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Hollywood elite, Al Gore, Michael Moore, and Democrat supporters MoveOn.org and George Soros.
Left out of most discussions of both environmental pollution and climate change is the amount of detrimental output from livestock, the production and feeding of which accounts for more pollutants than all transportation fuels—including road vehicles, boats, trains, and airplanes—combined.
Let’s say for the moment that Inhofe is right; that God would never allow humans to change his grand plan for the planet’s ecology. How about the UNC study that states that two million people a year die from just pollution? But that’s not all. The same study estimates that an additional almost-half-million deaths result from increases in ozone.
It makes sense that even if the preponderance of scientific evidence is wrong, we should still be worrying about all the non-climate-change-related poison in the air.
And let’s say, for argument’s sake, that there is a 75 percent chance that the anti-climate change ninnies are correct. If one of them heard from his mechanic that the family car had a 25 percent chance of having a disastrous mechanical breakdown on the highway, would he opt not to have a possibly life-saving repair done to the vehicle?
Humanity is approaching a precipice. As we do so we are increasing in number. It’s time to remove our blindfold and thin the herd by cutting back on our reproductive numbers. It’s not Inhofe and his ilk that will suffer the most, but their progeny will.
For three weeks this past winter we toured parts of northern and western India. Ironically, in this land of widespread poverty we stayed in some of the most luxurious hotels we had ever experienced. Agra, best known as the home of the exquisite Taj Mahal, was the most poverty-ridden of the cities we visited, Mumbai, of Slum Dog Millionaire fame, notwithstanding. Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), we understand, is a helluva lot worse than Agra.
India has more than one-and-a-quarter billion people, about four times the population of the United States. According to an article in the February 5, 2014 Times of India, the net worth of the billionaire community in this mostly poor country has increased twelvefold in 15 years. And according to former International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, that fortune is enough to wipe out poverty in India … twice over.
Sometime this century, India’s population will surpass that of China. Nigeria’s population will exceed that of the United States. According to the article, Lagarde made the point in a speech that young countries–Those with high percentages of young people–are seeing a “youth bulge” of almost three billion people under the age of 25, making up more than 40 percent of the global population. What this means is that, as the populations of developing countries expand, so do economic pressures.
Said Lagarde: “Some of the numbers are stunning—according to Oxfam (an international nonprofit that fights poverty and injustice) the richest 85 people in the world own the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.”
One of the consistent themes in discussions of international economics is wealth disparity; the gap between the incomes of the haves and the have-nots. Which leads us to the inevitable question: With populations soaring, especially in poorer countries, and the wealthiest individuals increasing their financial resources in near-geometric increments, why aren’t world leaders putting population issues and income inequality on their front burners?
How can humanity achieve social and economic justice in a world that refuses to open its eyes to the realities of overpopulation?
We were watching CBS This Morning today when a news report came up about a wealthy Silicon Valley CEO who has decided to quit his job so he can be home with his kids. “As a male and a CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive …” observes Schireson in a blog post, “but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.” So what?
In the report, Wharton Business School professor Stew Friedman notes that Schireson’s article strikes a nerve since men traditionally don’t talk about “conflicting demands of home and work life.” Evidently Schireson, Friedman, and reporter John Blackstone are living in a time warp, and that the 19th Amendment, giving women suffrage, has not yet been ratified. With women’s rights came expanded men’s obligations.
Ellis’s father, Dave, painted apartments and later drove a cab all night and slept during the day, while Ellis’ss mother worked a variety of jobs, on and off. How Ellis and his brother were provided for was a constant topic of conversation and concern, along with what kind of car (usually a jalopy) his father drove. Why should Dave Levinson’s dad-versus-cab driver dilemma be any less of an issue then a 21st century rich guy’s?
In the last few years it seems that there has been a spate of writings about why women can’t have motherhood and fulfilling careers. Now, Max Schireson is adding to the pile. In 2012, Anne Marie Slaughter wrote an article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” for The Atlantic.
Add to that this quote from PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi: “The biological clock and career clock are in total conflict with each other, so we’re screwed … we cannot have it all!”
If you don’t believe that there’s a gap between the working poor and the privileged elite in this country, you must have your head stuck up a Pepsi bottle. Nooyi, the Indian-born mother of two who heads the world’s second-largest food and beverage company, by total revenue, and has a graduate business degree from Yale, is screwed? Really? We wonder if she ever looked around while she lived in India. If she had, she would have some idea what “screwed” means. As for Schireson, he has three kids. His wife is a physician and professor at Stanford University. The guy is only 44 years old and wonders whether his decision might one day cost him tens of millions of dollars in future CEO gigs. Well who doesn’t?
Have the western world’s rich become so spoiled that they think not having it all is some big deal? You want to make ridiculous salaries for heading corporations? Go for it! You want to be parents? Go for that, too (though not before having your eyes opened by reading our book). But you want it all? Really? First take a trip to Kolkata (Calcutta) or sub-Saharan Africa, then tell us you can’t have it all.
Not a day goes by that the two of us don’t say to ourselves, and often to each other, how fortunate we are. We never want for food, or heat, or light, or medical care, or even entertainment. We don’t have kids because we chose to be conscious citizens of the world. We worry about the severe drought conditions in California that may soon grip vast areas of the world while shoreline-based populations are flooded out of their homes. But we are not going to feel sorry for women or men who choose to grab for it all but only get 95 percent of it.
If we were to assert that cars are the cause of traffic accidents, we would be disingenuous. Cars are hunks of metal, plastic, and rubber that just sit there. It’s people who make them dangerous missiles. We drive them around. The same is true for air pollution. So much for metaphors.
Allow us to elucidate. Last Sunday we were watching Cosmos on the Fox Network. The host and lecturer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, made an eloquent case that climate change and global warming are real, that human behavior is largely responsible for it, and the consequences are likely to be dire. Fine.
But the blame, as in most arguments we come across, goes something like this: We are burning too much coal, petroleum products, and natural gas. The argument usually goes that the burning of fossil fuels is killing our environment. In other words, just as people drive cars that cause destructive accidents, people cause the pollution that destroys our environment.
The cure? Replace our fossil fuels with wind and solar power. To that, some arguments go, add hydroelectric, geothermal, tidal and nuclear power. Fine. The problem is that no one in the mass media is saying anything about the root cause, the drivers, as it were. The root cause is too many people. Demographers estimate that human populations will grow by about 40 percent by the end of this century. It’s crazy. No matter how fast we replace fossil fuels with renewable and other alternate sources of energy, we’re still going to need to supply an additional three billion of us with electrical power.
But the communications media virtually never discuss the need to educate our ourselves about not producing more of us than the planet can handle. It seems as though we can discuss anything except the drivers of the metaphorical cars of environmental destruction who are causing the problems. Perhaps they are afraid that mentioning family planning is the third rail of environmentalism.
So, it may be up to Mother Nature to control her children by letting them destroy their home and killing them off by means of environmental disasters. Sooner or later the news media will have to talk about the dead elephant in the room.
Note: This will be the last column for quite a while on this blog. We are going on hiatus to evaluate our directions in life (if such a thing is realistic). Writing Enough of Us and this blog has been a many-years-long project for us. We hope it will promote a dialogue on an issue that has too long been predominantly confined to intimate conversations and unspoken judgments. We thank everyone who has followed and supported www.enoughof.us.
A study reported in London’s Daily Mail bears this not-so-surprising-to-us headline: “Childless couples ‘have the happiest marriages.’” A research study entitled “Enduring Love?” conducted by Britain’s Open University determined that—in the U.K. at least—people without children are more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner. They are also more likely to be happily married.
The study involved questioning more than 5,000 people across a range of ages, statuses, and sexual orientations. “For both men and women, those who did not have children ranked the quality of their relationship more highly than those who did.”
The “childless” include the childfree (those who choose not to have kids) and those without kids who may want them. Overall, childless couples worked more than parents at maintaining the quality of their partnerships. Such efforts include “going out” together and talking to each other.
We try to be as fair as we can on this blog, so we won’t hide the fact that, “Mothers were happier overall than any other group, while childless women were the least happy. By contrast, men with children emerged slightly less happy than those without.”
Being parents also influenced levels of intimacy. Fathers were twice as likely to cite a lack of sexual intimacy as the biggest downfall of their relationships, while mothers reported that they often want to have sex less than their partners do. We’re not sure if these contrasting emotions were felt by members of the same couple, in which case “too much” for one would be “not enough” for the other. If that is the case … well … heaven help them.
Evidence indicates that many couples with kids persist in their marriages primarily for the sake of their kids. Childless and childfree couples as a group have a significantly higher divorce rate than those with kids, which on its face appears to be contradictory. But when you consider that many parent couples stay together because of the potentially devastating consequences for their kids, it makes sense that parents “stick it out” longer.
As reported in the Huffington Post, of those interviewed, mothers reported being happier with life than any other group, and childless women reported being the least happy.
The study indicates that “couples need to keep investing in their relationships. It’s reassuring to know, especially in these tough economic times, that it’s the small gestures of appreciation and affection, rather than the big romantic displays that really make the difference,” said Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the relationship support organization Relate, which contributed to the study.
For our book Enough of Us, we interviewed comedian Jay Leno, a longtime acquaintance and colleague of Ellis’s. Jay and his wife Mavis decided that having children was not compatible with his show business lifestyle, among other determinants. Instead, they have maintained a happy and steady marriage for 33 years, sans offspring. The Lenos are typical of many people who have a clear vision about what their marital partnership should consist of, including whether to change their life path for keeps.
The great actor and notorious eccentric (in the best possible way) Katherine Hepburn, put her choice thus: “I had such a wonderful upbringing that I had a very high standard of how a mother and father should behave. I couldn’t be that way and carry on a movie career.”
Lori Buckley is a sex therapist in Pasadena, Calif. As reported in WebMD, she observes that the couples she sees have no regrets about living a childfree life. “They might have curiosity, wondering ‘what if.’ But once you’ve made a conscious decision and you have clarity about your choices, then chances of regret go way down.”
Over the years, one of the soundest pieces of advice we have repeatedly come across is that couples need to deal with the “will we or won’t we” question of parenting before committing to a “permanent” relationship. Doing so is no guarantee of success, but it does improve the odds.
And here is a bit of political history. James Madison was the fourth president of the United States. He is regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution. He was married to Dolley Payne Madison, who had two sons by a previous marriage, the youngest of whom died at three months of age on the same day as Dolley’s husband.
James and Dolley never produced a child
together. The upshot of this story is: You may not father a child but you can still father a democracy.
We wish the term “global warming” had never been conceived. With a third of the U.S. population having its brains beaten out by snow and near-record cold temperatures (at this writing New York City expected a low of seven degrees this morning and Chicago looked forward to a wind-chill of about 40 below), how can anyone think about global warming?
Just hold your horses—or kangaroos—as we take a look down under. The Aussies have just lived through their hottest year on record. And so far, things don’t look much cooler for 2014. While the cities on the east coast of the country have decent temps right now, it might not be a good idea to visit the outback, and we’re not talking steak houses here. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported that 34 locations in Australia set all-time high temperature records between Dec. 30 and Jan. 4. One area of south central Australia had highs above 120 degrees. These high-low ranges are why “climate change” is a better term than “global warming.”
Remember, we just experienced mega Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, preceded by “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the U.S. East Coast. Which brings us to the point. Don’t let the bitter cold that is saturating broadcast news misdirect your attention. In California, where we live, 2013 was one of the driest years on record. The northern part of the state, including the San Francisco Bay Area and the snow-dependent Lake Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevada, is practically gasping for rain and snow. We are experiencing week upon week of well-above-average temperatures. So while we are all looking at snow drifts on the tube, we feel this reminder is timely: THE EARTH IS WARMING AND THE SEAS ARE RISING. In other words, on average the surface temperatures on our planet are headed upward. And that means ice everywhere is melting faster than it is replaced.
According to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists, the preponderance of evidence places the blame on human activity. And no matter how energy efficient we become over the next century, adding three billion of us to the planet is going to make it all but impossible to reduce energy consumption overall.
Nancy Cole of Union of Concerned Scientists, writing in the fall 2013 issue of Catalyst, explains that “ … heat is also absorbed by oceans, causing water to warm and expand. Together, these mechanisms have caused the global average sea level to rise eight inches since 1880; some cities along the East and Gulf Coasts have seen even greater increases, from 12 inches in Miami Beach to 30 inches in Virginia Beach.” Cole refers to scientists’ projections that globally seas could rise an additional six to 16 inches by 2050. In the ensuing 50 years they could rise another two to six feet.
If there is one thing we have learned since diving into the myriad issues of the consequences of overpopulation, it is that such projections often don’t have merit when it comes to accuracy. 2013 for instance was supposed to be one hell of a year for Atlantic hurricanes. The reality, in a word: fizzle. But over the long haul, it is likely that the air will warm, ice will melt, and seas will rise. A lot.
That will mean that coastal cities will either be swamped or have to spend big bucks on stopping the seas. Beaches, and even a country or two, like the Maldives, will disappear. And future generations will wonder, “What the hell were they thinking back in the early 21st century? Or were they thinking at all? After all, didn’t they realize there were enough of us, even back then?
Fertility experts are pretty certain that using in vitro fertilization (IVF) in order to produce one child is a lot safer than using it to give birth to twins. According to a recent Associated Press report many doctors strongly encourage those with fertility problems who opt for IVF to try for one child at a time.
Since the notorious “Octomom” blew the romance of multiple births right out of the money-making fertility industry with her eight simultaneous progeny, “big multiple births have gone way down, but the twin rate has barely budged,” says reporter Marilynn Marchione. That’s because parents-in-waiting are unaware that being pregnant with a duo tends to carry a higher risk of prematurity along with a higher risk of serious illness.
Consequently, many couples insist on two embryos, both to boost their chances of conception as well as to complete their family in one shot without paying through the nose for a repeat IVF.
Dr. Richard T. Scott, Jr., scientific director for Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, said that after explaining the risks of transferring two embryos to a woman’s womb it should be easy to convince patients to transfer only one embryo. Not so, says Dr. Fady Sharara of the Virginia Center for Reproductive Medicine in Reston, Virginia. Sharara offered 48 couples free medications and the opportunity to freeze their embryos if they would agree to transfer one embryo at a time. Eighteen couples turned down the offer, including one-quarter of those whose insurance was covering the treatment.
What does this tell us? According to Dr. Michael A Feinman, Medical Director of HRC Fertility in Southern California, patients skim over the risks of being pregnant with two. Some desire twins, thinking they are “cute.” Parents-to-be have little concept about how hard it is to handle these babes.
A lesser known issue is the self-centeredness involved in making twins via high tech IVF. Between 1980 and 2004, the rate of multiple births went up by 70 percent. The “risks to the health and well-being of the mother and babies—and the costs to society—are quite high.”
Dr. Feinman emphasizes that twin pregnancies cost society billions each year due to increased maternal hospitalizations that are necessitated by the need to stave off both premature births and “lifelong disabilities like cerebral palsy in twins.”
Here is a brief review of the risks of having twins:
- About 60 percent of twins are born prematurely.
- More than half of twins are born at less than 5 1/2 pounds, which is linked to disabilities such as mental retardation, cerebral palsy, as well as vision and hearing challenges.
- Women who carry twins are more likely to deliver by Caesarean section, which results in longer hospital stays due to longer recovery periods.
- About 10 percent of identical twins develop Twin-Twin Transfusion Syndrome (TTTS). A connection between the two babies’ blood vessels causes one baby to get too much blood flow and the other too little.
- Women delivering twins are more than twice as likely to develop preeclampsia, which involves high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, protein in the urine, severe headaches, edema, and visual disturbances, all of which can be dangerous for both mother and baby.
Perhaps if and when more couples get the message about the risks of bearing twins, more of them will opt to have one child. And isn’t it time for fertility specialists, many of whom who have extolled multiple births for fun and profit, to realize that it’s not simply the risks associated with multiple births that are problematic, it’s also the unsustainable number of people that inhabit our planet?