People worried about the climate crisis are choosing not to have children because they fear their offspring will have to struggle through a climate apocalypse, according to the first scientific study on the subject.
The researchers surveyed 600 people aged 27 to 45 who already factor climate concerns into their reproductive decisions and found that 96% were very or extremely concerned about the well-being of their potential future children in a climate-changed world. 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 to survive in potentially apocalyptic conditions.”
These views were based on very pessimistic assessments of the impact of global warming on the world, the researchers said. For example, one respondent said it would “rival World War I in sheer terror.” The research also found that some people who were already parents expressed regret at having their children.
Having a child may also mean that that person produces lifetime carbon emissions that contribute to climate catastrophe, but only 60% of respondents were very concerned about this carbon footprint.
“The concerns about the carbon footprint of having children were rather abstract and dry,” said Matthew Schneider-Mayerson of Yale-NUS College in Singapore, who led the study. “But the fears for the lives of existing or potential children were really deep and emotional. It was often heartbreaking to sift through the answers — a lot of people actually spilled their hearts out.”
The number of people incorporating climate change into their reproductive plans is likely to increase, Schneider-Mayerson said, as the effects of global warming become more apparent. “To address this, we really need to act now to address the root cause, which is climate change itself,” he said.
The study, published in the journal Climatic Change, found no statistically significant difference between women’s and men’s views, even though women made up three quarters of the respondents. A 31-year-old woman said: “Climate change is the only factor in my decision not to have biological children. I don’t want to bear children into a dying world [though] I want so badly to be a mother.”
The researchers found that 6% of parents admitted to having some regret about having children. A 40-year-old mother said: “I regret having my children because I’m afraid they will face the end of the world because of climate change.”
Schneider-Mayerson said, “I was surprised — that’s an extremely difficult statement for parents to say.”
The study is the first peer-reviewed academic study on the subject and analyzed a large population of affected individuals. The poll was conducted anonymously so people could express themselves freely.
“It’s an unprecedented window in that direction [some people] think and feel about what many believe to be the most important decision of their lives,” said Schneider-Mayerson.
Other findings were that younger people were more concerned about their children’s climate impact than older respondents, and that adoption was seen as a possible alternative to biological children.
The study showed that climate-related fears for their children’s lives were rooted in a deeply pessimistic view of the future. Of the 400 respondents who offered a vision of the future, 92.3% were negative, 5.6% were mixed or neutral, and only 0.6% were positive.
A 42-year-old father wrote that the The world in 2050 would be “a greenhouse hell with wars over finite resources, the collapse of civilization, failing agriculture, rising seas, melting glaciers, famine, drought, floods, mudslides and widespread devastation.” Schneider-Mayerson said he thinks the pessimistic views are all within the realm of possibility, if not necessarily the most likely outcome.
However, he said more research is needed on a more diverse group of people and in other parts of the world. The self-selected group in the study all lived in the US and were mostly white, highly educated, and liberal.
Previously, opinion polls of the general public showed people linking the climate crisis and reproduction, with a 2020 poll finding that among 18-44 year old US citizens without children, 14% cited climate change as the “top reason” called. for not having children. In 2019 scores of women in the UK said they would go on a ‘birth strike’ until the climate crisis was resolved.
Seth Wynes of Concordia University in Canada, whose 2017 study found that having one child less had the greatest impact individuals can have in the fight against climate change, said the researchers were right in emphasizing that the sample was not designed for all Americans are representative. But he said the heartache over the decision to have children makes sense. “Climate change is already affecting our world in frightening ways, so it’s certainly sensible to consider the climate crisis when thinking about your family’s future.
“As climate change continues to worsen, it is important to understand how perceptions of the future can change the way everyday people plan their lives,” Wynes said. “This study is a first step in expanding this understanding.”
There is also growing evidence that climate anxiety affects mental health, and in early 2020 more than 1,000 clinical psychologists signed an open letter warning of “acute trauma on a global scale.” Last week a survey found that more than half of child and adolescent psychiatrists in England treat patients who are concerned about the state of the environment.