I’ve always been open with my 13-year-old about the realities of climate catastrophe. She’s the sort of kid who asks questions and initiates difficult conversations.
Since the recent UN released a 33-page report summarising the IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) latest assessment, we’ve begun talking in terms of plans for the future. I don’t shield her from the facts. I've asked her whether she’s thought about not having children.
At her age, I wasn’t even aware of the concept of climate change. But she can’t afford the luxury of being blissfully ignorant. Time is running out. She performed in a play last year based on Derrick Jensen’s graphic novel As the World Burns. She’s painfully aware of the possibility that her children and grandchildren will have a harder time being alive. And the band-aid banalities coming from politicians and lobby groups are no solutions at all.
The majority of people I speak to argue she’s too young to make these decisions, this will damage her, make her depressed, apathetic and pessimistic. They place their faith in technological innovation and the inherent goodness of humanity. Am I making her shoulder a burden she’s not ready for?
Nick, 53, said, "My gut feeling is that kids are not small adults but children and should live a magical childhood full of a sense of wonder and opportunities. Certainly, they shouldn’t be shielded from everything."
Liz, 63, mother of girls ranging from 17 to 42, thinks, "You let them know slowly as they show signs of being able to handle things. There’s already an epidemic of anxiety which paralyses people."
The fact is that a smaller population is better for an already overburdened planet. If my daughter feels the biological imperative to have children, why can’t she adopt? According to figures, there are 153 million orphans worldwide. I’m giving her choice and the chance to think critically about her demands and desires, balanced against the needs of the planet. My husband and I made the conscious decision to stop at one child. I fear my daughter has harder choices than ours to make.
According to the IPCC report, by as early as 2040 the environment could descend into chaos, with heatwaves, droughts, floods and hurricanes becoming the norm. Food supply will be unstable and water scarce. Any rise in temperature above two degrees is catastrophic. By 2050, ecosystems and biomes will die, more species will become extinct and coral reefs gone. Carbon emissions must plummet to zero now for this to be halted. We’ve already reached the point of no return.
Will this plunge my daughter into despair or is it kinder to see things as they really are? Humanity has faced dire challenges for millennia and continued to reproduce, but never before have we faced the possibility of the destruction of the only planet we have.
Dennis, 40, said, "I actually think it’s great that a 13-year-old thinks about these things. It may be too early to make a final decision, but the thought is rooted in empathy … I’ve chosen to have kids despite these thoughts. On the one hand I’m selfish that way, on the other hand I try to raise a conscious kid who will make wise choices and may make a difference in other ways."
Bea, 48, said her two children, 14 and 16, "have already told me they don’t want kids – but they haven’t clearly articulated their reasons as being explicitly due to climate change … the threat of other current issues, such as Trump, rise of the alt-right, neo-liberalism, hyper-sexuality, over-inflation, overpopulation, I’m sure they all have an impact. It’s a pretty scary future being painted for them."
Do we have faith that this inevitable future won’t be so scary? My daughter holds onto hope: that enough people will choose or be forced to live more sustainably and will resist the juggernaut of industrial civilisation. Will this heightened awareness build resilience? Will it prepare her for the ultimate uncertainty?
Judith, 48, said, "My friend is a climate scientist. He says he has started avoiding eye contact with young people. He can’t bear the thought of one of them asking about the future."
The future looks bleak. My daughter will be faced with harder choices than whether to have a child. Yet armed with this early insight, she can be a help and inspiration for others. She’s environmentally conscious, has learned to respect the power of nature and its vulnerability, to want less, buy less, waste less. She’s learning how to grow her own food organically, care for the welfare of animals, regenerate bushland, save water, compost and re-use.
Karen, 40, speaking of her own child, believes "her love is her power, not her fear". My daughter’s final verdict about whether to have children will be informed by this depth of love.