A few years ago, a couple in my social circle split up. They had been together for years, becoming a fixture at our catch-ups and events. Then all of a sudden, they were no longer together. The word on the street was that they broke up because he was adamant that he wouldn’t have children because of the impacts of climate change – the risk to their future safety and ability to live happy lives was too great, in his view, to justify it. She did want kids, so they parted ways.
Hearing this story, I could relate to fear that climate change sparked in this friend.
I, too, worried that bringing more children into the world when we know that the impacts of climate change are only going to worsen over time, would be irresponsible.
My partner disagreed. He could see the nuance of the issue.
Specifically, he pointed out that middle-class people like ourselves living in first-world countries could actually be part of the solution for climate change, and raising smart, ethically minded children wasn’t irresponsible at all.
Now I’m in my early 30s, and the question is becoming more urgent. I know that I want children, but I’m plagued by fears about their long-term prospects in this world. Is having children now, when experts increasingly warn that we’re unlikely to be able to avoid 1.5 degrees of global warming, a fair proposition to the child in question? Is it justifiable to consign a child to a life of natural disasters and extreme weather events and the resulting economic insecurity?
Or are these the questions that every generation grapples with when it comes to having children, and the world that they will live in? I know that a generation or two ago, similar fears were held about nuclear power, or war, or any number of other pressing world events. Is this just the issue that my generation has to grapple with in our time?
It’s likely that for the most part, my child would have a fairly ordinary life for their childhood, and the worst effects of climate change wouldn’t emerge until I was dead and they were fully functioning adults. As some would say, it’s presumptuous and perhaps unfair to assume the worst and not allow their lives to unfold as my own has, with the same degree of uncertainty we all live with.
My parents had four children in Fiji, a country plagued by political unrest and violent coups, where both had been raised in poverty by their families. They didn’t question the validity of having children because they loved their lives despite the challenges, and wanted to experience them fully, which means raising a family.
Is it a marker of my privilege that I assume that any life less secure and easy than mine is too terrible to consign a child to?
There are plenty of valid reasons to choose not to have a child, including this one. Similarly, there are many, many excellent reasons to have a child, and I know from the experience of watching my nieces and nephews grow up what a joy it is, and also the uniqueness of each child which suggests that no one experience will be the same for all kids born from my generation.
But I still find myself flushed with anxiety when I think about living through a bushfire season like the one just past with the added fear of protecting my children; or watching the global economic downturn from the pandemic, and wondering whether our children will have to live with even worse job insecurity and economic uncertainty because of the changing climate.
Am I being too paranoid, or is there just cause to choose childlessness in the face of climate change?