The smog of Santiago, Chile loomed outside the tiny cubicle where I slumped my head onto my propped elbow and began to grieve for my children.
For another moment, I let myself imagine a small toddler, with little pieces of me in their hair, or their eyes, but hopefully not their smile. (I maxed out my family's orthodontic insurance before my second set of braces, but after the headgear.) The sun shines outside my imagined living room, a future partner and I are beaming, cozy as the toddler giggles with an older sibling.
My parents would be the best grandparents. My dad has adopted the cardinals that visit his office window, scatters special squirrel feed in the backyard, and sends an endearing number of cat photos to our family group message. As his children grew up and out, he found other places to put his innate capacity for fatherly love. Would my children call him Poppy, like his brother, Grandpa, like his father, or Big T, his height-related nickname?
My mom is a teacher by nature and by trade. Her organized craft activities were enjoyed mainly by my younger sisters, but I grew to love the museum-centered road trips that made up our spring break vacations. Before I could protest, she would pick up my children and take them to the same museums, placing them on her hip so they could see the dinosaur bones and miniature dollhouses.
None of that will happen.
Founded in 2018, BirthStrike existed as a U.K.-based climate justice advocacy group that focused on, "raising awareness by saying this is now affecting the human ability and desire to give birth." BirthStrikers remained a small, fringe group until it disbanded in September 2020. Despite its size, the radical perspective garnered publicity through news articles, television, and podcast appearances. In the U.S., ConceivableFuture has acted similarly.
While these groups have remained fringe, the sentiment becomes more mainstream every day. When Miley was still with Liam, she told Elle Magazine, "We’re getting handed a piece-of-shit planet, and I refuse to hand that down to my child." Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has questioned whether or not it is still ethical to have children. In early 2019, Business Insider found that over a third of young people (ages 18-29) in the U.S. believed, "climate change should be a factor in a couple's decision about whether to have children."
With wildfires raging the Pacific Coast and hurricanes frequenting the Atlantic Coast, it is hard to fathom what the world would like for a future child. Would I be creating a doomed existence of life? Would my decision to have a child make everything worse? Are more people not the last thing this planet needs?
I am not blaming the climate crisis on overpopulation. Nor am I suggesting that women across the world need to make this decision or face blame otherwise. A refute I have received to my position (a personal decision to not have children due to the climate crisis) went something like, "if you think the problem is overpopulation, then you just hate poor people."
That is the opposite of my point. The average person in Nigeria, Tanzania, or Ethiopia (countries with some of the highest population growth rates) consumes a fraction of the resources the average person in the U.S. consumes. It is the wealthiest countries, with the wealthiest people, having more wealthy children that are wrecking the planet. I make deliberate efforts to be as environmentally friendly as possible: I reluctantly gave up cheese, my family composts food waste, and I only buy clothes secondhand. But I still drive a fossil-fuel powered car, fall far from zero-waste habits, and use commercial airplanes for leisure travel. If our children are a continuation of ourselves, the damage of another me would be reckless.
The research produces a clear, logical answer that I cannot ignore.
But it sucks. The desire to have a family, to hold little fingers and little toes, to look in their eyes and see pieces of me or a future partner, has been innate. I picked out names in fourth grade that will go unused. The future that I had planned for myself, that my entire generation has planned for ourselves, is ripped further away everyday.
Journalists link climate anxiety with the growing numbers of young people stepping away from having children of their own. But the decision was already made for me and for all of us. It has been over a year since my summer in Chile, where the effects of climate change became too obvious to push away further. But I am still grieving.