Childhood visits to zoos and aquariums inspired my love of animals and desire to protect species and the wild places they call home. These institutions are where I first learned about conserving wildlife, restoring ecosystems and the actions I could take as an individual to reduce my environmental footprint.

The conservation programs of my youth inspired me to change my behavior at home. I turned off the lights in my bedroom to save energy, made sure my parents separated the trash from the recycling and transitioned to a plant-based diet.

My actions matured as I aged: I signed petitions that demanded companies adopt more sustainable practices, researched the details of political candidates’ environmental policy and pursued a degree in wildlife ecology. But there’s one important aspect to conservation that I never learned from conservation organizations, environmental non-profits or my institutions of higher education: how my personal reproductive choices impact the planet.

Having one less child is the most impactful action a person can take to reduce their carbon footprint (and it’s many times more effective at curbing pollution than those actions I took as a kid).

That’s not to say that the future of the environment rests on any one person’s decision to have children, but learning about my individual impact helped me understand the importance of creating systemic change through policy and law. Improved access to healthcare and education helps ensure people only have children if and when they are ready.

Read the full article about reproductive choices and the environment by Sarah Baillie at the North American Association for Environmental Education.