Climate Change and Parenthood
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to have children of my own at some undetermined point in my adult life. This desire remains true today, in the sense that I think I would really enjoy the experience of raising another person and having a relationship that’s unique between a parent and child. However, given the current state of our world, amongst the many compounding crises — pandemic, climate change, biodiversity loss, erosion of democracy, increasing wealth disparity etc. — I now find myself questioning whether or not I still want to thrust a child into this cruel world we live in.
I know that some people of my generation (and younger) occasionally get hung up on the discussion around the carbon footprint of having children, as if we are supposed to bear the brunt of the blame for the future emissions our children might create. I find this argument to be nonsense, because this wouldn’t even be a debate if we could convince ourselves to transition off of fossil fuels and move towards a more sustainable way of life with any sense of meaningful urgency. Oil and gas companies should be forced to shut down their operations, before we even begin critiquing the carbon footprint of having children.
My concerns with parenthood are centered around the state of the world — and our society — that I would be leaving my child (or children) to deal with in my eventual absence. I cannot in good conscience force someone — especially my own child — to live in a world where much the globe may be inhospitable for humanity, where food and water scarcity is a permanent issue, where resource wars are fought as a result of this scarcity, and people continue to be forced into working 40+ hours per week just to scrape by.
People my age already find it difficult to find well paying jobs, let alone careers that they actually enjoy or find meaningful. Housing is in short supply, and what’s available is increasingly priced out of our grasp, even for those of us who are just looking to rent. Buying is not an option for many people of my generation, especially without a partner to share the financial burden with. What will this situation look like in 18 to 25 years if I were to have a child of my own anytime soon? The future looks bleak.
Why would I want to raise a child in a world where housing isn’t guaranteed or even affordable? A world where myself or my partner are not guaranteed paid parental leave, where childcare is inaccessible, where eyeglasses/vision, dental care, mental health supports, and other health services are provided at a cost, rather than seen as essential rights. Even if we have a habitable planet in the year 2100, that doesn’t guarantee it will be a safe and equitable place for people and non-human beings to coexist
I hate that because of the actions (and consistent inactions) of others — including the people we have elected as our leaders — that my desire to have children feels increasingly irresponsible to them and their future livelihood. It’s not MY fault. I didn’t create the world we are forced to exist within, and my desire to change this world is insatiable, but until we see actual positive signs of improvement, I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable with having children anymore.
This doesn’t mean that I’m pessimistic about our future, I think that I’m just being realistic given the current circumstances. I can’t guarantee that things will be as bleak as they are predicted to be (without action), but I am definitely cautious. I will work hard to fight for a better tomorrow, and I believe that change is possible. I truly believe that humanity will get our shit together eventually when it comes to the climate crisis, because at some point, those in charge will realize they have to. Otherwise, they risk condemning our entire species to extinction. The only questions are how soon will that realization come?, and how quickly will we act?
If and when we finally develop a plan to deal with the climate crisis, will our solutions come under the economic system of capitalism? Solutions are already available, but will working class people be forced to pay more out of their pockets so that corporations can profit from cleaning up the mess they themselves created? Will workers still be exploited to the benefit of business owners, and will wealth disparity continue to grow? A greenwashed form of capitalism is not the just, equitable, caring future I wish to see for our planet or our children, regardless of whether or not it successfully addresses the climate crisis. Imagine how disappointing it would be if our species could finally get our act together to save our future, only to keep ourselves wedded to the bondage of wage labour.
We have EIGHT(!) years remaining to cut global emissions in half by 2030 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Given mine and my wife’s ages (31 and 29 respectively), if we are ever going to have children, it will likely need to happen within those next eight years. As things currently stand, the trajectory of our society does not look favourable for our children and grandchildren, but despite this I remain hopeful.
There are so many good people doing important work around the world to address our intersecting crises, and to help others recognize the urgency with which we need to fix these issues. We all have a role to play in creating the society we would like to see for future generations, and I hope that world is more caring, liberating, and equitable than the world we live in today. Without any progress towards that destination, I might never feel confident enough to bring another person into this world, but I will continue to fight for that future regardless of whether my lineage continues or not. It would be more irresponsible of me to do nothing.