With great fanfare the infamous Duggar family this week announced (on the "Today" show, no less) the upcoming birth of a 19th child.
Without engaging in histrionic gymnastics about the parents’ Herculean appetite for children, I would like to use the Duggars’ 19th child as a teaching moment about the environment.
The Duggars, if you haven’t heard of them, are an Arkansas couple, Jim Bob and Michelle, whose ever-growing family is the subject of a cable TV series, and whose Web site gurgles with excitement about family size, and proselytizes and sells non-stop.
Among many other things (including the family’s daily Biblical routine, how to buy a DVD for $19, etc.) it explains the parents’ love of children thusly:
"Psalm 127 says, ‘Lo children are a heritage of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward.’ We believe that each child is a special gift from God and we are thankful to Him for each one."
There are so many group photos of those poor kids, one wonders how they do anything but imbibe Bible lessons, pose for pictures and go on TV.
There has been plenty of praise lavished on the family web-wise and the usual snarky remarks. An MTV newsroom post says:
"The culture seems obsessed with people who have freakish numbers of children (like that wacky Octomom), and apparently Michelle Duggar — an Arkansas woman who already has 18 kids and who starred with her massive family on the reality show "18 Kids and Counting" — is due for another. That is entirely too many children no matter how you look at it. That’s not a family, that’s just psychotic."
But unthinking criticism of that genre only invites hostility from those who disagree. I read one Internet comment about the Duggars from a person who came from a family of 14 telling others to butt out — that family size is the particular province of those making large families, and those parents alone.
I’d like to use this teachable moment to establish a bit of equilibrium on the topic, rather than lurching from unquestioning praise to "butt out." The fact is, in an era of declining environmental resources, it IS other people’s business if an American couple has 19 children. This would not have been true in an earlier era when there was plenty of open space, less pollution and plentiful fuel. But now that we’ve become the world’s most prolific user of fossil fuels and natural resources, we have a planetary duty to slow down. Indeed, if a family’s first consideration is the well being of its children, that family should be the first to consider the environment as part of the children’s inheritance.
I’m not suggesting we enact laws to limit the number of children — that would be way too intrusive and hardly constitutional. But I am suggesting just as the Duggars are using the bully pulpit of the media to promote their multitudinous family, others should use the same bully pulpit to teach the Duggars what they are doing has a negative impact on their fellow citizens.
From the Web site, ecasavesenergy.org: "The average American produces 20 tons of CO2 each year through their day-to-day activities. This must be dramatically reduced to ensure a sustainable future for our children."
Those activities include heating and cooling one’s home, driving, food consumption, usage of public services and so on. There are plenty of things the Duggars could do to reduce the environmental impact of so many children (driving hybrids, using less fuel to heat or cool the house) but none of those offsets come close to having a normal-sized family.
So instead of using the media bully pulpit to promote God, real estate and DVD’s that bring the family income, they should use it to do penance for their sins against the environment. Do I think they will follow suit? Of course not. But many evangelical Christians have adopted environmental preservation as an important theme. Maybe some of them could help their neighbors, the Duggars, see the light.
(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)