It’s becoming impossible to sustain belief in that eternal hope: that our children’s lives will be better than our ownby Hephzibah Anderson / January 27, 2020 / Leave a comment
There are plenty of reasons not to have children, from economic uncertainty and competing priorities to plain and simple dislike of society’s littlest members. Nor is childlessness always voluntary. Yet among those for whom it is a decision, a new factor is weighing increasingly heavily: climate change. After decades of insufficient action, the warming Earth has come to seem like a timebomb whose ticking is drowning out even women’s biological clocks. As US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bluntly asked last year: “Is it OK to still have children?”
Plenty of her contemporaries are deciding that the answer is no. In England and Wales in 2018, the birth rate hit its lowest level since records began in 1938, and it’s a similar story across Europe; in the US, it is at its lowest in more than three decades. Surveys show that along with perennial concerns about job prospects and housing, there’s the spectre of an inhospitable planet.
Here in the gluttonous developed world, limiting family size has been found to massively outweigh other eco-conscious choices in terms of impact. A 2017 study reported that having one child fewer equated to a reduction of 58 tonnes of CO2 per year, as against 0.82 tonnes for switching to a plant-based diet or 2.4 tonnes for living car-free.
Will our children’s lives be better than ours?
Yet anyone considering parenthood today must not only factor in the harm that adding another human being will do to the world, but also the ways in which the world might imperil them in turn. The time when we might have existed in easy harmony with nature is fast slinking into the past. Instead we are facing a future that is all but guaranteed to be radically destabilised by rising sea levels and extreme weather.
Human beings have continued to procreate through the very grimmest chapters in our species’ history, but for those of us who have become parents in the past decade or so, it’s becoming impossible to so much as skim through the scientific research and sustain belief in that eternal hope: that our children’s lives will be better than our own.
In other respects, climate change plays to perennial features of parenthood. Much of the experience of raising a child is about coming face-to-face…