Montreal borough pulls flyer that suggests having fewer children to fight climate change

A flyer circulated by the Outremont borough was pulled after some residents complained about a graph suggesting that having fewer children was the best way to reduce one's carbon footprint.

Outremont resident says narrative could lead to discrimination

Sarah Dorner holding the controversial flyer in her kitchen
Sarah Dorner says she hopes the momentary distribution of the flyer won’t discourage fellow community members from participating in an upcoming public consultation around climate change in the Outremont borough. (John Ngala/CBC)

The Montreal borough of Outremont has halted the distribution of a flyer that suggested having fewer children is one way to fight climate change.

The leaflet, which upset some residents, promoted a public consultation on the borough's climate change plan, taking place Sunday. 

It featured a bar graph on its first page, suggesting the most effective way a person can fight climate change is by having one less child — ahead of taking one less transatlantic flight per year and living without a car. 

Sarah Dorner was among 9,000 Outremont residents who received the flyer before its distribution was halted last Wednesday.

"When you suggest that having one less child per family, [well] which of my kids is too much?" says Dorner. "It's not appropriate to connect climate change with population… It can lead to discrimination."

Close up of the graph ranking different lifestyle choices people can make according to their impact on their carbon footprint.
The graph was taken from a scientific paper and inserted at the top of the flyer. (John Ngala/CBC)

Graph 'slipped through the cracks,' says borough mayor

Outremont borough mayor Laurent Desbois insists the graph was a mistake. He says it was not reviewed and "slipped through the cracks."

"I was extremely upset," he said. "Having a child is an individual choice [and] this option was never discussed inside the borough."

Desbois says the borough is reviewing its process of releasing information to the public to make sure this kind of mistake doesn't happen again.

Although she's happy to hear the mayor's apology, Dorner says she's worried about the impact the flyer's message might have on other members of the community. 

Though the borough's population represents 1.4 per cent of Montreal's total population, Outremont is home to more children under the age of 14 than any other borough, according to its development plan.

"We look towards our children for the future and so to suggest one less child is not the approach we should be taking," says Dorner.

Chris Barrington-Leigh agrees. He's an associate professor at McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy and the Bieler School of Environment. 

He says it's not productive to compare the delayed impact of having children in the future with the immediate impact other lifestyle choices could have on a person's carbon footprint today.

"Not having children doesn't have much impact," he says. "You're just one person or it's just one child."

Outdoor portrait of Chris Barrington-Leigh smiling.
Chris Barrington-Leigh says keeping a positive outlook on the future is crucial to generating solutions to the climate crisis. (Submitted by Chris Barrington-Leigh)

Reframing how we think and talk about the future

Barrington-Leigh says he doesn't like over-emphasizing the role of the individual in the fight against climate change anyway, saying that it shifts the burden of responsibility and guilt away from larger players like fossil fuel companies. In his view, no matter how a person lives their life, they're not going to have much of an effect on climate. 

"The solutions to collective action problems are through legislation, through changing the rules to changing incentives, not through berating people into feeling guilty," he says. 

As a professor, Barrington-Leigh says he knows first-hand just how rampant eco-anxiety is among young people. He says keeping a positive outlook on the future is crucial to generating solutions. 

"People become more defensive, more closed in, less creative," he says. "Those are exactly the opposite of the kind of thinking that we need right now in order to solve a collective action problem."

Dorner and Desbois both say they hope Sunday's public consultation will stimulate those conversations in the Outremont borough despite the flyer controversy. 

"We need to find out what those paths forward might be, where we can come together and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and have a more livable community and so forth," says Dorner. 


Cassandra Yanez-Leyton is a journalist for CBC News based in Montreal. You can email her story ideas at

With files from John Ngala