Beauty scale

How climate change affects my decision to have children

Growing up, having children one day seemed inevitable. My family and I never really talked about it; everyone just assumed I would follow suit. As I got older, most of my friends started dating and starting families, and shortly before we got married, my husband Nick’s brother and sister-in-law did too.

After tying the knot, Nick bought two books on choosing when to have children, placing them prominently on the coffee table in our newly purchased house. But something changed for me at that time. When the decision seemed mostly moot, I looked at children the same way as any other milestone: just another box I had to check off along the way to adulthood. But once it became a real possibility, I began to take stock of my place in the world and my responsibility to it.

As Nick and I talked about it, what we realized tipped our personal balance in the opposite direction to what we expected. I’ve always been quite ambivalent about kids, as Nick dotes on his nieces and thought he’d give them cousins ​​one day. On the one hand, the children would add another dimension to our little family. On the other hand, it was already quite full.

Plus, I’ve always been worried, with my anxious brain fixated on the worst-case scenario. As a child, my worries were pretty mundane: my house could burn down, my parents could die, or I could. As an adult, the scope of my concerns has expanded to include not only the well-being of my loved ones, but also everyone who inhabits our rapidly warming planet. As we talked about having kids, Nick and I looked around our overcrowded world and saw no compelling argument to add to the population. More so, we worried about the kind of world they would inherit, which will certainly be very different from the one we grew up in.

We looked at our overcrowded world and saw no compelling argument to add to the population.

It’s human nature to try to solve large-scale problems with individual measures. For example, when we were kids, Smokey Bear taught us that “only you can prevent forest fires”, so I always make sure my own campfires are put out, even if the planet continues to burn. I recycle, carry reusable bags, take public transport and shop in the most sustainable way possible – controlling what I can eases my climate anxiety somewhat, but, at the risk of sounding overly pessimistic, I’m afraid this probably too little, too late.

the American Psychological Association defines climate anxiety as “a chronic fear of environmental catastrophe” and psychology today calls it “an understandable reaction to the growing awareness of climate change and global issues resulting from ecosystem damage.” Unlike generalized anxiety disorder, which can come from many sources or none, climate anxiety is specific: it’s a fixation on global warming and all the myriad disasters that come with it. Although symptoms vary from person to person, they can include insomnia, panic attacks, obsessive thoughts, and loss of appetite.

For me, it is a growing terror as the hurricane season lengthens and intensifies, a pit of despair in my belly that widens with every second. doomsday clock tick tock and a feeling of foreboding that tells me that bringing a child into the world would doom them to an existence more like Mad Max: Fury Road than sesame street.

For a lot of people like me, composting and driving a Prius just doesn’t seem like enough anymore. A Gallup Analysis 2018 reported that 70% of adults aged 18 to 34 said they were concerned about global warming, compared to 56% of adults aged 55 or older. A recent BBC investigation of people aged 8 to 16 found that almost three-quarters said they were deeply concerned about the state of the planet.

Superimposing crisis on crisis may seem like too much.

A 2018 survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times found that 33% of people aged 20-45 surveyed cited climate change as a reason why they had or expected to have fewer children than they might have wanted under different circumstances, and a study recently published in The Lancet found that in a global survey of 10,000 people aged 16-25, 39% are reluctant to have children due to climate anxiety.

This is far from the only justification, of course. Financial insecurity, lack of paid family leave or affordable child care, and national and global political instability all feature high on the list of concerns. Then there is the COVID-19 pandemic. As white people, the fact that my partner and I just realized now that the world might not be safe for our future children is a privilege in itself. For people of color, the decision to bring children into the world has been difficult for centuries. “To be honest, it might seem overwhelming,” says Jade Sasser, Ph.D., associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at UC Riverside and author of On barren ground: population control and women’s rights in the age of climate change, “Laying crisis on crisis may seem like too much. »

Nor is the issue new to concerned citizens who have worked on the front lines for years. Climate activist and sociologist Meghan Kallman and climate justice campaigner Josephine Ferorelli started Possible future to raise awareness of the threat climate change poses to reproductive justice and demand an end to US fossil fuel subsidies, as well as to provide a space where people can talk about the impact of climate change on their lives.

Canadian student Emma Lim also launched a No future, no commitment children two years ago, when she was 18, determined not to have children until her government took the climate crisis seriously. “Until our government begins to act like the adults it is meant to be, we will be making our own uncomfortable decisions and refusing to carry on as if all is well,” she wrote. More than 2,300 young people registered.

“[Young people] want to have hope about the future and about their prospects of having families because families serve as buffers against all of these devastating social problems around the world,” says Sasser, who also conducts research on how whose young people, mainly BIPOC, feel about the climate crisis and their reproductive options. “But they also experience a sense of dread and a deep sense of sadness. And pre-mourning, just knowing that if they had kids, they wouldn’t bring them into the same kind of world that they grew up in.

When we decided to start our own brood, Nick and I thought about that as well. We grew up with snowy winters and mild summers, camping in our national parks, playing outside until the streetlights came on. But even in recent years, rampant wildfires and increasingly intense hurricanes and other natural disasters have threatened not only our natural playgrounds, but also lives and air quality across the country. . Will one or two more people make a measurable difference? Maybe, maybe not. But for us, it was cruel to subject a child to what looks like a deteriorating world.

But as Ferorelli also points out, none of these decisions are made in a vacuum. No one can tell another person the right choice to make, because neither of us lives in the other’s situation. This is part of what makes deciding whether or not to reproduce so difficult in a changing world.

“People’s worries tend to fall on the spectrum of climate damage a child will do to the world and what kind of harm the world will do to a child,” Kallman says. “But it’s more fruitful to have systemic criticism than to be consumed by guilt.”

A 2017 study published in Environmental research by Canadian climatologists have found that having one less child is the greatest impact an individual can have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This is closely followed by eating a vegetarian diet, avoiding air travel and relying on public transport instead of your own car. But many activists argue that individual decisions are only a small piece of the puzzle, and that a meaningful climate strategy must focus on holding elected officials accountable to bring about systemic change.

The problem is that it’s impossible to measure the joy that having children can bring to a family, or to predict exactly what that child’s life will be like decades from now. But the sense that we are doing something about the climate catastrophe also has real value. “When we take responsibility for the environmental consequences of our daily actions, we feel like we have control,” writes Jason Mark in a extensive Sierra Club editorial. “And when you are in control of your own life, you may feel more empowered to take control of – or at least play a role in – broader political systems.”

Climate change is also impossible to disentangle from other social issues related to raising a family. “We want to make the world safer for everyone,” Kallman says. “The right to control the pace of your children, the health of your communities, and a holistic view of what constitutes a community free from domestic violence, has access to safe food, safe schools, where police violence is not not a threat.” By coming together to hold elected officials accountable, we can all effect meaningful change that goes beyond our own thresholds.

Having children is an extremely personal decision, and no one should be ashamed or feel guilty for choosing to have them or not. I don’t know if Nick and I have made (or will make) the right decisions about our family composition. I don’t think there is a “good” one, period. But no matter how bogged down we are in the problems and our answers, it’s important not to become blind to the beauty of being alive in this world and the communities we work with to save it.

“There’s a cultural association between having kids with optimism, and not having kids with nihilism, but that’s not accurate,” Ferorelli says. “There is an immense amount of joy, freedom and privilege in both.”

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