When we think of climate change, we often think of natural disasters. We see the effects of global warming in melting ice caps, raging fires, and powerful storms.
But recent studies have found that climate change is disaffecting yet another aspect of our lives: families.
Under the looming threat of a climate crisis, many people are making the difficult decision to not have kids.
Climate Change (And Anxiety About It) Is Getting Worse
Earlier this month, researchers in the UK conducted a survey on climate anxiety. It’s the largest survey of its kind, and the data collected is grim.
The survey collected 10,000 responses from young people in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the UK, and the U.S.
Nearly six in ten people aged 16 to 25 said they were extremely worried about climate change. They felt the government was not protecting them, the planet, or future generations.
Three-quarters of the responses agreed with the statement, “The future is frightening.” Around the same amount of people felt they would have fewer opportunities than their parents.
Further, they reported feeling betrayed by the government and older generations. And while this climate-specific survey is the largest of its kind, there are several others like it.
For example, this study in Climatic Change surveyed 600 people aged 27 to 45. Four hundred of those respondents offered their vision of the future. A whopping 92.3% were negative. 5.6% of responses were mixed or neutral, and only .6% were positive.
People are preparing for the worst. As a result, many younger people are rethinking starting a family.
Deciding Whether To Have A Baby
The same Climatic Change study found that 96% of respondents were “ extremely concerned about the wellbeing of their children in a climate-changed world.”
A 31-year-old woman responded to the survey, saying, “Climate change is the sole factor for me in deciding not to have biological children. I don’t want to birth children into a dying world [though] I dearly want to be a mother.”
A 27-year-old woman said, “I feel like I can’t in good conscience bring a child into this world and force them to try and survive what may be apocalyptic conditions.”
Their fears are not unfounded, either. Around 6% of parents reported regretting having children. “I am terrified that they will be facing the end of the world due to climate change,” one 40-year-old mother said.
The study’s lead researcher said, “It was often heartbreaking to pore through the responses. The fears about the lives of existing or potential children were really deep and emotional. A lot of people really poured their hearts out.”
For some, the decision not to have a child is a silent one. For others, they’re stating their intentions loud and clear in the hopes that the government will take notice.
Some Have Opted For Strikes
In 2019, UK activist Blythe Pepino set up BirthStrike. BirthStrike was a voluntary organization for women and men who had decided not to have children in response to climate change.
The Guardian reported that Pepino hoped to “Channel the grief she feels about her decision into something more active.” Many BirthStrikers were also involved with the Extinction Rebellion, a similar climate activism group.
The BirthStrike movement “disbanded” in 2020. In a letter uploaded to its Facebook page, the founders stated the group had been falsely associated with “overpopulation” rhetoric.
“It has become clear that this [rhetoric] is fed by, and will feed into, division and eco-fascism,” Pepino wrote. Instead, the movement has rebranded to a support group, “Grieving Parenthood in the Climate Crisis: Channeling Loss into Climate Justice.”
The new movement supports parents facing climate-related decisions. But as the previous studies show, the original sentiment lives on.
Luisa Neubauer is fighting a similar battle in Germany. “I meet a lot of young girls who ask whether it’s still okay to have children,” she told The Guardian. “It’s a simple question, yet it tells so much about the climate reality we are living in.”
“We turned our individual anxiety into collective action,” Neubauer continues. “Now, we are fighting everywhere. We are on the streets, at the courts, in and outside institutions. Yet, governments are still failing us.”
She says the best response to the University of Bath study would be for “governments to start acting like they promised they would.”
Other Reasons People Are Opting To Wait
It’s important to note that there are many reasons why younger generations are deciding to wait to have kids. Government inaction on climate change is one of them. But there are several others.
When paired with the threat of climate change, it’s not surprising that so many people opt out of having kids.
Despite these fears, women are facing yet another bleak reality: abortion bans.
How Abortion Bans Affect These Decisions
Recent abortion bans have thrown gasoline on an already raging fire. Texas’s new law bans abortions after six weeks. This is before many people would know they’re pregnant.
On top of that, the state government is incentivizing civilians to sue abortion providers with $10,000 bounties. Anyone who aids in an abortion is at risk of being sued under the new law.
And in the face of climate change, this right to choose is more critical than ever. A UNICEF study found that children will bear the brunt of the climate crisis in the coming years. Thus, our situation continues to grow more and more distressing.
Still, if one looks hard enough, they can find some silver linings.
Coping With Climate Change
The UN Development Programme conducted a massive survey of 1.2 million people across 50 countries. The UNDP collected the data between October and December 2020. High, middle, and low-income countries all participated in the study.
The study found that the generational gap on climate change might not be as wide as we thought. 69% of respondents aged 14 to 18 said climate change was an emergency, and 58% of people 60 and older agreed.
In addition, people tended to approve of climate action related to their specific countries. Nations with high forest destruction rates, for example, widely approved of tree conservation. Fossil fuel-reliant nations also showed support for renewable energy.
So, people want change. And with a younger generation armed with fierce passion and know-how, we might be able to put ourselves on a more optimistic track.
It takes a village to raise a child. And it’ll take a village to keep this world worth raising a child in, too.