Climate change is real, and it will start damaging the planet in irreversible ways very, very soon. An October 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that we have 12 years to keep the globe’s average temperature at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; even half a degree higher would greatly increase the risks for drought, poverty, and extreme weather.
If you’ve heard about the report, chances are it caused you to do one of two things: 1. Internally freak out about our impending doom and become so overwhelmed that you decided to not think about it and leave the unprecedented changes up to those in laboratories and the White House. 2. Internally freak out about our impending doom and then wonder what you can do to help.
For many women, that goes beyond recycling, switching to an electric car, or avoiding fast fashion. It also extends to the choices we make about family. According to a 2017 study, the number one thing people in industrialized countries can do to limit climate change is have fewer children; not having a baby could save as much carbon per year as 73 people going vegetarian. However, Kimberly Nicholas, who co-authored the report, told ELLE that the report wasn’t meant to make people feel guilty for having children. “If I had a burning hole in my heart to have a child and I knew that it would also be the biggest contribution to climate change that I would make, I think that I would do it anyway,” she said. Nicholas also said she believes lowering your own energy consumption is more important than deciding not to have children: “It’s not so much about whether you choose to have a child. It’s about what kind of lifestyle you choose to raise that child in.”
But still, other women are choosing not to have biological children for the sake of the planet. Below, five women sound off on their reasoning.
“If my hypothetical children were to ask me one day, ‘Why did you bring me onto the planet knowing what a dire situation it was in?’ there’s no reasonable answer I could give to justify my actions. There’s not much I can do as an individual to stop climate change, but I can do my part to not leave a future generation to suffer through global catastrophe.
I’ve never really wanted kids, but the recent announcement from scientists that we (humanity) have 12 years to stem the tide of catastrophic climate change validates and solidifies my decision.
It sounds defeatist, but when we have a White House administrations that’s unwilling to admit climate change is a problem, and the U.S., along with China, India, and Russia, producing astronomical amounts of greenhouse emissions, individual effort is a drop in the bucket without policy change.”
“Up until I was in my mid-twenties I had always viewed having kids not so much as something I really wanted, but something that was inevitable. It seemed like a natural path everyone around me took, and I assumed that at some point it would appeal to me. I’ve been with my partner for six years, and my biological clock never kicked in. Ultimately, we both agree that the environmental stakes are too high for something we feel ambivalent about at best.
Besides being vegetarian, I also try to make energy conscious choices when I can, like riding my bike to work instead of driving. My job at the Center for Biological Diversity is to help people make the connection between unsustainable population growth and its effects on endangered species and their habitat. As our population grows, we’re increasingly beating out wildlife for resources and space and none of the eco-conscious choices we make will matter if our population keeps growing at the current rate.
Population needs to become a bigger part of the environmental conversation, and we use our Endangered Species Condoms as a way to start that conversation and educate people about how safe sex can save the planet.
Many people don’t know that having one less child saves nearly 60 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. This is more than the emission savings from more commonly advertised ‘green’ actions like recycling, eating a plant-based diet, and living car-free combined. Educating people about this could help them rethink their family planning choices and what kind of world they want to leave their kids if they decide to have them.”
Asya Shein, 39, CEO of Fusicology
“I grew up in Toronto, and Canada was always quite progressive in discussing pollution [and] environmental issues like animal extinction.
When I was younger I thought I might want kids, but now that it seems like climate change is coming stronger and faster than previously assumed. I just don’t feel like it’s right to bring people who could have a much more difficult life onto this already very stressed-out planet.“
“My fourth grade teacher was and is a climate change activist and she drilled the importance of respecting the earth into us pretty early. So I always had that sense of environmental responsibility, but I’d say the real thrust of it hit me over the last few years.
I’ve always waffled about whether or not to have kids. I’ll go through phases where I’m convinced I want them and then phases when I’m convinced I don’t. I never really considered adopting until I started thinking seriously about climate change, but now when I think about having kids it makes more sense to me to adopt, because it’s like a win-win: Better for the environment by not contributing to overpopulation, and it helps a kid in need.
I do the usual [to combat climate change]: I’m a vegetarian, and I recycle and attend protests, etc. But honestly I’m doing what most of us with very little power to change things beyond an individual level are doing: the bare minimum.”
“I think I started to understand climate change after I graduated from college. I stopped eating meat for a while and even when I started eating meat again, I drastically cut back my consumption. I recycled everything that was recyclable and stopped drinking bottled water.
Growing up, I had always envisioned a family and having children, but as I have gotten older my views have changed. I believe that climate change is going to have a strong negative impact on future generations, and they are inheriting a bad situation.
Climate change is also going to have a huge impact on food production and the world is already becoming over-populated—another reason why I do not want to have children.
If [the effects of climate change] were really a priority, we would see change being made like no more coal and more solar power and renewable resources.”