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The Truth is Still Inconvenient

Photo courtesy Irene./Flickr Creative Commons

With California’s ongoing drought and Los Angeles’ increasingly frequent heat waves, it does not take long for many Angelenos to turn to climate change in casual conversation. Any particularly hot day seems to invariably be accompanied by a cursory, “Ugh, global warming.” Despite this, it is usually easy to avoid going too deep down the rabbit hole of worry as most of us have yet to experience truly harmful effects.

Researchers cannot so easily ignore the data, which finds that continuing to use fossil fuels at current rates will cause global temperatures to rise two degrees Celsius by 2036, “crossing a threshold that will harm human civilization.”1 Governments worldwide have yet to make major changes to stem the tide, leading to a research vacuum in which scientists continually attempt to find solutions while watching policy lag behind. The term “climate trauma” has even begun to circulate in reference to the patterns of stress and hopelessness that climate activists can experience.2

For women and men considering having a child, there is another kind of stress altogether: the question of whether to bring a baby into a world likely unable to sustain a rapidly increasing population. There is practical concern over an increased carbon footprint — in America, having one fewer kid would save almost 20 times more carbon emissions over a lifetime than all other individually attainable conservation measures combined.3 Many also question the morality of leaving a child with a potentially uninhabitable planet.

In response to these worries, some people have decided not to have children. Some are spurred to political action. Some are simply left to process their anxiety. And this phenomenon seems to be gaining momentum — this past August, NPR profiled both a philosopher who tries to convince college students not to have large families and a group called Conceivable Future that organizes meetings for women to share their fears about the climate crisis as a reproductive crisis.4

This is hardly the first time that potential parents have questioned whether it is right to bring new life into an unsafe world — U.S. birth rates fell during the Great Depression, for example. Perhaps there has always been a lurking danger causing people in every generation to fear having children. The question we, as individuals and as a society, now face is how we can possibly move forward.

  1. Mann, Michael E. “Earth Will Cross the Climate Danger Threshold by 2036.” Scientific American. 2014.
  2. Caldwell, Gillian. “16 Tips for Avoiding Climate Burnout.” Grist. 2010.
  3. Stauth, David. “Family Planning: A Major Environmental Emphasis.” OSU News and Research Communications. 2009.
  4. Ludden, Jennifer. “Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?” NPR. 2016.

By Rachel Wiegardt-Egel

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