D.H. Lawrence isn’t as popular as he once was, but this ‘beautiful clean thought’—given memorable expression by Rupert Birkin, Lawrence’s proxy, in his novel Women in Love (1920)—is very much in fashion. The anti-natalism movement also contemplates a world empty of people: wouldn’t it be an immeasurably better world than the one we’re currently cooking to a cinder? And we don’t have to destroy anybody; we could empty the planet of our destructive species simply by not having children. In a generation or three, we’d be gone. If you’ve already had children, you can mitigate your harmful effect on the planet by deciding not to have any more.


Anti-natalism counts The Duke and Duchess of Kent amongst its adherents. The couple publicly announced that two were enough following the birth of their second child, Lillibet. But Prince Harry first divulged their plans in an interview with the famous primatologist, Jane Goodall, a couple of years ago: ‘Two maximum! I’ve always thought: this place is borrowed. And surely, being as intelligent as we all are, or as evolved as we all are supposed to be, we should be able to leave something better behind for the next generation.’


In recognition of their decision, the royal pair have been award- ed, well, an award, by the Population Matters charity: ‘Having a smaller family reduces our impact on the Earth, and provides a better chance for all our children, their children, and future generations to flourish on a healthy planet. We commend the Duke and Duchess for taking this enlightened decision, and for affirming that a smaller family is also a happy family.’


Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan and their fellow anti-natalists believe that the best way to save the Earth is to tread more lightly upon it, and the best way to achieve that is to have fewer children, or none at all.


No two ways about it, our planet is getting hotter. The Great Barrier Reef is dying. The island nation of Kiribati is disappearing beneath the waves. Forest fires are raging in Siberia. A recent article in The Guardian noted that the amount of water produced by the melting Greenland icesheet in a single day would cover the entire State of Florida in two inches of water. Even conservative projections of future rises in global temperatures, and consequent rises in sea levels, entail unimaginable suffering, mass extinctions, food shortages, refugee migrations, and shrinking habitats. Runaway climate change—the result of the release into the atmosphere of huge amounts of methane trapped beneath thawing permafrost—could lead to the extinction of all life on Earth.

Sometimes it all seems so overwhelming, the problems so vast and insoluble. Nonetheless, various solutions are proposed. I talked to senior lecturer at Auckland University’s law faculty, Marcus Roberts, and Auckland writer and former deputy editor of MercatorNet magazine, Carolyn Moynihan, who have concerns about the anti-natalism trend, and who critique the problems the movement seeks to address.


I asked them both about the rapid, more-than-exponential increase in human population over the last hundred years, from 2 billion in 1921 to just over 7.8 billion today. Isn’t that rather a lot? How can our planet sustain so many people?


‘Yes, the human population is increasing,’ says Marcus, ‘but the rate of increase has slowed dramatically in recent decades, especially in Western countries. Fertility rates have declined, as women are choosing to have fewer children, and to have them later in life. Other parts of the world are following suit, and there are now only a very few countries where birth rates continue to increase.’


Carolyn agrees. ‘Population pessimism has a long history,’ she says, ‘going back at least to the turn of the 19th century with the publication of Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus thought that, unrestrained, the human propensity to procreate would always outstrip food supply resulting in famine and disease among the (prolific) poor. The same resource argument was resurrected by Paul Ehrlich of The Population Bomb fame in the 1960s.’