Household Sustainability
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Household Sustainability

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt

The authors engage critically, and constructively, with the proposition that households are a key scale of action on climate change. They confront dilemmas of practice and circumstance, and cultural norms of lifestyle and consumerism that are linked to troublesome environmental problems – and question whether they can be easily unsettled. The work also illuminates the informal and often unheralded work by households – frequently the poorest – in reducing their environmental burden. This important book is critical to understanding both the barriers to household sustainability and the ‘unsung’ sustainability work carried out by householders.
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Chapter 1: Having a baby

Challenges and Dilemmas in Everyday Life

Chris Gibson, Carol Farbotko, Nicholas Gill, Lesley Head and Gordon Waitt


Are you planning on having a baby? As any parent will truly know, it is one of life’s most significant decisions. Having children also brings with it confronting sustainability dilemmas. At the outset, having a baby is directly linked to overall human population size, inviting consideration of the total consequences of an expanded popula- tion for the environment. When families decide to have children they contribute to birth rates, and thus call on the earth to support another human life from its stock of physical resources. This is not so much an issue if death rates are also high – as was the case for humans up until the Industrial Revolution. But since the advent of widespread health care, urban sanitation and improved practices in midwifery and disease prevention, humans have found ways to die less frequently, to stay alive longer. As a consequence, over- all human population growth has soared, in turn amplifying demands for resources. As Hall et al. (1994, 506) put it, ‘the ultimate environmental impact occurs with the birth of each new human being, for a whole suite of produc- tion and consumption activities commence with that birth’. What exactly is the overall environmental magnitude of the decision to have a baby? Hall et al. (1994, 506) developed an environmental impact statement ‘for the birth of one baby in the 1990s in the United States’, accounting for a hundred environmental impacts that one person born at the time of the study would cause over an expected lifetime (grouped under the headings ‘waste generation’, ‘mineral consumption’, ‘energy consumption’, ‘food consumption’, ‘ecosystem alteration’).

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