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A growing number of people are reluctant to bring a child into a world that will be devastated by climate change in the coming decades.
This week, the United Nations issued a “Code Red for Humanity” as the world’s leading climate scientists issued their strongest warning yet about the deepening climate emergency. Monday’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the next two decades, surpassing a key target of the Paris Agreement — a landmark agreement seen as crucial to achieving reduce the risk of a climate catastrophe.
Scientists’ increasingly bleak prospects for the future of the planet are preventing more and more people from having children.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a note to investors last month that “the move not to have children due to fears of climate change is growing and impacting fertility rates faster than any previous trend in fertility decline.”
To support their argument, they cited polls, academic research and Google data showing that climate change is directly and indirectly accelerating the decline in fertility rates. UCLA researchers showed that the number of births in the US fell in the nine months following an extreme heat event, while a study of 18,000 couples in China last year showed that climate change, and particulate matter pollution in particular, were 20% more likely were associated with infertility.
Some people choose not to have children because they fear it will increase global warming.
“Having a child is 7 times worse for the climate in terms of carbon emissions per year than the next 10 most talked about mitigation actions individuals can do,” said Morgan Stanley analysts.
A Swedish study published in IOPscience in 2017 found that one child per family could save about 58.6 tons of carbon each year in developed countries.
However, Kimberley Nicholas, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview with Vox earlier this year that reducing the population is not the way to solve the climate crisis. “It’s true that more people will use more resources and cause more greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “But that’s not really the relevant time frame to actually stabilize the climate since we have this decade to halve emissions.”
Persistent extreme weather
Others are concerned about extreme weather events their children may have to endure and the likely aftermath. For example, crops could fail in some parts of the world.
Daniel, a 35-year-old Brit currently residing in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been married to his partner for almost 12 years. They were open to the idea of having children earlier in their relationship, but now they are less enthusiastic.
“In the past few years, the climate has definitely contributed to the fact that we don’t want children,” Daniel told CNBC, requesting that his last name be left out of the story over concerns he could be attacked online by people who don’t are of his opinion .
The couple, who rely on air conditioning most of the year and love to travel, have been looking for ways to significantly offset their carbon footprint. “We thought about it quite a bit and quickly realized that adding one more human to the world would have a huge environmental impact,” Daniel said.
Children cool off in water at a park as a heatwave hits the city July 16, 2021 in Shenyang, Liaoning province, China.
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Prince Harry said in 2019 that he and his wife Meghan plan to have a maximum of two children, citing environmental concerns.
The issue of bringing more people into a warming world is being debated by people on social media with huge followings.
In a 2019 Instagram livestream to her 1.5 million followers, 31-year-old New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “Basically, the scientific consensus is that children’s lives are going to be very difficult. And it leads I think young people have a valid question: Is it okay to still have children?
“fear of existence”
Jessica Combes, a 39-year-old English teacher, told CNBC, “I refuse to take children to the burning hellscape we call a planet.”
Combes said she was always insecure about having children of her own. “Now when I look at the state of the economy, the shoddy global health care and climate change, I just feel like all my concerns were justified,” she said.
Some of those who already have children are also concerned. Thom James, 39, managing partner of advertising and PR firm Havas UK, told CNBC: “I had a major depressive episode last year that was based on existential anxiety about the world my children would be growing up in.”
James has two girls, ages three and six. “Anxiety about their future is a common trigger for me,” he said. “I keep thinking about when it’s appropriate to stop her from having children of her own as I think we’ve really passed the point of no return.”
Of course, humankind would eventually cease to exist if everyone stopped having children. A fringe group of anti-natalists believe that’s exactly what should happen, but most people don’t share that view.
In fact, many people see having children as a basic human right and one that can bring happiness and joy to families.
However, the climate emergency is the result of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, not population growth.
The IPCC report warned that some of the climate changes observed by researchers – such as ongoing sea-level rise – were projected to be “irreversible for hundreds to thousands of years.”
The report also reiterated the urgent need for “major and sustained” reductions in carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases to limit climate change.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the results were “a red flag for humanity”.
He added: “This report must be the death knell for coal and fossil fuels before they destroy our planet.”
While policymakers are currently publicly acknowledging the need for the transition to a low-carbon society, the world’s dependence on fossil fuels is expected to increase in the coming decades.
— CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this report.