One of the predicted effects of climate change is the mass extinction of plant and animal species
Millennials (born between 1981-1996) and Post-Millennials (born 1997-present) are causing a stir by announcing they would not have children (or limit the amount of children they have), due to the uncertain future surrounding climate change. While this train of thought has only recently gained momentum amongst millennials in Sri Lanka, in other parts of the world high profile couples such UK royals, Prince Harry and Megan Markle have publicly stated they only want a maximum of two children due to these concerns about the environment.
Predictably, their comments were met with reactions ranging from disbelief and anger to that of solidarity from other young adults who had made similar decisions and were struggling with backlash from friends and family. Created by these concerns, groups such as BirthStrike and Conceivable Future have formed as a resource to support people who are grappling with the idea of bringing a child into an ecologically unsustainable world. High on their list of worries is the additional amount of carbon emissions each child would generate and concerns around overpopulation.
These young adults want to be clear about one thing – they aren’t an anti-natalist movement (the philosophical position that believes all human birth is unethical and advocates for voluntary extinction) –many would love to start a family.
Prospective parents already make decisions on whether to have a child based on their employment situation/ income, health, family situation – but having to also factor in that the planet could become inhabitable in their child’s lifetime is a decision that Millenials believe shouldn’t even be a factor. 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and that humans caused it so for these prospective parents, it’s not a case of if this would happen to their children, but when? The above statistics are supported by a report which was part of a peer-reviewed science project called the Consensus Project titled “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in scientific literature” published in 2013.
Predicted effects of climate change, while each country would face its own unique challenges, may include:
Personal carbon emissions
The carbon footprint of children
A recent study from Lund University in Sweden concluded that having one less (or no children) is the biggest way an individual can lower his or her personal carbon emissions, but the report was met with criticism where suggestions were made that individuals are personally responsible for stopping climate change. According to the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor “We should focus instead on overconsumption, and that putting the onus on individuals to address climate change obscures the systematic nature of the crisis,” letting “the real culprits—fossil fuel corporations and successive global governments’ inaction—off the hook.”
The emphasis on the ‘consumption of the rich’ resonates strongly in the developing world, where per capita emissions are much lower than in western countries, for example, the average American adult emits 15.6 metric tonnes of carbon per year, while in Sri Lanka its less than one tonne per person each year. This means Americans produce more than 15 times the carbon than someone in Sri Lanka would emit, yet Sri Lanka is listed as number two in the Global Risk Index of countries to be negatively affected by climate change and we are already seeing this in the form of the current drought, soil erosion, flooding and landslides.
It is manifestly unfair that the poor will bear the brunt of adverse climate change impacts, although it is mainly the rich who caused the problem.
With regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa expected to double in population by 2050, and the current world population figures sitting at around 7.1 billion people, the United Nations is predicting the world’s population to grow to 10 billion by 2050. Overpopulation comes with environmental problems such as lack of resources, food and water, pollution and homelessness as well as social issues including malnutrition, gender inequality and the spread of disease.
While overpopulation in developed countries is less of an issue as women in countries such as the UK, Europe and Australia are naturally having fewer children; parts of Africa and Asia are already struggling with the effects of overpopulation and extreme poverty which could only become worse with an increase in global temperatures.
The best way of addressing overpopulation is through education. According to Population Matters “Where women and girls have economic empowerment, education and freedom, they choose to have smaller families. Greater freedom usually leads to greater uptake of family planning”. Combined with information on contraception, having fewer children in developing countries would not only be beneficial in alleviating poverty but also emitting less carbon.
What’s the solution?
On a purely individual level, having one less child won’t make a significant difference. Young people know that their actions alone can’t bring about the policy change and infrastructure development needed to prevent the worst of the predicted effects. Deciding not to have children is a statement that shows how serious they are about the climate crisis and adolescents, in particular, are much more likely to make changes to their behaviour if it is perceived to make a positive change - whether it having one less child (or adopting instead) driving an electric car or eating less meat.
The Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 Vision and Strategic Path report prepared by the Presidential Expert Commission echo these sentiments, “Historically and in an evolutionary sense, the youth are not satisfied with the status quo. Youth expectations far exceed the typical apathy of the general population that accepts that change takes time. The youth of any nation, want to do better than the previous generation, avoid and correct the mistakes of the previous generation, and secure a future that is less uncertain than the one they matured into. Youth drive innovation, fashion, and social revolution. They are commonly accepted as catalysts and agents of change”.
No-one can tell a prospective parent who is dealing with feelings of guilt over their desire to have a child what the best decision is for them to make. The next-generation of children could become the world leaders, the scientists and the inventors that have the potential to get us out of this mess. The only question is – do we have time for them to grow up?
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