Is Not Having Children the Answer to Climate Change?
During a live-streamed Instagram Q&A session in February, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked her 2.5 million Instagram followers a polarizing question: If the scientific consensus is that climate change will make the lives of our children very difficult, “is it still okay to have children?”
Facing a future of extreme weather, rising sea levels, drought, famine, and mass migration, is it responsible to bring children into a world teetering on the brink of outright crisis? It’s a question that many people across the globe are starting to articulate. Early this month, reports that the Earth’s sixth mass extinction is underway, starting with the insect population, was enough to convince Blythe Pepino, a 33-year-old woman living in the UK, to start a group called BirthStrike. It’s a voluntary organization for people who have chosen not to have children in anticipation of “climate breakdown and civilization collapse.” The idea of the BirthStrike, and other groups like Extinction Rebellion, is to bring global attention to their very personal protest of not having children. On 9 March, Extinction Rebellion activists threw buckets of red paintoutside Downing Street to make the “death of our children” and the nightmarish future that awaited humans viscerally clear.
If these acts seem extreme, then they only aim to match the very real extremes that climate change will bring about if global political action is not taken to change the course we’re on. The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, a book by journalist David Wallace-Wells, opens with the most foreboding lines about climate change: “It is, I promise, worse than you think.” Covering trajectories of climate change impact, from food shortages and public health issues, to its effect on the global economy and international conflict, the book warns that by every metric, life will get catastrophically worse.
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It’s not just Wallace-Wells who is telling us this. A World Bank report warned that more than 600 million Indians will be moderately or severely affected by changing temperatures. The report also predicted India could lose 2.8 percent of its GDP by 2050, resulting in lower living standards for at least half the population. Despite our knowledge of the consequences of climate change, global carbon emissions were at an all-time high in 2018, with China’s up by 4.7 percent, the US’s, by 2.5 percent, and India’s, by 6.3 percent. And of course, the UN report released late last year warned we have about 12 years to make unprecedented changes to global energy consumption and infrastructure in order to simply do damage control and bring global warming down to a moderate level. In short, the future does not look good.
But where there’s humanity, there’s always hope. This is something that even the BirthStrikers acknowledge. Their goal is not to discourage or condemn people from having children, but to politicize their decisions as a way to agitate for change. It’s an act of hope — to bring people’s attention to this massive problem and to demand a future that will be safe for their unborn children.
The fears and concerns that Ocasio-Cortez and BirthStrikers have been articulating are real and important ones, especially to a generation whose future is so uncertain. But it doesn’t have to be a declaration of surrender. Rather it’s a call to action; if it is entirely by human influence that we’re heading for disaster, then it’s in our hands to reverse it. This won’t be achieved by individual choices, but rather by global political moves towards aggressive carbon taxes, innovating negative-emissions climate technology, and investing in renewable energy. When asked if he wanted to have children, Wallace-Wells was hopeful, telling The Guardian, “I think it is a reason to fight now so that we can continue to have those children and continue to live in the ways we want to live.”
Movements like BirthStrike aim to shake us out of our complacency, and to push us to do exactly this — to fight. And young people like Greta Thunberg, who are growing up today, are proving they’re ready for battle.