The ethics of childbearing in the age of climate change – The Week UK | Directory Mayhem

In times of increasingly frequent freak weather and warnings about global warming, the future of our planet looks more and more uncertain.

As experts believe some of the effects of climate change will be “irreversible,” more and more young people are reluctant to give birth, a study recently published in The Lancet has found.

In a global poll of 10,000 people aged 16 to 25, three-quarters agreed “the future is scary,” while just 31% thought their governments were “doing enough to avoid disaster.”

And 39% “reluctant to have children,” according to the results of the survey, which covered Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the UK and the US.

“I meet a lot of young girls who ask if it’s still okay to have children,” German climate activist Luisa Neubauer told The Guardian. “It’s a simple question, but it says so much about the climate reality we live in.”

The moral conundrum has become a hot topic in recent years. In 2019, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines after questioning the environmental ethics of childbirth.

“Our planet is going to suffer catastrophe if we don’t turn this ship around…there is scientific consensus that children’s lives will be very difficult,” she said in an Instagram livestream.

Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks were met with what Business Insider called a “backlash from conservative pundits,” who argued she was effectively “advocating for a child ban.”

As the debate rages on, activists point to the carbon footprint of each new human life. A 2017 study published in the Environmental Research Journal by Canadian climate scientists found that a child born in the Global North leaves an average of 58.6 tons of carbon footprint annually.

However, that carbon footprint is lower in developing countries, with that of a child in Malawi estimated at no more than 0.1 tonnes per year, according to the BBC.

In addition to giving up cars, avoiding air travel and eating a plant-based diet, the Canadian study recommended that people could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of children they have by one.

Among the high-profile figures who appear to be supporting this smaller family strategy are Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The Duke of Sussex told Vogue in 2019 that he would have a “maximum” of two children, citing environmental concerns.

Such concerns typically range from “What harm will my child do to the world?” to “What harm will a hotter and more violent, less stable world do to my child?” said Meghan Kallman, the co-founder of Concognizable Future, a grassroots network of Americans who against the backdrop of climate chaos conflicted about starting a family.

“The future is so incredibly uncertain… it’s really terrifying to think about the prospect of children that you are having or could have,” she told the BBC.

Not everyone agrees that having fewer children is the best way to protect the future of our planet. “If we look at the child just as an individual consumption unit, an aspect of their parents’ carbon footprint, just like eating a steak or flying, then yes, their very existence could well be a bad thing,” wrote Tom Whyman in Digital Tech and trend magazine The Outline.

“But that’s a really weird way of looking at human life,” he continued. “Each new human exists in part to perpetuate the human species – but they also work transformatively within the world.”

Critics of the fewer children approach often point to both the social and economic implications. Europe’s low birth rate and rapidly aging population has been described by the FT as a “demographic time bomb”.

“There are serious concerns about the impact of an aging population on public finances and economic growth,” the newspaper said.

Ultimately, of course, it is a personal decision whether you want to have children in times of climate change.

Even climate scientist Kimberley Nicholas, co-author of the 2017 Canadian study that recommended having fewer children, has argued that people who really want to be parents should do so.

Speaking to Vox’s Sigal Samuel in April about why “it’s still okay to have kids,” Nicholas argued that “keeping the fossil fuels in the ground and moving to regenerative and sustainable agriculture” has more of an impact on the planet Tackling climate change than controlling climate change would have population.

“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.”

Samuel has made another strong argument in the pregnancy debate. “Children don’t just emit carbon,” she wrote in an article last year. “They are also extraordinarily efficient emitters of joy, meaning, and hope.

“Hopefully, these sentiments will motivate us to keep pushing for the changes our world desperately needs.”

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