Research has found that a growing number of individuals are choosing not to have children due to concerns about the effects of climate change.
More than ten years ago, Emma Smart and her husband, Andy, made the decision to not have children. At that time, their friends and family could not comprehend their choice.
She remembered that it was considered taboo to mention not wanting children to others. And if people asked why, saying it was for the sake of the environment was seen as completely unconventional.
“My brother-in-law chuckled when I mentioned that, from what I recall.”
However, what may have been viewed as an unconventional choice ten years ago is now becoming a more widespread belief due to the increasing recognition of the precarious condition of our planet’s ecosystems. Recent studies have revealed that a significant number of individuals are opting not to have children due to their concerns about the potential consequences of climate change.
A group of professors from University College London conducted a study that is thought to be the initial comprehensive examination of the impact of climate-related worries on reproductive choices.
Their research discovered that in 12 out of 13 studies, increased worries about climate change were linked to a preference for having fewer children or not having any at all.
Smart explained that there were two main factors that influenced her decision. One of them was the moral obligation to consider whether it is responsible to bring a child into a world that may not offer a positive or even feasible future. She shared this with the Guardian.
“However, there is also a secondary ethical issue regarding the environmental impact of having a child. While this may seem detached and focused on statistics rather than emotions, it was a significant factor for us.”
Research conducted by Hope Dillarstone, lead author of a study published in the journal PLOS Climate, identified uncertainty about the future and worries about the ecological consequences of a growing human population as significant factors. Dillarstone and her team also discovered that concerns similar to those raised by Smart were quite common.
However, Dillarstone noted that concerns varied across different regions of the world. She stated, “In Zambia and Ethiopia, there was a specific concern about a family’s ability to sustain themselves and obtain necessary resources.”
There was worry among people that having too many children would decrease the likelihood of their survival, as there would be too many mouths to feed.
Dillarstone’s research also found political reasons people were choosing not to have children – another finding that resonated with Smart’s feelings. Over the past decade, Smart has shifted from working in wildlife conservation to full-time environmental activism, a calling which requires sacrifices incompatible with the responsibilities of having children to look after.
“We thoroughly enjoy being an aunt and uncle, as well as having the ability to actively combat and take chances and make compromises,” stated Smart. “This could mean getting detained or serving time in prison, or giving up our time, in order to ensure a brighter future for our nieces.”
Dillarstone expressed her desire for a deeper comprehension of the factors influencing individuals’ reproductive decisions amidst the climate crisis in order to inform public policy. However, her research also revealed that these reasons are multifaceted and cannot be applied universally across all regions.