Is going childfree the answer to our climate crisis?
By Claire Poulton

Climate change is real, and the impending doom it poses generally tends to provoke two primary reactions. For some, this involves an understandable retreat from imagining the apocalyptic scenarios predicted and trying to get on with business as usual – leaving it to the scientists, politicians and decision makers of the world to figure out. For others it involves a critical re-evaluation of lifestyle choices. You may have heard of friends opting to cut back on their red meat consumption and proudly proclaim their conversion to vegan/ vegetarianism in the interest of environmental sustainability.  Some make a conscious decision to reduce food waste, install solar panels, change to an electric car and choose sustainably produced garments over fast fashion.

These are all relatively simple and easy adjustments to make, but what about more profound life decisions? For some, the existential crises posed by climate change is so severe it’s making them think twice about having kids.

The growing movement

A new study indicated that 22 per cent of Australian women between 30 and 39 years were re-considering having children or more children because of climate change. The same study also indicated that one in three women under 30 involved in environmental groups are so worried about the future of the planet they are likewise reconsidering having biological children. Over 6,500 women answered the survey, which was conducted by The Australian Conservation Foundation and 1 Million Women.

Although some might think this apprehension towards having children is needlessly alarmist the UN may disagree. An October 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world has just 12 years to keep the globe’s average temperature at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic impacts of climate change. Even half a degree higher would greatly increase the risks of massive food and water shortages, a rise in sea levels, devastating natural disasters, and deadly disease outbreaks.

The clearest present-day impacts of climate change in Australia are associated with warming temperatures and increases in the number, duration and severity of heatwaves. Increased risk of drought, desertification and bush fires are also expected. All of which has the potential to jeopardise food security and increase the mortality rate. The Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef have experienced devastating destruction of their coral reef systems over recent years due to climate change. In light of such evidence, the decision by some to not have children seems like a logical one.

The problem with overpopulation

Human overpopulation can be something of an awkward topic and is often shunned from mainstream discourse. Procreation is of course natural, and no one wants to make parents feel guilty or defensive about having children. Nevertheless, the issue of overpopulation has long been a concern in environmental circles. Our numbers have skyrocketed over the past century from to 2.3 billion in 1940, 3.7 billion in 1970 and now approaching 8 billion in 2019.

Human overpopulation has been aggregating the causes of climate change. Although the birth rate in developing countries has been going down, resource consumption and energy use has been going up. The environmental toll of having just one child is reportedly 58.6 tonnes of carbon each year.

It’s not surprising then, that some women who are conscious of these effects and concerned about resource depletion, poverty and inequality may opt for a childfree life.

image of women protesting climate change
Source: ABC Radio Sydney, Harriet Tatham

Last year thousands of students defied calls by the Prime Minister and marched on the nation’s capital cities to demand action on climate change. The move exemplifies how acutely important the future of the planet is to many young people and how fervent their desire is for comprehensive climate policy.