Growing up, my friends and I would get together and discuss the names of our future children. How many boys did we want? How many girls? For as long as I can remember, I have thought about my future children and they have always been included in my adult plans. A sentiment coming not only from me but also from my family– my father in particular, who always is against giving various items from my childhood or his childhood to charity in the eventuality that “Olivia’s children might be able to use them”. I also grew up watching movies about Armageddon, movies such as ‘2012’, as well as believing in the end of the world due to a discontinued Aztec calendar. These things always scared me but deep inside I never really thought something like this could happen. We were safe in the arms of our parents, who assured us that it was just a movie or just a crazy conspiracy theory. Yet, here I am sitting in my home of 17 years, writing about something I was promised was just a bad dream.
Today, we face the reality, not the possibility, of our planet becoming an unsuitable place for human life. We face the reality that if nothing is done in the next ten years the threats posed to us by climate change will irreversibly become part of our lives. The nature of those threats has been discussed at length not only by me but by every possible outlet available to us – and yet, we seem to be walking right into it. So, when our future seems to be this dire, is it really that weird to be thinking about what our lives and the lives of future generations on this planet will look like? To me, it is a completely natural question, one everyone should think about deeply at least once.
As Alexandria Ocasio Cortez pondered, “is it still okay to have children?”
This is a question that in my opinion will never truly have an answer. Because just as people are questioning the ethics of having children, one can equally and, perhaps more strongly, question the ethics behind the consideration to impose a choice upon people regarding their reproductive choices. However, it remains a multifaceted topic of discussion that merits proper dissection.
After reading much about the subject, there seems to be a spectrum on which people identify themselves regarding their opinions and feelings on childbearing and rearing as well as reproduction in general. On one side of the spectrum, one can find organizations such as the ‘Voluntary Human Extinction Movement’ and ‘Population Matters’, who both address the issues of overpopulation to different extremes. Both stand by the statement that population growth is the main driver, or at least a very powerful driver, behind environmental degradation and climate change, leading them to the conclusion that abstaining from having children is the ‘only’ solution to the climate crisis. On the other side of the spectrum, you find people that for religious and cultural reasons feel it is their duty to have children. Thus, I found that people at the extremes are very much convinced by their beliefs and see a clear path, one that to them is right. However, the center of the spectrum, which comprises the large group of young people faced with this dilemma, is blurry and confused as to whether or not they should be child-free.
From an evolutionary perspective, things can be put in very simple terms. The human experience centres around the motivation to pursue goals that are within our reach and seem worth the effort, reproduction being one of the most revered goals in the existence of any species. This perspective has long been reflected in the status quo of many if not all cultures, where childbearing and rearing play a central role in achieving a fulfilled life. However, as time progresses so does society. With the introduction of birth control, progression in women’s rights and the decreasing influence of religion as well as tradition, having a child has now become an alternative rather than an obligation for those individuals that possess the privilege of choice. Because as opposed to previous generations,becoming a parent is now a choice that can be made by every individual based on their needs, wants and capacity to support and love a child, (which is something that every individual should ask themselves prior to having a child, regardless of the impending doom of climate change). A child deserves to be nurtured by people who want them and care for them. Of course, this rosy prospect of choice is something that a lot of people still have to fight for all over the world.
While overpopulation is an important issue and does pose very real threats to our planet and society, to simply ask couples or individuals not to have children is entitled and luxurious, to say the least. It is easy to make such demands when one has grown up in a developed country with unlimited access to education and health care. In particular, those who are part of extreme anti-natalist movements, don’t seem to realize that requesting people to stop having children is a decision that can only be made in the context of a wealthy, developed and privileged context. Thus, making the ‘simple’ solution of abstaining from parenthood a very unrealistic solution, which heavily depends on what culture you live in, what economic background you were born into as well as the available healthcare.
Indeed, we can observe the fertility rates in developed countries have been continuously dropping over the years meaning that people are choosing to have fewer children in comparison to the average 5 per woman in the 1960s. However, fertility rates in lesser economically and socially developed countries continue to be very high, thus exponentially contributing to population growth. But, the attempt to reduce ever-rising birth rates in developing countries cannot exist alongside ever-reduced funding for women’s healthcare, education and access to birth control. By tackling these issues in developing countries, we assure the reduction of birth rates. This is a concept that has repeatedly been used as a measure to halt fertility rates successfully. One example is an initiative undertaken in Iran in response to internal population pressure which led to the opening of rural health clinics and the promotion of women’s education, eventually resulting in a successful family planning policy. This is one of many examples that show that investing in women’s rights, education and health is directly correlated to reduced birth rates. Hence, it reveals a realistic solution to reduce rising birth rates in developing countries that contribute to overpopulation. If we were to find a viable policy to scale back overpopulation, the argument of overpopulation used by many anti-natalists to persuade people into not having children would be made null. This would mean that the worry of overpopulation wouldn’t be taken into consideration when planning for a family, enabling couples to decide by focusing more on their needs.
Even though tackling overpopulation through family planning initiatives in developing countries is astep in the right direction, the overconsumption resulting from overpopulation is a major contributing factor to drivers of climate change. However, overconsumption is a problem associated with developed countries, in particular with western cultures. Books from the 1960s such as ‘The Population Bomb’ by Paul Ehrlich describe famine and water scarcity as the catastrophic effects of overpopulation. However, it was overconsumption rather than overpopulation that was and still is creating the catastrophic effects the book fears. Global energy consumption is directly associated with climate change, food, and water scarcity and has been rising exponentially. Although, findings regarding the consumption of energy show that an average Texan consumes eight times as much energy than an average person in China, indicating that perhaps we are not facing an issue of overconsumption but rather an issue of resource mismanagement. Figures show that if measures were taken to efficiently distribute the resources produced by global industry today, there would be enough resources to supply all of the earth’s population. What many don’t realize is that food waste inevitably leads to energy and water waste due to the enormous amount of both resources that go into agriculture every year – almost 80% of water supply in the United States.
Thus, once again if policies were to focus on resource distribution and efficient management of resources, not only would we be able to feasibly feed all of earth’s growing population but we would be able to reduce the effects of climate change by finding efficient ways to save all that is wasted through current production processes. Thus, with efficient resource management, the worry of future resource scarcity would become obsolete, hence not influencing an individual’s decision not to have a child. Because yes, if we learn to distribute what we have fairly, there is enough for everyone– especially with the rise of efficient agricultural models.
So, there are possible policy paths to solve or at least reduce the influence of major factors scaring people from having children. But still, many studies and interviews show that people feel guilty to bring children into the world, even when they report to truly want a child. Many consider their decision to be child-free a sacrifice rather than a personal choice. A sacrifice made out of fear of leaving children in a world facing a grim future if no immediate action is taken. Findings also show that people with children actually have a higher drive to solve our climate crisis precisely because they have children and want to leave them in a better situation than the situation they were born into. It is true, however, that even if we do address all the issues mentioned above, we haven’t even touched based on the effects of climate change on the physical landscape and conditions of many parts of the earth which leave millions and millions of the most vulnerable children in situations they couldn’t possibly have caused, therefore infringing the human rights of children all over the world as set out by UNICEF.
Thus, upon further reflection, the fact that young people are even questioning whether or not to have children is perhaps the most alarming call that political action needs to be taken now. People are seriously considering making one of the biggest personal sacrifices out of fear their children will not be granted basic human rights in the future to come. A very poignant example of this is a Syrian individual that said he has seen how the developed world treated his people when they fled war and that he cannot imagine how they will treat the millions that are to come once certain places on earth become inhabitable. Climate change is a political issue, not an issue that anyone should have to make personal sacrifices for. It is a political crisis that will soon turn into one of the most devastating situations politics has ever caused. This realization leads me to believe that truly, it should not be the job of the ordinary citizen to renounce parenthood simply because the politicians at the helm of our governments didn’t consider this crisis of grand significance. If anything, as young people we need to fight now more than ever to ensure that our children will be able to drink a glass of water without worrying where they will get the next. Regardless of where we are from, who we are, what our background is, our children deserve to live with dignity and they deserve to have people that will stand up for their rights, even if it is not our children, we owe it to the millions of children that are already on this planet and that will inevitably have to suffer the consequences of passivity in the face of this climate crisis.
Climate change is a political problem that is long overdue to be addressed and we cannot allow an individuals’ personal and human right to choose what to do with their life to being infringed upon due to the inadequacy, passivity, and ignorance of modern-day governments.
art by Julie Torres