Choosing Not To Have Children

More than one friend in my age group has told me that their grown children do not intend to have children which will mean no grandchildren for my friends. Even my oldest son has expressed some doubts that he will. What is going on here ? Very real concerns about how climate change will make the future very difficult for today’s children and their children and much sooner than I had previously heard – like by like by 2050.

Because I think daily about issues at least tangential to adoption, that is the first place my thought goes and in an article in The Guardian titled Should I have children? Weighing parenthood amid the climate crisis by Megan Mayhew Bergman I read – Ellie at age 23 wrote the author, “While I don’t believe the changes we’re seeing have to signify end-of-days, I do believe there are incredibly thoughtful solutions at hand which – if we can pull them off – would bring about a world I’d very much want to have children in. But I also think my generation may have found itself at a unique moment in which more people isn’t the answer, and alternatives like adoption represent more eco- and ultimately, human-conscious choices.” And to be certain, more than 100,000 children have been born in refugee camps in Myanmar and in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee settlement in the world, which is vulnerable to extreme flooding and landslides.

Recent polling reveals that four in 10 young people are “hesitant to have children as a result of the climate crisis” and “fear that governments are doing too little to prevent climate catastrophe”.

An article in Vanity Fair last year by Tatiana Schlossberg titled How Should a Climate Change Reporter Think About Having Children? She goes on to say – Reproduction is a fundamental feature of life on earth, but a morally fraught decision for anyone who has the choice. And there’s not even a right answer. She mentions a drive through a scenic passage in Colorado but that “I felt so angry at our species. Angry because we are willing to destroy all of this and to do so knowingly, because we seem to value no life other than human life, and I’m not even sure how much we value that.” I would have to agree with that last bit somewhat.

She goes on to share – when you are a married straight woman in your 20s and everyone wants to know when you’re going to have a kid, it turns out to be almost impossible to avoid thinking about the future.

In answer to that, she shares – There are two familiar arguments about not having a kid when it comes to climate change. The first one is that it is unkind and irresponsible to bring a child into a world whose future is uncertain at best and apocalyptic at worst. The second one is that, as a privileged, white American with a sizable carbon footprint, any child of mine would be another person with a similar environmental impact, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption. According to those two lines of thinking, having a child is unethical, both because of what it would do to the child and because of what that child would do to the world.

Realistically, she goes on to admit – As both a reporter and a person in her child-bearing years, I don’t know what the right thing to do is—and I don’t think that there is a right thing to do. I find myself feeling much the same way. I do believe humanity will continue to exist and on some level I feel that raising a reasonable number (like 1 or 2) of children to be highly aware and ethical will be valuable to whatever the future will bring.

She also acknowledges that – not having a child is not the same as becoming a vegetarian or buying an electric car. Having a child, becoming a parent, can be a defining feature of life on earth—the reproduction of aspen trees is not necessarily parenthood, but it is part of the same drive to pass on genetic material; it is hardwired in us, and we share it with all other lifeforms.

A dear friend of mine is involved with Project Drawdown, a climate-advocacy organization, that has ranked the 100 most effective solutions to climate change, and found that together, education and family planning for women and girls is the second-most effective way to reduce emissions (after reducing food waste, which includes shifting to a plant-rich diet and preventing deforestation), because when women are more educated, they generally have fewer children, and also add to the economic and cultural success of their communities.

The Vanity Fair article author notes – The birth rate in the United States and much of the developed world is declining. When people express concern to me about there being too many people on earth, they don’t seem to be saying there are too many Americans; they are, knowingly or not, talking about limiting the growing and increasingly young nonwhite populations in the global south. Throughout American history, anxiety about population is almost always linked to race or national origin, so what I always want to say in response is, “Who are you talking about when you ask me that question?”

I do feel lucky to have the female freedoms I do because of the time in which I have lived. I acknowledge that I am indebted to the work of so many women which has given me choice (and currently, that is highly under threat). Support for reproductive freedom is a core part of my own political identity, as is support for climate action as an environmentalist. We try to raise our sons to value the same things as well.

I will also admit to a certain degree of arrogance in that kind of thinking. That my having kids is okay because my kids will be a good persons and who knows ? One of them might solve climate change. OK, so the latter idea is probably not the most likely outcome, nor is it the most powerful argument in defense of my having children. Any person could say as much. True, I di think that my children are special, geniuses, perfect in their own ways, but I also realize that my children doesn’t necessarily have a greater right to be born than anyone else’s. I am sad for the youth of today. Even back around the 2000s when my husband and I decided to have these two boys, the concern was not as urgent as it seems today (and I say seems because it should have been more urgent then and even in the early 1970s when I had my daughter).