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Starting from Where You Are

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book
My daily hatemail generally includes 3-4 messages using quite a string of obscenities to describe the indecency of my daring to speak about peak oil and climate change because I have four children.

…Now I’m a big girl, and I’m the one that chose to put my family status out on the blog, and in my public bio. I could easily have left it out, since there are other people in the peak oil and climate change movements with children who don’t discuss their families. In fact, I can’t think of a single major male figure (which is pretty much all of them) who discusses their children in their bio. By talking about mine, not only do I draw a great deal of entirely expected hostility, but I also reduce my own credibility – women who write about children and parenting are generally not taken as seriously in the guys clubs as men who write about depletion rates.

But it would be dishonest, IMHO, not to talk about my family status (although if the emails keep increasing in violence, I may change my mind about this). My kids motivate a great deal of what I do in two ways – first, because I am concerned for their future, and second because I do have more children than my just share, and thus I’m obligated to reduce my family’s impact further. Our goal, not yet achieved, is to have the same ecological footprint of a family the same size in India. It this point, we use resources at about 1/3 of the rate of an American family of four. We’re getting there – but it is a process.

…Like everyone who comes to the peak oil and climate change movement, I have a past. Perhaps all of those reading this blog have a perfectly ethical one – you’ve lived your whole life in a one-room cabin lighted by your own hand-dipped beeswax candles. But I don’t. I flew. I bought groceries from the supermarket. I had Barbies when I was a kid, – I’m pretty sure the plastic from will outlive my grandkids – and I didn’t always fully understand the implications of population. And so I start writing from a post-lapsarian, fallen position, in which I have consumed more than my share, done environmental harm, and contributed to quite a few problems – including overpopulation. I admire those of you who come to this from a different perspective – who have never harmed the environment, and have always made wise choices. I have no difficulty at all admitting that you are better people than I am.

For the rest of us, we start from where we are. If you worked in the defense industry, or you had more than a just share of children, you bought designer clothes made by slaves, you burned oil that warmed the planet and that nigerian peasants were murdered for – the only thing we can do is to go forward from where we are. The thing is, if the only people who are allowed to speak are the ones who have always done the right thing, and always lived the right life, it will be a very quiet place.
(25 March 2007)

Europeans Do It Better

Katha Pollitt, The Nation
Getting a better deal for mothers has been at the forefront of the feminist agenda for decades, although you’d never know it from the way the women’s movement is always being accused of attacking women with kids.

So it’s ironic that what is finally driving at least some governments to act is the desire to boost fertility rates. The aim is to breed the next generation of workers–ethnically correct workers, too, not the troublesome immigrant kind.

As Sharon Lerner noted in The New York Times Magazine (“The Motherhood Experiment,” March 4), fertility rates–the average number of children per woman–have fallen below replacement level in ninety countries, including such Catholic stalwarts as Ireland (1.9), Spain (1.3), Italy (1.3) and Portugal (1.4). ..

That includes immigrants. Just below the polite official discussion, there’s a disturbing undercurrent of nativism and racism that in some places is merging with the family-values religious right. “Europe is almost lost; to a demographic winter and to the secularists,” claims the WCF. “If Europe goes much of the world will go with it.”

Fortunately, one country is a beacon of hope: “Poland has saved Europe before. It is likely she will save Europe again.” When was it exactly that Poland saved Europe, you ask? That would be 1683, when the Polish army of King John Sobieski led the defeat of the Turks in the siege of Vienna, thus halting Muslim expansion in Europe. Will Polish women bear kids for Christ? The ruling Law and Justice Party is doing its part, with legal restrictions on abortion and contraception. Maybe they should try childcare. Current number of children per Polish woman: 1.3.
(15 Mar 2007)