• According to the work of Emmanuel Pont, giving up having children would trigger insignificant and too late results in view of the climate emergency.

  • The researcher points out that the ecological weight of humanity falls mainly on rich countries with a low birth rate.

  • The ecological weight of having a child would be quite low.

While the Earth will soon welcome eight billion humans and the consequences of climate change are becoming spectacular, the role of the birth rate in the survival of the blue planet raises more and more questions.

Engineer Emmanuel Pont worked on this subject often considered taboo.

His research, which crosses several disciplines such as environmental sciences, sociology or politics, was compiled in a book published in February:

Should we stop having children to save the planet?

And this is precisely the theme of the public conference that he will give this Saturday evening at the Cosmopolis space in Nantes.


How many couples choose to give up the children for an ecological reason?

It is very difficult to measure.

We know that there are about 5% of people in France who choose not to have children.

It's pretty stable over time.

It is always a multiplicity of factors: career, freedom, the fact of not liking children… The ecological reason is one among others.

We know that a lot of people are wondering, but it's hard to know if it's a growing phenomenon.

Why is this topic so sensitive to discuss?

It seems a little taboo but, in fact, everyone is talking about it.

When I take part in conferences on ecology, there is always someone who asks the question.

It's a delicate subject because on an individual level we touch on freedom, on intimacy, it calls into question the notion of the right to procreation.

From a collective point of view, it raises questions about what can be imposed on people, especially women.

And then, on a global scale, it is mainly towards the African continent that we turn when the question is addressed.

We find ourselves talking from our European armchairs about the number of children that Africans should have.

With a rather dark global history of birth control, forced sterilizations, coercive policies like the only child in China… This questions international politics,


For all these reasons, it is a subject that easily tenses up.

You say that this issue is surrounded by a lot of received ideas.

What are they ?

The main one is that the ecological problem comes from countries with high birth rates, often poor, mainly in Africa and Asia.

We have people like Nicolas Sarkozy who repeats it at every opportunity.

Except that it has been shown that the ecological weight of humanity comes very largely from the rich countries which have a low birth rate, and that the poor countries are very far from catching up with them.

About 10% of the world's population is responsible for half of the emissions.

Countries with high fertility (more than 3.1 children per woman) account for about 3% of humanity's emissions for 20% of the population.

Of course, if these same countries were to develop, it would worsen the climatic situation.

But they're so behind on that that the stakes are low.

Our global warming dossier

Another received idea concerns, according to you, the ecological weight of having a child…


Some somewhat fanciful figures relayed in the press claimed that having a child was by far the worst thing you could do for the climate.

In reality, it is a calculation that makes no sense and based on the very hypothetical future emissions of this child growing up.

The emissions of a child are much more complex, will depend on the way in which it will live and integrate in the world.

So, should we stop having children or not to save the planet?

My answer is rather no.

The impact of giving up the children now would be insignificant.

We might save a little time, but the climate benefit would be small compared to the effort required.

You explain that there is a demographic inertia.

What is it about ?

I tried to calculate what would happen if we instituted the one-child policy in France.

Already, politically and socially it would not be accepted.

Even in China it was very complicated.

Then, there is an inertia, the population would take time to decline.

We would have to wait at least 2100 to divide the French population by two.

In view of the climate emergency and the objectives of carbon neutrality in 2050, this would be much too late.

It should also be noted that individual emissions related to children are much lower than those of an adult, simply because they consume less.

These emissions are already falling, not fast enough, but we can hope that they will fall further… When you add it all up, reducing the population in 80 years by controlling births would not have too much effect,

And the food problem?

A lot of studies have been written on this.

They show that there are plenty of ways to feed 10 billion people in an ecological way.

Nothing is simple, but it is about transforming agricultural practices, eating less meat, reducing waste.

We have ample means to feed everyone.

When you look at famines, they are the result of political phenomena: people who cannot afford food that exists elsewhere, sometimes because it is given to farm animals.

Of course, if the world population were to stabilize, the food distribution would be a little more manageable.

But we could be two people on Earth, if there is one who owns all the means of production, the other will be hungry.

So we can have a child project without feeling guilty?

I think yes.

Not having children is a respectable choice but one that should not be imposed on people.

More than the birth rate, it is the profound transformation of the way of life and the economic system that is truly important for the planet.

This is where it gets difficult.

We come out of simplistic reflections where we tell ourselves that it would be enough to be less to be able to live as well as before.

This debate on demography distracts from debates that are more important: would we close half the oil wells if we were half as many?

Would we continue to destroy biodiversity?

Would people come out of the consumerist culture?

It also diverts us from an injustice: countries with high birth rates are those who will suffer the most from global warming while their responsibility is minimal.

Conversely, is having children imagining that their behavior will be extremely virtuous a good bet?

It's a bit of a utopia.

We shouldn't count on our children to do what we don't do today.

If we have to wait for a child born today, to go to school in 20 years, to have a little power from the age of 40, we will be far too late.

The climate does not wait.

Change must therefore be undertaken with the people who are there and who have power today.

Afterwards, there are also adults who say that having a child has changed their perspectives, it is possible.

It is not measured in any case.


Why we will one day be 10 billion humans on Earth (and not necessarily more)


Demography: On January 1, 2019, France had 66,988,000 inhabitants

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