He’s not the first high-profile figure to link reproduction to the climate crisis. In a July interview with Elle, Miley Cyrus said, “We’re getting handed a piece-of-shit planet, and I refuse to hand that down to my child. Until I feel like my kid would live on an earth with fish in the water, I’m not bringing in another person to deal with that. ” Her interviewer responded, “I feel like that’s what all millennials are dealing with right now.”
At the start of July, HuffPost covered a rising grassroots movement of people who are questioning the ethics of having kids in a rapidly warming world, where global leaders seem united only in inaction. Since that article was published, the world has struggled through the hottest month ever recorded, the Arctic has been gripped by hundreds of unprecedented and devastating wildfires, and Greenland’s icebergs have experienced a “major melt event,” sending billions of tons of water flowing into the ocean.
We have also been overwhelmed with responses from readers telling us their stories about kids and climate change.
They’ve told us how they shelved plans to have children and how that caused family rifts. Some even had their fears dismissed by therapists. We heard from a number of older people who said they had seen the environmental crisis coming in the 1970s and ’80s and had decided not to have children or to stop at one. We heard from those who have adopted kids because they did not want to add more people to the planet.
Some responses were uplifting, many were heartbreaking, all were searingly honest. Here’s what they told us. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
“My decision is being yanked away from me.”
I’m one of those women facing that decision, and I’ve felt utterly alone and unheard. It’s caused me deep depression and anxiety. I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to experience pregnancy, birth and motherhood. But now that the planet’s future is so bleak and our leaders are so unwilling to act, it seems as though it would be incredibly selfish and morally reprehensible for me to decide to bring a person into a world I know they likely won’t be able to live a full life in.
It feels as though my decision of whether or not to have a child at all is being yanked away from me.
Mental health professionals are not prepared to handle this scenario. I’ve tried to seek help to deal with the sadness and anger I feel about this, and every counselor or psychiatrist I’ve visited has essentially told me “that’s a weird thing to be concerned about” or I should just do whatever I want.
Friends and family are also unsympathetic and insensitive, telling me I’m making a big deal out of a future they don’t think is necessarily guaranteed or that the fact that I’m even having these thoughts means that, deep down, I must not want kids anyway.
Knowing that there are others struggling with this decision is incredibly helpful.
“The future is too grim.”
I read a New York Times article called “Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.” I was browsing articles late at night before going to bed, and my body went cold as I started to read. I immediately felt sick and almost started crying. I couldn’t believe it. The image of a docile post-climate world had shattered. We won’t be using tote bags at the grocery store in 2050 — because we don’t know if we will have enough food and water.
Over the next few days, the question of children began to gnaw at me. Would I be able to show my future children the beauty of the natural world, as my parents had done for me? Will my favorite places — the Pacific Northwest forests, mountains and islands of my childhood — be clear cut, burnt in wildfires or underwater by the time they are old enough to appreciate them? What will I do if there isn’t enough clean water for them to drink?
To combat my fears, I started volunteering. I opened my ears to stories and experiences of those most vulnerable to this crisis, people who are marginalized by their geographical location, race, class and ability. Since reading that article, I have also done the following: looked up doctors who are willing to perform a tubal ligation on someone my age, started crying in the baby section at Goodwill, and made family events awkward with my profession that the future is too grim for me to personally decide, right now, to have children.
― Allie Seroussi, 27
“I had a vasectomy because I was terrified.”
I had a vasectomy 10 years ago because I was terrified that I might accidentally get my girlfriend pregnant. I’ve been worried about the future of our planet for as long as I can remember. I liken having a child with buying a loved one a ticket on the Titanic knowing it would sink.
At the time I decided to have a vasectomy, my doctor tried to talk me out of it. He said a reversal is expensive and not always successful and that I would probably regret it. I have yet to regret it. In fact, with every passing year since, I’ve become more confident I made the right decision.
It was a very easy decision for me. I just asked myself if I had a choice, would I want to be born today. … The answer is no.
― Michael S., 42
“I made a better future by having my son.”
I was in college for the first Earth Day [in 1970]. My biology class went out to pick up trash from the lot where the carnival had been set up, next to a stream in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was that day that I started considering whether to have children or not.
Fast forward to 1981. I find myself pregnant. I decide to go through with the pregnancy. And I’m glad I did.
Every generation had its challenges. Every generation feels that their challenges are the worst. And maybe this generation’s are, at the moment. I fully understand. It’s a very personal decision.
Our son has turned out to be the best thing I have accomplished in this life. He has been my greatest teacher. He is accomplishing things that are making life better for the people in his community, and possibly his state. I am a firm believer in choice and chose not to have a second child. But I feel that even with my fears that I had for the future, I made a better future by having him.
― Robbie Spransy, 68
“Instead of adding to the population, we chose to adopt.”
Raising adopted children still requires resources, and the carbon footprint of a child raised in the U.S. is higher than in many other countries, but for a child who might not otherwise have a stable family, or any family at all, does it not make sense?
We adopted four children from India starting in 1996 ― first an infant, then a toddler, then an older sibling pair. The judge in India who heard our first adoption case refused, for a month, to approve it because she could not understand why a potentially fertile couple would want to adopt a child, let alone a female child.
We have repeatedly encountered a similar lack of understanding over the years, even within our own families. This has been baffling, as to us adoption has always seemed to be the most logical way of building a family. We wanted to be parents, and the children were already here and unable to grow up with their birth families for whatever reason. Instead of adding to the population, we chose to use the resources we would have dedicated to biological children to provide a home for children who might not otherwise have one.
― Susan Powell, 54
“I have been called selfish, as if I owed the world a child.”
I saw the climate crisis coming and decided not to reproduce. We could not continue taking and taking as if Earth’s resources were infinite; we could not continue to poison our air, food and water; and we could not continue to reproduce at historic rates and expect never to reach a breaking point where the Earth could no longer sustain us.
From time to time I have been called selfish for my decision, as if I somehow owed the world another human being. It’s true that my childless status has allowed me a degree of personal freedom that people with children do not have. But some of that freedom is freedom from fear and guilt for the destiny to which I have consigned my offspring. I have never for even a moment regretted my decision.
― Faith, 68
“People keep asking what’s wrong with us.”
We really feel like we made the right choice [not to have children], and for now we are happy with our decision. But in our current society people are not always very welcoming to new social norms like deciding not to have children.
It’s a constant battle with emotions that shouldn’t be there in the first place, but it’s truly hard not to feel bad when people keep asking what’s wrong with us, and even when you tell them that it was a choice, they don’t believe you and say things like why haven’t we tried fertility clinics, or maybe I should wear boxers instead of briefs. Just really insensitive, and sometimes funny. But never very nice.
It’s finally getting to a point where society is a little more aware of what’s going on, but it’s going to take a long time before we get there. And I hope that our future doesn’t end up so bad for the sake of all the children that will be living in that world.
― Trino Avello, 38
“I’m hesitant to be honest with my family about my fears.”
I do not feel like it’s a topic I can broach with friends who do already have children or with my family. I’m worried I’d come across as judgmental of their decision to have kids or just make them feel really badly about their child’s future.
My husband and I got married this past December; we’ve been together for 10 years. We always assumed we’d have kids and even have names picked out. Once the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out in 2018, I felt like my whole world was rocked and ever since then I’ve seriously questioned the morality of bringing children into this world.
My sister is currently pregnant with her second child and while I’m thrilled for her because she is the most incredible mom, I’m also terrified. Our families keep asking us when my husband and I will have children, as if it’s a given. I keep putting them off, hesitant to be honest about my existential fears around climate change as the reason I’m not sure if we ever will have kids. I’m not sure they’d understand, or they’d think we are being crazy. I think they are living in denial.
― Name withheld, 31
“Climate anxiety played a big part in only having one child.”
I have one child, who is 2 years old. Climate change and my anxiety surrounding it played a very big part in my and my husband’s decision to only have one child.
It took me a long time (five years into our marriage, 37 years into my life) before we conceded we wanted to have one. My mind was consumed by the thoughts of what kind of future my child would have, and I still think about this more days than not. What will be left for him and for the other children at his school? My friend’s children? My extended family’s children? How will it affect them?
This problem feels so big, so overwhelming, that I often feel dejected and hopeless, even about the efforts I’m making. These fears keep me up at night. I worry about my son’s access to food, clean water and other resources that may be affected by climate change. When I see his innocent smile and how happy he is, I often feel tremendous sadness. With all of this anxiety, I can’t believe I had one child!
― Name withheld, 39
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