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We are constantly debating the leading causes of climate change: animal agriculture, the oil and gas industry, population growth, the water crisis, and so on. These problems are often considered global issues and people assume governments or society will solve them. There is not enough discussion surrounding what we can do as individuals to help save our planet.

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Collective Evolution has covered some of the ways in which we, as individuals, can reduce our carbon footprint, such as reducing meat and dairy consumption, converting to renewable energy, practicing conscious internet usage, living in a sustainable off-grid home, and more. However, if you combined all of these efforts, the level of carbon emissions saved still wouldn’t reach the amount saved by those of us who are “GINKs” (and probably don’t even know it).

What Is a “GINK?”

GINK is an abbreviation for “Green Inclinations, No Kids,” a greener version of the 80s term DINK (Dual Income, No Kids). I recently shared my thoughts on the environmental impact of having children for the first time after my friends asked me if I plan on having kids, and their reactions ranged from confused to upset, which is understandable given the sensitive nature of the subject. Yet to my surprise, I discovered an entire community of GINKs who share a similar perspective on procreation to my own.

A Global Environmental Change study found that each child born in the US adds approximately 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of an average female, which is 5.7 times her own lifetime emissions. Now, imagine your theoretical child becomes a parent, whose child reproduces as well, until there are generations of families whose total carbon footprint is growing exponentially. Perhaps the philosophy behind GINKs represents the next environmental movement.

The Rise of Consumerism in Industrialized Nations

The root problem associated with population growth is consumerism and our natural inclination to use the easiest resources first. Consumption has increased exponentially in first-world countries since the Industrial Revolution. We managed to consume more goods in the past 65 years than the combined total of every human being known to have existed prior to that.

For example, let’s review the history of the automobile industry:

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Electric cars were created in the early 1900s, yet they only represent a small portion of today’s automobile industry. This is because gas cars were found to be more scalable than electric cars, so electric cars quickly exited the market.

As a result, gas cars went from being a luxury item to becoming a standard purchase in first-world countries. However, we now know that electric cars are more economical, have a lower environmental impact, and are a perceivably more advanced technology than gas cars, yet gas cars continue to control this market due to convenience and profitability.

Many argue that we are at peak consumption and our environmental impact will decrease as a result of innovation. Yet given humanity’s tendency to over-consume, over-exploit resources, and choose “the easy route,” I would argue that consumption will continue to rise in industrialized nations, especially as population grows.

The Environmental Impact of Having a Kid Depends on Location and Affluence

Research confirms there is a positive correlation between national carbon emissions and economic growth, as the wealthiest countries emit the most carbon. The long-term impact of having a child in the US is 6 times greater than that of a child born in China and the carbon footprint of an American child is approximately 160 times that of a child born in Bangladesh.

In the US, the richest 30% of the population emits 4 times more carbon than the poorest 30%. Society encourages us to display our wealth by staying up to date on fashion trends and purchasing luxury items, but at what cost? This social construct has destroyed our environment and created a sense of attachment between humans and inanimate objects. In response, people are now boycotting consumerism by pursuing minimalistic lifestyles, living off-grid, and becoming GINKs. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, it’s unlikely that anyone considered the environmental impact of having a child because his or her own impact was never a gross concern.

The Paradox of Being a GINK

An American woman who drives a more fuel-efficient car, lives in an energy efficient home, recycles, and makes similar lifestyle choices only saves approximately 486 tons of CO2 emissions, whereas having one less child would save 9,441 tons.

I have made numerous lifestyle changes in an attempt to reduce my environmental impact: taking public transportation, reducing energy and water usage, becoming vegan, buying local and organic, and more. The paradox is that if you combined all of the efforts I have taken to shrink my environmental footprint, it still wouldn’t achieve the same level of CO2 emissions saved as not having a child would.

Furthermore, if a GINK lived a perceivably “high carbon” lifestyle, the GINK would still have a lower environmental impact than that of a vegan parent who lives a sustainable lifestyle, because there is no negating a child’s ecological footprint (source). As a parent, you can educate your child on the importance of sustaining the environment, but ultimately that child will pursue his or her own path.

Although this mind-boggling paradox has not wavered my fundamental beliefs and I will continue to consciously limit my impact, it has made me reconsider some of my former long-term goals. Society forces us to believe we need to get married and have kids, but the fact of the matter is that this path isn’t for everyone.

Don’t be ashamed if you choose to go against the grain by not having kids; recognize the beauty in following your own path and the positive externalities associated with it (like being a GINK). I am not suggesting we put a national cap on the amount of children people can have, nor am I insinuating you shouldn’t have children.

I believe you can be both an environmentalist and a parent, but I also think this issue merits further discussion and that women should have easier access to birth control and face less discrimination for choosing to abstain from motherhood. People often consider their financial position, age demographic, stereotypes and other factors before deciding to have a child, so why shouldn’t the environment be among them?

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