Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Carbon footprints in the sand

The more children we have, the more of a strain on our infrastructure, our resources, our environment. Photo / Thinkstock
The more children we have, the more of a strain on our infrastructure, our resources, our environment. Photo / Thinkstock

Just what is the environmental impact of having children?

Strangely, I had pause to think about this over the weekend, when I was taking one of the children to the toilet for what seemed like the 25th time that day.

I don't want to give people the impression that parenting young children is all about waste management, but, let's be honest, a lot of it is.

Naturally more children means more waste and more use of resources to flush the waste. Not to mention the amount of consumption undertaken to produce said waste.

Enough about that fairly off-putting subject. But the fact remains that the more children we have, the more of a strain on our infrastructure, our resources, our environment.

With three children seeming to be the new "two", is it time we (again) wondered how much population growth we have in New Zealand - and how much of that population growth should be grown "organically", for want of a better word, or imported from overseas (in the form of immigrants).

Of course, one can not make rules on these things and as everyone is quick to constantly parrot in such conversations, "it's up to the couple concerned how many children they have". Yes, no doubt... But different policy wonks and politicians can influence the public debate - not least of all by providing tax incentives (or not), family benefits, income splitting and carbon credits, for either having more children or less, as the case may be.

In Australia the debate has been raging for a while. John Howard had a very pro-natalist approach, paying Aussie women lump sums for delivering children and making it as cheap as possible to feed, clothe and educate them.

I know this because both my sisters live across the ditch and seem to have a never-ending array of incentives to lie back and think of the country's future tax payers.

In the last Australian elections, avowed Catholic Tony Abbott was once more talking up Catholic-sized families, while Julia Gillard rejected the "big Australia" idea in favour of "sustainable population" which, to most people, means two children ("replacement levels").

It appears that childfree Julia's thinking was most in sync with the electorate, who have, by a decent majority, just confirmed in a nationwide survey that they believe growing the population would put undue pressure on the environment, house prices and water.

By coincidence, these findings were released in the week that the Documentary Channel here was showing a raft of programmes on Britain's largest families - ranging between 12 and as many as 20 children. Not only did it seem mad to breed that prolifically, but it now seems also selfish, even if these families can support their children without help from the state.

My thinking, I confess, was in the gutter as usual.

"How many times a day do their toilets get flushed?" I pondered heatedly to myself.

I admit I would like three children. And I reason that of my immediate family of three girls, even if I had three children, we would still only be averaging two children each. If my sisters, myself, and our partners' families were taken into account, we'd be a group of 10 adults with (at the moment) just 7 children between us. The number may jump to nine, at the most 10, in future. Big breeders we are not.

However, I must say the only argument that gives me pause for thought is the environmental one - not only the "carbon footprint" of each child, but also creating more humans for a future in which resources may become scarce.

And besides, even before all that, there's all that blasted toilet flushing to consider.

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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