Population Matters

Climate change and children – a growing concern?

Climate change and children – a growing concern?

Increasingly, people are taking climate change into consideration when making decisions about having children, reports The New York TimesCoverage of the subject in the past year alone indicates that these considerations are part of an ongoing, growing discussion surrounding climate change, the impact our growing global population has on it and how family size can help mitigate its effects. The article in The New York Times is the latest such example of this.

While reasons for considering climate change and ensuing decisions about family size vary, they all point to one thing: that our environmental situation is critical and people are increasingly willing to see the link to population and act accordingly.

A range of reasons …

flooding due to climate change

The New York Times article mentions a recent study that shows how climate change has become a major factor for 18-43 year olds when it comes to making decisons about having children.

Reasons given by interviewees include

  • poorer quality of life arising from increasingly extreme weather patterns, such as wild fires, hurricanes, flooding;
  • unstable future society – social instability looms as the effects of climate change worsen (see the open letter 15,000 scientists wrote calling for urgent action) following a lag in governmental responses to climate change;
  • or the fact that having a child is one of the costliest environmental actions one can take at this stage, especially in high-consuming, industrialised countries.

Those considering climate change in their decisions do not fit a single profile. They are women, men, liberals, conservatives, individuals from different religions and regions of the world.

…a range of decisions

Responses vary. Some opt to have one child, others to adopt. Some would rather have two so they can be together when things get bad while others vow to raise their children to be climate change fighters. Other still chose to be childfree.

Often described as selfish, it is the opposite that motivates many of the childfree. Elizabeth Bogard, an 18 year old student from Northern Illinois University explains: Parenthood is “something that I want but it’s hard for me to justify my wants over what matters and what’s important for everyone.”

Seeing the effects of climate change

Choosing not to have children was particularly widespread amongst those who have seen the effects of climate change, as Ms. Kaff, 33 from Cairo said in an email: “I’ve seen how Syrian refugees, who are running from a devastating war, are being treated. Imagine how my children will be treated if they have to flee their country due to extreme weather, drought, lack of resources, flooding. I know that humans are hard-wired to procreate,” she said, “but my instinct now is to shield my children from the horrors of the future by not bringing them to the world.”

Having to take climate change in consideration is difficult for most, but important, and the feelings around the issue a measure of the extremity of the situation – and how urgently we need to take action.

Take action

Population Matters welcomes the fact that people are increasingly taking the environment considerations in their decisions about family size. Each one of us puts pressure on the natural world, consumes the Earth’s finite resources and contributes to climate change. Find out more about smaller families here.

You can find out more about climate change and population by attending our conference on the subject on the 3rd March or read more about solutions here.

Follow us