I want to have kids but I worry about the impact on climate change. How can I move forward guilt-free?
- Share your feelings with like-minded people and a therapist who specializes in parenthood decisions.
- Consider what you can control, and what would need to happen for you to feel good about parenthood.
- Pregnant with questions? Submit your question to Anna anonymously here for nonjudgmental answers.
My partner and I are thinking about starting a family. It's something we've both always imagined for ourselves, and we're lucky to be at financially stable place in our lives with family nearby.
But. I have a little pit in my stomach thinking about the impact of children on the
My parents, who are eager for grandkids, and to some extent my partner, who's less climate conscious, don't really understand. Please help.
- Jeanne, San Diego
You're to be commended: Often when people (like me) think about the cons of parenthood, we think of things like the expense, stress, and lack of freedom. You know, selfish things. But your concern is altruistic and quite valid.
To answer this question, I looped in my colleague,
Research has shown that having one less child is a more effective way of cutting down a person's carbon footprint than recycling, driving an electric car, being vegetarian, or using renewable energy. Each additional person uses up more already-scant resources, and contributes to even more greenhouse-gas emissions that further warm the planet.
Your concern about your theoretical kids' future is valid, too. 2020 tied for Earth's hottest year on record; the average global temperature has increased by at least 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 140 years. Soon, if not already, there will be no place to hide from the destructive consequences of humans' climate-altering behavior.
So no wonder you're worried, and you're not alone. Sabrina Helm, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, has interviewed dozens of people grappling with parenthood amidst a climate crisis. She found the most common worries were about overconsumption, overpopulation, and raising kids when the future looks bleak.
She also found they weren't getting a lot of sympathy from family and friends. "They were fearful of expressing that in their social environment because it's just against the social norm," Helm told me. "You're supposed to want children, and so we see that particularly women who decide against having children be it for the environment or other reasons are seen as deviant."
But the fear is real, and talking about it (with the right people) is key to managing the mental-health consequences of walking around with that burden.
Share your story with like-minded people, and a professional
There are whole organizations like Conceivable Future in the US dedicated to supporting people in making this decision. Checking out testimonies from people like you or submitting your own could help bring some clarity.
Plus, the more stories that are out there, the more the group hopes the public perception of climate change shifts from something "over there" to something intimate. Adding yours pushes that needle.
Talking to a therapist is always a great idea. There's even a crop of professionals dedicated to helping people decide if they want to have kids, no matter what's on their "cons" list.
Ann Davidman, a "parenthood clarity therapist," for one, wrote for Vox that she recommends test-driving each decision: Decide that you're having kids and live with that for five days, noticing and writing about how it feels. Then, do the same with the choice to live child-free. How does that feel?
Ask yourself: What would need to happen for you to feel good about starting a family?
Perhaps my favorite advice of Davidman's is asking yourself: "What would it take or what would have to happen in order for you to say 'yes' to parenthood and feel good about it?"
Maybe it's having your partner validate your concern and agree on how you want to raise kids in a climate-conscious way. Helm has talked to people who saw that having children could have a positive effect on the environment, if the next generation is more aware and dedicated to action. One participant noted that not having kids was, in a way, giving up hope for a brighter future.
Maybe feeling good about a "yes" to parenthood means adopting or fostering, a choice some people in Helm's study saw as the "sustainable" alternative to biological children.
Maybe the only thing that feels good is saying "no."
But if feeling good about parenthood means counting on something you can't control, consider that life and world circumstances are never perfect for child-rearing. Just ask the parents of the 45% of pregnancies that are unplanned, or anyone with a pandemic baby.
There's also a counterargument, if we're going to think broadly about the implications of having or not having children: Some economists and public
"If you're waiting to be completely free of anxiety before trying to conceive, that's probably unrealistic. And that's OK," Maryland-based therapist Melissa Weinberg told me for an earlier column. Instead, work to build skills to cope with your fears. "You can be afraid and still takes steps towards having the life you want," she said.
The climate crisis isn't all on your shoulders
Finally, consider how much faith you have in our scientists, world leaders, and governments to tackle this crisis going forward. Many scientists argue the scale of the climate change problem has become so severe that collective, political action is more important than individual actions.
If we cut our greenhouse-gas emissions, work towards pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it underground, and further invest in renewable energies like wind and solar power, the upward march of global temperatures doesn't have to continue.
"One of the things that strikes me so much about climate change is how optional so much of it is," Kate Marvel, a climate scientist with NASA, said. "Doomism suggests a worse-case scenario - and we don't have to go there."
Senior health reporter Anna Medaris Miller is here to answer all of your questions about
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