The Bintel Brief

Be Less Fruitful, and Cut Down Your Carbon Footprint

By Amy Sohn

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Dear Bintel Brief:

My husband wants to have a big family, but I think that in today’s world with all of the suffering and the need, no one family should have more than two children. As someone who wrote about the stroller capital of the world, who’s right?


Amy Sohn replies:

Dear Pondering:

I could not agree more. With all the unwanted children in the world, the ethical choice would be to adopt. But before you do that, consider the environmental impact of large families — biological or adoptive: A recent Oregon State University study found that having children is the surest way to increase your carbon footprint. I think there should be an environmental tax on families with more than two.

Yes, God told us to be fruitful and multiply but God also told us a lot of things that clear-thinking Jews have rejected over the centuries as sexist, cruel to animals, homophobic or out of touch with modern values. You need to tell your husband that two is enough and that you are lucky to have two, when so many people have trouble conceiving. You are the woman and ultimately the woman makes the child-bearing decisions. You’re the one who will have to carry this baby, after all!

Suggest that you get a dog instead. If your husband is still insistent, why don’t you tell them that he will have to quit his job to care for the baby for the first two years, and use his free time to care for the other two as well? Then you can see how much he really means it.

Amy Sohn is the author of, most recently, “Prospect Park West” (Simon & Schuster) — a novel about living, loving, hating and procreating in the leafy Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope. She is also the author of the novels “Run Catch Kiss” (Simon & Schuster, 1999) and “My Old Man,” (Simon & Schuster, 2004). A graduate of Brown University, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

If you have a question for the Bintel Brief, email Selected letters will be published anonymously. New installments of the Bintel Brief will be published Mondays in October at

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Joseph Tue. Oct 20, 2009

I would look at the situation differently. We live in a world where those least able to raise children seem to have the highest birthrate and those best able have the lowest birthrate. Having two children fulfills the Biblical requirement to procreate, but many Jews marry out and many others for whatever reason aren't able to have children. If we limit ourselves to two, we as a faith community will disappear.

Michael Tue. Oct 20, 2009

Population growth all around the world is falling, and UN predictions show it peaking at a manageable 9 billion. The disaster predictions from a century ago don't seem likely to come true. An extra child would contribute extra greenhouse gases, but might also turn out to be a scientist who could develop environmentally-friendly energy or a social worker who could help lessen the suffering and need in the world. For example, life is much better for most Indians today than it was 50 years ago, and the country's rapid development has been helped by its large population. There are plenty of reasons to choose to have a small family, but political, demographic, or environmental concerns should be less important than more personal concerns.

RG Tue. Oct 20, 2009

"Jewish continuity" is all the buzz yet it deeply saddens and angers me when that concern isn't linked with environmental ones. That's astounding considering this simplest of causal relationship: if there's no earth in 200 years, there's no Jews. Period. If there's an unlivable, unsustainable environment in 50 years we, too, will choke/are choking with polluted water/air. Here in the US and anywhere on earth (Israel's environmental record is quite dismal, too).

Danny Thu. Oct 22, 2009

RG. There are about 13 million Jews on earth. To tell us to have fewer children while 6 or 7 Billion people in the underdeveloped world procreate as normal is not going to save the planet. The human race as a whole needs to consider birth control. As you know, in Catholic areas of the world all birth control is opposed, as it is in Muslim areas. Bin Laden's father had four wives and 52 children. Talk to him !

RG Thu. Oct 22, 2009

DANNY: did I say anything about demographics? No. I was alluding to other environmental concerns of which I see far too little people practicing in Jewish life: transportation (hybrid or public or pedestrian), recycling, PLEASE less consumption, composting, using biodegradable paper plates/cutlery at Jewish communal events (Jewish instititutions seem to have a hard time doing away with loathable styrofoam). Going veg or at least cutting down on meat. How about balancing disposable diapers with cloth ones. THAT sort of thing.

We might be 13 million, but we live for the most part in industrialized or semi industrialized nations and tend to belong to the middle classes. And even when not, we still belong to societies where consumption is the norm. WE HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TOWARDS OURSELVES AND OTHERS. Water, sewage treatment, etc in Israel? Gosh, the reality is quite nauseating.

Please open your eyes. It's not just about poor us, with just 13 million people. I understand those demographics. But we are still a part of this earth and if we don't promote OTHERS AND OURSELVES to take care of it, guess what? That still means NO EARTH in a couple hundred years and with that NO JEWS.

Michael Thu. Oct 22, 2009

The best thing you can do for the environment with respect to children, is to educate the children about ethics, environmentalism, and science.

Overpopulation isn't as important an issue anymore, and having a 3rd child is not going to contribute much to this problem. However, even a billion people would have the capability to destroy the world. Reducing one's carbon footprint is a good start, but scientific advancements are necessary too.

Lucky Lenny Fri. Oct 23, 2009

Only self-defeatist liberals would advise fellow Jews to have less kids.

Jo Ann Sat. Oct 24, 2009

Have more children. At least six (6)! We need more Jews in this world to survive.

Danny Sun. Oct 25, 2009

RG. Obviously I misunderstood your use of the phrase 'Jewish continuity' which I took to mean procreation. I completely agree with your clarification.

RG Tue. Oct 27, 2009

Thanks, Danny. I'm with you on the demographics. To recap: Have as many as you want (we DO need the numbers), but practice environmentally sound measures. Especially because the vast majority of us live in countries and belong to social classes that consume in higher, disproportionate amounts relative to the world population.

May we be an environmental light to the nations...RG

Peter Fri. Oct 30, 2009

Jews have not contributed to overpopulation. There are still millions of fewer Jews today than before the Holocaust. Jews should have as many children as possible. Overpopulation is not a problem that Jews are causing, it is a problem that Gentiles have caused. Jews should not have to pay a penalty for Gentile overpopulation.

Rina Copper Tue. Nov 3, 2009

Why has no one, here, shown any concern for the mother/father's willingness to raise children? How about parenting? Or is it all about numbers? The importance of environment-consciousness pales in the shadow of children raised by unwilling mothers and fathers. These responses say something really sad about the Jewish community.

A. Allan Sun. Nov 8, 2009

Get a dog? The fear mongering of impending doom by the politically correct "green" movement regarding carbon dioxide, is just another way to control our lives and tax us to death. The earth has gone through climate change since the beginning of time, ice ages and all. Have another child, and while I love pets, ditch the dog. Gee I wonder how much "carbon" would be reduced if pets were taxed or even outlawed? How much "carbon" will be reduced if we outlawed Chanukah candles and Christmas lights? Or maybe we should ban or impose a carbon tax on eating meat? Or is that legislation coming down the road in the near future?

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