To Have or Not Have Children Amid the Climate Crisis?

To Have or Not Have Children Amid the Climate Crisis?

Is it ethical to bring children into this ecologically fragile world? It’s a question Nicholas and his friends have been asking themselves. He feels that by not having children, we may be doing more harm than good. Hear him out.

Growing numbers of young people have vowed not to have children. It’s not because they don’t want them, but out of a concern for the sustainability of the environment and that the climate crisis would make their children’s lives unbearable.

This once-fringe issue is now slowly coming to the fore of our cultural moment.

Activist Blythe Pepino established an action group, BirthStrike, to spread information about the dangers posed by a heat-ravaged earth, Australian couples have spoken out about their abandoned family plans, and it’s become a topic of serious conversation among millennials. It’s something Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a young, well-known American Democratic politician, has publicly considered.

You can understand why some of us feel it’s irresponsible to have children at this time of climate crisis. Droughts are increasing. Sea levels are rising. Ice caps are melting. Temperatures have hit record-highs. The number of global refugees will skyrocket. Things aren’t looking great, to say the least. This is especially true when you consider the Australian Government’s lack of action to arrest the climate emergency.

It’s sometimes hard not to despair. There have been moments when I have. And that’s where the decision not to procreate comes from: a scepticism that humanity can avoid an environmental catastrophe it has largely created itself.

But what if I told you that, by not having children, you may be doing more harm than good? I know it seems counterintuitive, but hear me out.

It’s fairly reasonable to assume that those who refrain from bearing children are some of the most passionate, concerned, and proactive when it comes to the climate and the environment.

They’re likely the kind of people who attend climate marches, are involved in action groups, minimise their carbon footprint, and even work in the environmental, political or scientific communities.

In other words, many of them are the most determined and capable of taking steps to reverse, halt, or mitigate the climate crisis. So it’d make sense for these people to have kids, right? After all, the scourge of the climate emergency can’t be tackled by one generation alone. It’s going to take an intergenerational effort, spanning decades.

Whether we like it or not, we’re all heavily influenced by our social environments, particularly while we’re young. Our parents – their behaviour, beliefs, advice, and more – have a pretty big say in what sort of people we become, and I’ve inherited my share of traits from both of my parents—for better or worse.

It stands to reason, then, that these environmentally-aware people should have children. As a parent, you are in a prime position to educate your children on the dangers of the climate crisis, and what must be done to avert or mitigate it. While it’s not guaranteed they’ll care, it’s pretty bloody likely they will.

When you’re old or gone from the world (a comforting thought, I know), they’ll be equipped to carry on your environmental and climate-based work—whether in a personal, volunteer or professional capacity.

By not procreating, we’re essentially losing fierce and committed future advocates of change and climate justice. There’ll be fewer people fighting on the front lines for a safe future for all. Not just for Australians, but for Pacific nations like Kiribati, Fiji, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, and other vulnerable countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Cambodia.

It’s a fight we can only win with global, unified action. That coalition is weakened when good people choose not to have children, who can continue working towards creating a healthy earth.

Let’s also remember that people not conscious of the climate crisis —perhaps indifferent to it, or self-professed ‘deniers’—will keep procreating. Then those children will have babies of their own. It’d be nice to believe that most of these people will become part of the solution. But the harsh reality is that many will just continue to contribute to the problem by emitting unsustainable levels of carbon and not calling for a society based on environmentally just principles.

For me, the question of whether it’s justifiable to have children in a world teetering on the edge of environmental collapse comes down to this: are you hopeful that humanity can overcome this great challenge? Or do you despair, predicting we’ll collectively fail?

If you fall into that first category like me, then having children of your own might just help realise a better future for the environment and the human race. And what more could you want than that?