Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is Adoption "Green?"

In terms of population control, the environment and sustainability, is adoption the answer? Interesting topic tackled at ScienceBlogs' Casaubon's Book:
We know that in China, with its one-child policy, international adoption actually facilitates having *more* children than if the parents adhered to the policy - abandonment of a child permits a family to go on and try for another child, usually a son or a non-disabled child. In other countries, it is not clear whether parents who give their children up for adoption go on to have as many children as their peers, but there's no evidence that they do not - and a parent who is unable to support or feed or care for a child is unlikely to have access to good medical care and birth control as well. Again, the data is extremely unclear, but it seems doubtful that adoption makes a significance in the US or global population - what it appears to do is mostly shift childbearing from one family to another - that is, birthmothers go on to have at least as many children as before, sometimes more, and then some children are shifted around into other families.

Moreover, in the case of international adoption, there are compelling reasons to believe that the environmental benefits of international adoption are actually negative (note, I am *not* saying that international adoption should not happen or is immoral, just that it isn't environmentally beneficial - there are other moral arguments that apply here.) International adoption is environmentally consequential - it involves long plane flights, often several, as many nations require multiple visits before you can take a child home. Moreover, as all of us know population is never considered alone - numbers are multiplied by impact. Taking the poorest children in the world, who consume the least (often far too little for them to live very long) to affluent western homes is not a way to reduce overall environmental impact. Again, this is not an argument against removing children from terrible poverty and institutionalization, but it does not make a positive environmental difference - adoption actually increases the environmental impact of these children, and undermines any difference in the I=PAT equation. So adoption as it exists now does not seem to be a solution to any population problem.

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But what about the adoptive parent end of this? Doesn't this at least reduce the number of biological children that they would have? The answer is yes, but only slightly. Infertile and gay and lesbian couples are more than 10 times as likely to adopt as fertile straight couples - even when there were still fertility treatments available to them to try. And were adoption to be made a more widespread, accessible option for many people, it might well be the case that some parents would choose adoption over fertility treatments (or might not have access to as many energy intensive fertility treatments), or that more fertile couples might choose adoption instead of reproduction or for a second child, reducing the overall birthrate in developed nations.

There are some problems with this vision as well - most first time parents prefer the proverbial healthy white infant, a population that has been shrinking for decades.

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If adoption is to be seriously considered as a large scale way of reducing the number of biological children, we must be prepared to rethink our vision of "having a family." How many families are comfortable taking on a sexually abused, epileptic 10 year old and her two siblings? A gay teenager? An AIDS orphan with stunted growth and PTSD?
What do you think?  Did any of you consider environmental/over-population/sustainability issues in deciding to adopt?


Dawn said...

As a college student I was a little obsessed with population issues, that coupled with my complete lack of a desire to experience pregnancy led me to be open to adoption as an alternative way to start a family. When I met my husband and realistically started talking about starting a family and thinking about an actual child, rather than the abstract possibility of parenthood, I didn't think much about population or environmental issues at all. I get asked about environmental and global political circumstances as a motivating factor for adoption from time to time.

LilySea said...

When I was in high school, I decided that in the future, I would adopt for this reason. By the time I grew up and grew up a lot more and then a littel more to the point where actual parenthood was a possibility I knew too much about the complexity of environmental and population issues to think it was "green" to adopt.
Nonsense. Esp. the point about taking kids from poverty and making them first-world consumption junkies.

But I still think adoption can be sort of "efficient" in the sense of Parent Wants Child + Child Needs Parent.

EXCEPT, I'd be willing to hypothesize that 90% of adoptions are not a case of a child NEEDING a parent, but rather other things (social and economic things, mostly) being out of whack. Most adoptive parents don't actually want a waiting or hard-to-place child.

So I guess that's a NO.