Parents play with their three children in front of their house.

This week, researchers published an article in Environmental Research Letters suggesting that — far more than living without a car, recycling, buying green energy and eating an all-plant-based diet — the best thing one can personally do to combat climate change is to (wait for it) have fewer kids.

While having fewer children may reduce carbon emissions, in the process it will thrust the West deeper into a demographic winter from which America and its European allies may never fully thaw.

One less baby, these researchers say, will save a whopping 58.6 tons of C02-equivalent each year. For perspective, they estimate that living without a car saves only 2.4 tons annually.

The message is simple: if you want to save the planet from global warming, stop having so many kids.

For those who put stock in this sort of a study, the findings present a diabolical dilemma: The very people who read peer-reviewed articles on climate change and adjust their lifestyles accordingly are likely researchers, scientists, quants, quark-heads and Ph.D.ers. In other words, they are highly educated individuals who care deeply about climate change — precisely the kind of people that these researchers would likely say the world needs more of if future generations are to tackle complicated climate-related quagmires.

Meanwhile, giving heed to this false “choice” between children and the climate will only exacerbate the Western world’s birth-rate problem that — if left unaddressed — will have far-reaching implications as disturbing as the worst climate catastrophe scenario that Al Gore could possibly, ahem, conceive.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that 2015-16 birth rates in America were the lowest in the nation’s history. For the first time they have actually dipped below the rate of replacement.

Some of this news is rightly hailed as positive. The teen birth rate, for instance, fell by 9 percent.

But the broader consequences of a sustained “demographic winter” in America will have sweeping implications for foreign relations, national security, economic competitiveness and the viability of social safety net programs that depend on a youthful workforce.

The trends in Europe are not looking positive either. In 2016, 13 of the European Union’s member nations had more deaths than births.

To personalize the reality of this phenomenon, noted religious leader Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conducted a thought experiment with students at Brigham Young University.

During an address earlier this year, Elder Cook asked all those seated in the audience who were the oldest in their families to stand.

“In today’s world,” he remarked, “in many of these countries, but not in the United States, most of the rest of you who are still seated would never have been born.”

He then asked everyone who was a third child or later to stand. “You would not have been born, even in the United States, if the current trends applied.”

“Can you see why they call it the demographic winter?”

Utah continues to maintain the highest fertility rate in the nation. Yet births per woman fell from 4.3 in 1960 to 2.3 today. Some welcome the frigid air of the demographic winter by bundling up in a proverbial parka of progressive policy platitudes — they laud the fact that fewer children may mean gains in the ratio of public education resources per child or greater opportunities afforded women in the workplace or reduced strain on natural resources.

All positive, right?

But such societal shifts come with costs that few are eager to acknowledge — i.e., a loss of innovation and competitive advantage, the inability to sustain social safety-net programs for retirees, and, perhaps most troubling, the gradual slip in geopolitical power as America’s influence and that of its allies in the E.U. begins to wane in the face of demographic decline.

The decision to raise children is deeply personal and should be the subject of prayer and self-reflection, and there are perfectly understandable reasons, medical or otherwise, why individuals would choose to have fewer children or no children at all.

However, if proponents of reducing the population succeed, they may indeed blunt some of the effects of climate change, but in the process they may wind up with a world far different than the one they want their children to inherit.