Angela and Xavi Cortal: We decided to go with a rescue dog instead of a kid. Photograph: Courtesy of Angela and Xavi Cortel
When Angela and Xavi Cortal, who live in the US near Portland, Oregon, met 12 years ago, Xavi didnt want children, but Angela, a naturopathic doctor, was still undecided. The narrative was the assumption: of course youll have kids, why wouldnt you continue the family? But after thinking long and hard, she decided instead to be connected with family and society in other ways that are fulfilling I think of myself as a very left-brain, analytical, logical person and when I sum up all the reasons to have, or not to have, a child, it just doesnt make sense for me. The pair talked about fostering and adoption, but we decided to go with a rescue dog instead of a kid, she says.
At a summer fair in Portland seven years ago, she met the founder of VHEMT, Les Knight. She liked how he had condensed all the data about the environmental impact for each person, acres of forest potentially preserved by each person not brought into the world Its very logical in a very tongue-in-cheek way and I dont think theres anything I disagree with. A lot of the reasoning, she says, might feel confrontational or unwelcome by people of other perspectives, although the call for actual extinction, she feels is tongue-in-cheek. I dont necessarily hope all humans will die out I hope we can change the use of resources and impact on the environment.
Xavi works for an accredited organic certifying agency and first decided to stay child-free in his 20s, influenced by a woman he was in a relationship with who didnt want children. Once he considered the benefits personal and wider everywhere I looked I found a new affirmation for my decision.
The social pressures for men, he says, are different but still present. Men seem to have this machismo-based belief that their superior genes need to be carried forward [but] I think that women have more societal pressure on them to reproduce. He sees a disappointing reluctance by men who say they dont want kids to surgically make sure it doesnt happen when a vasectomy is so much quicker and less invasive than making a woman undergo tubal ligation. Testes are not sacrosanct. Xavi had a vasectomy at 26 and calls it the best $500 I ever spent.
He readily admits that his motivations arent entirely selfless. Child rearing is a miserable, thankless, expensive grind that I dont see as necessary and that I dont want to participate in. Of course, my mother loves me and I love her, but why would I want to repeat what I put my parents through? Guilt? Obligation? Duty? No thanks. I get to travel, save money, sleep in if I want to. I get to hang out with other peoples kids and then give them back when theyre rude. Theres really no downside.
While he believes the planet would fare better without humans, he says he cannot fathom human extinction. This is the world I know. I do a lot of civic work and that has become my children. If I can better the world around me, thats better than some snotty brat thats going to tell me that I did a lousy job raising them. Despite being a supporter of VHEMT, Angela wouldnt call herself an antinatalist, because she associates it with negative feelings towards humankind. I dont, on a human level, resent people who have kids. That wouldnt be constructive at all. Both my sisters have children.
The term is also strongly associated with the writings of the philosopher David Benetar, the author of Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. Mackellen, who does call herself an antinatalist, says her thinking leans his way. He has thought about it a lot and has come to an acceptance that if creatures are born, theyre going to suffer, therefore lets not make new ones. I tend to agree. But she has mixed feelings. I also work with people in the community and I really enjoy it. I have somewhat of a background in science and I love so many of the things weve accomplished. So Im not completely anti-human, but I understand where hes coming from.
Its easy to wonder whether Benetar and many antinatalists are simply depressed. Mackellen disagrees: Its been challenging at times, but for the most part Ive had a good life, she says. Ive never been suicidal. Id actually like to live a long time and be healthy for the rest of my life. Her concerns for humans are mostly environmental, what new people will experience with global warming and microplastics in our water. I think it would be unfair of me to create new people to have a worse life than mine.
She feels that the best way to reduce human suffering is to invest in the people we already have, with access to healthcare, living-wage jobs and better education, especially for girls and women. And free and equitable access to contraception and more social pressure to not have kids or have fewer children.
Angela Cortal sees deciding whether to have children as probably the most important decision that someone is going to make in their life, and their family, society or even religion should not be making a decision of that magnitude for them. Its OK to think about it and come to your own decision.