You Care About Climate Change. Should You Have Kids?

Marley Flueger
August 17, 2022

As the climate crisis accelerates, more and more people are grappling with humanity's long-term outlook. This has many of us thinking deeper about how our lifestyle choices affect the planet. 

In response, we may take steps to eat a climate-friendly diet or bite the bullet on an electric car. But some folks are weighing an even more impactful decision – whether or not to have kids. 

Climate change is changing how we feel about parenthood

According to recent polls, at least a third of Americans under 45 are considering having fewer or no children because they’re worried about climate change. 

It’s not the first time “the state of the world” has folks rethinking parenthood. Throughout history, humans have delayed or forgone child-rearing in the face of crises like armed conflict, natural disasters, and economic crashes.

But unlike those crises, climate change is an existential threat to all of humanity. This has would-be parents asking two questions:

1. Is it ethical to bring a child into this world?

Experts say we must limit global temperature rise to 2°C to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change. Unfortunately, studies show the world is not yet on track to meet that goal. While more nations are beginning to decarbonize – the outcome is yet to be determined. 

From unprecedented heatwaves across Europe to continued droughts and water shortages in the American Southwest, the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. 

For many folks, this raises scary questions about the world their children will inherit. Will the planet even be habitable in fifty years? Is it humane to bring new life into an uncertain, and worsening future?

“What kind of harm would a hotter and less stable and more potentially violent world do to my kid? It’s thinking about entering this system that feels so very fragile and so very unstable. We’re living in a time of entwined, unending crisis.” - Megan Kallman, The Atlantic

2. Is the environmental impact of having babies too great?

Having a baby also means creating a new person that will consume resources and produce emissions. With the planet already struggling to support our existing population, can it handle the environmental impact of another generation of humans?

It’s a reasonable question. Currently, we’d need 1.8 planets to support humanity’s total resource draw. And some children are born into societies that consume at far higher rates. We’d need five planets, for instance, if everyone lived like Americans.  

Should we stop having babies to save the Earth?

The truth is, every new human puts additional pressure on the planet. For folks who don’t want kids, abstaining from child-rearing can help reduce our collective impact – particularly if you live in a high-carbon society.  

But at Joro, we believe all humans deserve to make their own decisions about parenthood. Ultimately, the goal of reversing the climate crisis is to preserve and sustain life on earth. After all, if there are no children, who are we fighting for? 

For folks who do want kids, it’s valid to consider climate change in your decision. But there’s an even more important question we should all be asking ourselves – how can we create a world where future generations can thrive?

Aspiring to achieve a truly sustainable future isn’t just wishful thinking. According to Project Drawdown, if we make full use of existing solutions, we can begin reversing climate change by mid-century.

We shouldn’t have to give up parenthood to stop climate change. And frankly, even if everyone stopped having kids, it wouldn’t be enough. We need a rapid, collective effort to move the world off fossil fuels so all humans - both existing and yet to come - have a shot at a liveable future.

4 Myths About Having Kids and Climate Change 

Ultimately, the carbon footprint of our future offspring is just a small piece of the climate puzzle. But it’s still important to build an intuition for how our choices affect the planet. Let’s dig into a few common misconceptions.

Myth 1: The planet can’t support any more people

The planet is already struggling to support the nearly 8 billion humans in existence. But this doesn’t mean you’ll fuel further destruction if you decide to have kids. In the US, for example, birth rates have been steadily declining since 2008. This means new children won’t automatically increase our national carbon footprint. 

In fact, we may be approaching our population’s upper limits, even accounting for developing nations with high birth rates. New research suggests the world’s population could peak at 9.7 billion in 2064, and decline to 8.8 billion by 2100. 

Myth 2: Not having children is the best thing you can do for the planet

Every additional human on Earth requires additional resources to support. But reducing birth rates is a short-term fix, and it doesn’t help solve the factors driving climate change in the first place.

Ultimately, the goal is to make life on Earth sustainable – not to stop life on Earth altogether. There are many other actions we can take (like shifting the world off fossil fuels) that can reduce emissions and improve our global systems for the long haul.  

Learn More: Joro’s People of Net Zero series explore how regular folks are building climate action lifestyles. 

Myth 3: All births are wanted

False. According to the United Nations, nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, more than 121 million each year.  Preventing unwanted births has benefits that reverberate throughout society, including reducing global emissions. 

Robust access to reproductive healthcare (along with girls’ education) can improve socio-economic equity between genders, help make women more climate resilient, and reduce pregnancy-related mortality rates, which affect non-white communites disproportionately. 

Learn more: The Link Between Climate Change and Women’s Health 

Myth 4: Overpopulation in the developing world is driving climate change

Birth rates are generally higher in developing countries, but this isn’t what’s driving climate change. In fact, it’s more important to reduce emissions per capita in developed countries than to avoid births in developing ones. That’s because higher-income lifestyles are far more carbon-intensive.  

The wealthiest 10% of people produce half of the planet’s consumption-based emissions. In contrast, the poorest 50% contribute just 10%. While many wealthy nations have stable or declining birth rates, children born in these countries have far larger carbon footprints than those born elsewhere. 

In 2021, Niger had the highest global birth rate: 47 births for every 1,000 people. In contrast, the US saw 11.6 births per 1,000 people – nearly four times fewer. But the average Nigerien produces just 0.1 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, while the average American produces 16.6 tons. For context, it’d take the average American just a few days to emit what a Nigerien emits in a year. 

The same holds true if we look at overall population. India, which is home to 17% of the world’s humans, produces less than 7% of the world’s emissions. On the other hand, the United States holds just 4% of the world’s population and produces 14% of global emissions. 

Learn More: This article explores global wealth and carbon inequality. 

Whether you want kids or not, we all should fight for our future generations

Climate change is making parenthood more complicated, and there simply aren’t any right or wrong answers. All we can do is ask the right questions – ones that lead us closer to a world where anyone who wants to can enter parenthood with confidence and hope. 

Whether or not you become a parent, we all share responsibility for our collective future. And anyone can find inroads to climate action that help create a thriving future for all life forms, both existing and yet to come. 

Build a climate action lifestyle with Joro 

Joro helps regular folks understand their role, and power, in the climate crisis. Simply link your cards to discover the carbon footprint of your spending habits. Next, access personalized tips and tools to live lighter and elevate your climate action practice. 

As a Net Zero member, you can even compensate for the emissions you can’t avoid through carbon offset projects with the greatest potential benefits to humanity. 

Download Joro today

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

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