I read an interesting article by John Singer, in the New York Times. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/06/should-this-be-the-last-generation/. Singer describes the solipsistic thoughts that people engage in when considering whether or not to have a child, and then discusses the asymmetry of the attitude that it is not good to give life to a child who will suffer from a dreadful disease, but knowing that a child will not suffer from a dreadful disease is not, in and of itself, reason enough to have a child.
The responses to this article were interesting because a number of them focus on an example Singer gave using environmentalism, rather than focusing on Singer’s central theme. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/16/last-generation-a-response/?ref=opinion. In his example, Singer blithely points out that if we agreed to be the last generation on earth we could act with no guilt about our wanton disregard for the environmental needs of future generations.
In the end Singer concludes that having a world with sentient beings will always be the best reason to have children–thereby implying that environmental care and the guilt that drives it are a good thing. The responses seem stuck on the gall of his suggestion that if we didn’t worry about future generations we wouldn’t need to be environmentally conscious. I find that this article, and the responses to it, confirm my suspicion that environmentally careful actions are not so much about the planet, but about the people on the planet.