Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The heirless way to save the planet

Regular readers of this column will know that I have never been afraid to state the obvious. However, I am unable to do so about my first choice of subject this week, following the coroner’s threat to charge critics of the Diana inquest with contempt of court.

This has deprived you of some pithy but tasteless remarks about possible candidates for sectioning under the Mental Health Act, or indeed for bumping off if MI6 were actually in the business of doing that; plus some gloomy observations on the likelihood of the conspiracy theories ever being laid to rest.

So let us turn instead to the less gripping question of the future of humanity as a whole. I have been saying for years that it is obviously a mistake to muck around with nature, and that those who are not naturally blessed with children should shrug their shoulders and get on with something else. Imagine my delight when scientists recently backed me up by warning of the “infertility time bomb” being created by the spread of IVF.

It has long been known that infertility has a strong hereditary component. Many great British aristocratic families found to their cost that the snag with marrying a wealthy heiress is that she only attained that position because her parents had difficulty conceiving, and that the problem is often passed on.

So the odds are stacked in favour of the products of artificial conception also needing the help of specialists to reproduce. The doctors do rate it “highly unlikely” that the entire human race will ultimately become incapable of conceiving naturally, but one might wonder whether it is a risk we need to run. Though only if one assumes that the survival of the species is a good thing.

A few weeks ago I fell victim to brilliant salesmanship and upgraded my car. This has restored my enjoyment of motoring, but troubled my conscience as well as my bank manager, given that it now costs £70 every time I fill my petrol tank. I confessed my guilt to a friend, who promptly assured me that I was entitled to the odd indulgence as I was just about the most environmentally responsible person he knew.

I thought this was a reference to my sustainable wood-fuelled heating (actually based on a taste for the old-fashioned rather than green principles) or my refusal to fly (due to laziness and an aversion to airports). But he went on to spell out that it was because I do not have any children “which is the most important contribution to saving the planet that any of us can make”.

It has been a pure accident rather than a deliberate and principled decision; which is ironic, given that so many pregnancies seem to start precisely the same way. Nevertheless, I’m pleased to learn that I have inadvertently done my bit. While it might be possible in theory for me to change my mind and get cracking on the reproduction front, the resounding lack of response to my annual Valentine’s Day appeal leads me to conclude that it’s not going to happen.

From now on, I shall pretend that my lack of offspring is not the chance product of selfish idleness, but a fine example of environmental good practice. Perhaps instead of putting up a statue of Harry Hotspur in Alnwick, they should consider erecting one to the Unknown Non-Parent: the hero who helped to save humanity as a whole by becoming a Works Exit Only from the great motorway of life.

There’s a lot to be said for following my example. A Border terrier makes an excellent child substitute, being more attractive, considerably cheaper and equally entertaining. Sadly I can’t claim that it will look after you in your old age. But then there are many lonely care home residents who can testify that there’s absolutely no guarantee that kids will do that, either.


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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