Does Being Childfree Make You Care Any Less About the Earth? ~ Jennifer Mo

Via elephant journal
on Apr 17, 2012
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Photo: Jennifer Mo

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. ~Native American Proverb

Earlier this week, David Milarch of the Champion Tree Project stopped by my blog and we had a nice chat by email.  He reminded me that we should all get off our butts and start planting trees in our own neighborhoods (agreed). Then he said,

I have a saying I use in every one of my talks for a closing. ‘We are all working for our grandchildren and I invite you to do the same.’

I was struck by how much this idea failed to resonate with me. It actually turned me off a little. As a child-free person, I don’t have kids. I won’t have grandkids. In fact, I have no biological investment of any kind in the future of humanity. Although as a writer, reader, potter and general creative mess, I have a deep appreciation for human creativity. I’m also less emotionally invested in whether humans make it as a species or not. The roots of my environmentalism lie elsewhere.

All of which made me wonder: are child-free greenies motivated by fundamentally different reasons than green parents?

I think the answer, at least for me, is an emphatic yes. Plenty of people begin to care about the planet once they have kids and realize just what kind of world we’re likely to leave them, and that’s fine, but it’s not my story. Here’s the truth: I’m just not that into humans. Never have been. Age five: examined and sampled just about every plant in my mother’s yard. Age nine: wore only shirts with animals on them. Age 13: rescued a cat who became my closest and favorite companion for the next 12 years. Age 14: joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Age 22: adopted a strict policy to donate only to animal or ecological non-profits. Age 24: stopped eating animals. And so on.

My environmentalism has everything to do with the wonder of the non-human world: the head-clearing loam of an old growth redwood forest, spongy with fallen needles and coastal fog. The poison a catalpa tree exudes that only affects cheater insects, not true pollinators. The weird and improbable life cycle of parasitic fungi that produces zombie insects. The breathtaking variety of life on this planet, our intricately linked and balanced ecosystems, Earth’s close shave from sharing the fate of its sister planet Venus—these things are what make me draw a deep breath in wonder and appreciation. I feel lucky to be alive on a planet so interesting, unexpected, and vibrant. The urge to protect everything I love most about it is intensely visceral.

I do want to save the Earth.

Not for humans—though I’d be delighted to see us develop a less parasitical, more healthy role on this planet—but for its own ineffable beauty, wonder, and complexity. Sometimes I want to save it from humans.

Humans are a fascinating species, and I have no doubt that our culture, music, literature, and philosophy are unique in the universe. It would be a tremendous shame if our civilization went down. But I also believe in taking responsibility for our actions, and if that means that humanity has to take it in the teeth for burying our heads in the sand when we knew better, my sense of fairness is fundamentally okay with that. I just don’t want to take everything down with us, leaving behind a barren rock with cockroaches and plastic debris. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way; I came across this Grist article. Paul Kingsnorth, thank you for taking a stand for a less anthropocentric, more ecocentric view of the planet. I’m with you.

I want life to flourish on a stable, healthy planet. Not just humans, not necessarily humans.

If you’re a childfree greenie, what motivates you? And if you’re a parent, are your kids and grandkids your primary motivator, or do you identify with more ‘ecocentric’ reasons to protect the planet?

Jennifer Mo is a concerned global citizen and a long time cat/book/tree person. You can follow her green journey at It’s Not Easy to be Green.







Editor: Lynn Hasselberger


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8 Responses to “Does Being Childfree Make You Care Any Less About the Earth? ~ Jennifer Mo”

  1. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Family and Education Homepage.

    Lorin Arnold
    Blogger at The VeganAsana
    Please "like" Elephant Family on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

  2. Jill Barth says:

    I posted this to the elephant green Facebook page and @mindfulgreen on Twitter.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Jill Barth, editor elephant green.
    Join us! Like elephant green on Facebook.
    Follow on @mindfulgreen on Twitter.

  3. JLgoesVegan says:

    So provocative! I too am child-free so much of what you say resonates with me. Even though I do no have my own children, I'm certainly still in invested in making sure that the world is a safe and viable place for all beings. I don't need children to have that inclination!

    Great post! I enjoyed it!

  4. Karen Segboer says:

    I'm a 64 year old childfree atheist so I have absolutely no good reason to want to preserve anything for the future. However, I do recycle, work for environmental issues and worry about the quality of air and water and soil going forward BECAUSE IT'S THE RIGHT THING TO DO. It's that simple.

  5. jill says:

    I am a mother and a grandmother… it never occurred to me that I would only care for the earth because I have genetically connected future generations. I think this is a false separation that does nothing constructive. The reference to saving it "for the children" is just a good, concrete, understandable way of getting people (childless or parental units) to think long term and globally.

  6. ailanna says:

    Hi Jill,

    I didn't mean to imply that parents didn't have non-child reasons for caring about the environment. I have environmentalist friends who want children eventually, and I can certainly testify to the sincerity of their love for the planet and its creatures before they have the additional motivation of wanting to have their kids grow up in a healthy world. However, as a childfree person, I find that I feel very alienated from the human health / survival aspect of the environmental movement. Especially among green bloggers, the focus is intensely child-based. It doesn't speak to me, or to many of the other childfree environmentally active people I know. This is my perspective on what environmentalism looks like from someone who has no stakes in long term human survival. -Jennifer

  7. Niraj Lama says:

    Our lives are always changing and along with it our motives for doing things. I do not think the motive to save the planet for your progeny is any better or worse than to do it out of sheer "wonder" that our universe is. I think the idea of safeguarding your biological investment resonates better with the people at large, simply because more people have opted in. As long as we are trying to protect our planet who cares what's driving us?
    When you say you are not interested in the long term human survival, do you mean others should not have the chance to experience the beauty of this universe that you so love and care for? I am afraid you approach appears a bit nihilistic to me.