By Robert A. Vella

Back in the early days of the Reagan administration, I made a personal decision not to have children.  Although my fiancé very much wanted kids of her own and our relationship was certainly on that path, I came to the realization that my responsibility to raise a child in a healthy environment was more important than satisfying my familial instinct.

My decision was not arrived at lightly, nor was it completely rational.  It was based as much on intuition as it was on the information at hand.  First of all, it was clear that I would need to be the primary breadwinner and my eventual professional career was still a few years distant.  Second, I was deeply concerned about the societal effects of global warming which I had been studying intensely since high school.  But, more than that, I had an ominous feeling about the future which I couldn’t quite grasp consciously.  Something profound had changed in the world with the elections of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K.  These conservative ideologues seemed to harbor inner hostilities towards the middle class and poor from which I was born.  Even worse, I saw working class people ironically cheering them on as if oblivious to the hostility I had perceived.  I couldn’t quite understand it at the time, but I did feel anxiety that the world was headed towards a darker place – a place I wouldn’t want for my children.

Our relationship ended several months later.  I never married nor had any children.

I’m not sure how many people of my generation had similar misgivings, but many obviously did.  The U.S. birth rate dropped precipitously among Baby Boomers, and it is now the lowest on record.  Without immigration, the population would be declining in the United States.

Historically, birth rates are generally tied to economic conditions.  During times of prosperity, people have more babies.  During times of austerity, they have less.  However, there are many other factors too.  Culture plays a significant role in reproduction, and politics can as well (e.g. the Lebensborn program in Nazi Germany).  The states of war and peace are also impactful dynamics in procreation especially with respect to their duration and intensity.  And, today, the issue of climate change has risen in prominence much more so than it was decades ago.

From:  A world too hot and dangerous for children? Some millennials think so

Fears of bringing children into a troubled world may be as old as recorded history. The government reported last year that U.S. birth rates had hit a 30-year low, attributed partly to millennials who felt they were under economic duress.

But climate concern also appears to be surging. Today’s young adults have been taught since grade school that life on Earth promises to become more precarious. Now, groups have formed to support conversation around the tenuous future. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., recently posted an Instagram Live video that brought attention to the question. Given the looming fallout of climate change, she asked, “Is it OK to still have children?”

A recent poll for Business Insider found that 30 percent of Americans agree, at least somewhat, that the potentially life-threatening effects of climate change should be factored into decisions about whether to have children. A little more than 8 percent of those surveyed strongly held that view. And a New York Times poll last summer revealed that 11 percent of those who don’t want children, or aren’t sure, cited climate change as one reason.


Four years ago, two women who shared fears about rearing children in such a world formed the group Conceivable Future to create a safe space for talk about it. One of the co-founders, Josephine Ferorelli, a writer, editor and yoga instructor, said that, early on, the topic was greeted as “fringey or hysterical or weird.”

They have no way of measuring how many people now share their concerns, but one thing is clear: “When we talk to women, there is a huge amount of relief, even excitement, that we were bringing this issue out in the open,” Ferorelli, 36, said. “People are like: ‘Oh my God. I felt like I was the only one who felt this way.'”

The article is full of anecdotes from everyday people who are thinking about climate when considering whether to have children or not.  Here’s a sampling of quotes:

“I had this internal struggle. Do I really want to bring a child into this world? We’re going to use up everything in the world until there is nothing left.”

“Maybe it’s a really dumb idea to have kids. On the other hand, the streets aren’t burning right now. And I think kids can actually be a positive thing for society. We’re going to raise our child with our values and to be very active in trying to make a difference in the world.”

“Procreating both contributes to climate change and creates a new victim of climate change. I don’t know whether people should have kids, or whether they should have a big family, but I do believe that climate change should be part of their deliberation, because the consequences of bringing a new person into a changing world are really morally serious.”

For the prospective parents who are responsibly making this consideration, condemnation and ridicule is meeting them primarily from right-wing conservatives.  Such critics neither appreciate the seriousness of the situation nor do they respect the rights of others to make their own choices.  It’s the same authoritarian attitude driving the fanatical Christian anti-abortion movement.  From the article:

In the U.K., a group of women founded BirthStrike, with 200-plus members declaring their decision “not to bear children due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face of this existential threat.” Like Conceivable Future, the international group is conscious not to dictate reproductive decisions to others.

Not everyone welcomes talk about the dangers of human reproduction. The environmental activists have faced criticism from political conservatives and others who have labeled them overly pessimistic, even “anti-natalist.” One Twitter user dubbed them “a particularly paranoid group of lefties.”

BirthStrike co-founder Blythe Pepino went on Fox News’ “Watters’ World” in March and was challenged by host Jesse Watters, who suggested that scientists could be just as wrong about climate change as they were when they predicted a massive computer meltdown in the year 2000 and when they suggested that Earth was the center of the universe. “I just don’t believe the science,” Watters said, “because it’s not all there.”

“You have been told to not believe the science by your government,” Pepino retorted, “and now you don’t believe it because it suits you.”

12 thoughts on “The streets aren’t burning right now, so is it still okay to have children?

  1. Robert, I admire your courage and openness in raising this issue. I, too, did not want to have kids. I considered myself too stern and disciplined to be a mother. Also, more importantly, I didn’t want to bring children into a cruel world to suffer the way I have suffered, growing up in a working-class family, in an oppressive society.

    With climate disruption, now underway, I’ve already shared my concerns for future generations with my sons. Their male cousin, who was obsessed with having a child, didn’t share my concerns. Maybe, the humans species deserve to die out, he told me at the time. He has since divorced his first wife, who didn’t want to have children, and now has two kids with his second wife. I fear for their future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ros. As noted from our similar experiences, this is a very real issue which has been flying under the radar because it is a taboo topic to discuss. Your sons’ cousin is more typical of prevailing attitudes about marriage and reproduction which I find quite disturbing. He entertains the idea that maybe humans should die out, yet he’s still driven to father children. Isn’t that incredibly selfish? Doesn’t he care about his own offspring?

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      • His attitude is puzzling. Is the human male wired to reproduce? Is fathering children a signal to other prospective females of male virility? I don’t know. I know only that these times demand radical ways of thinking and behaving if we are to survive as a species.

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  2. My parents limited themselves to three children because of dire forecasts about what was to come with overpopulation and environmental destruction.

    I don’t know how many children they would have had otherwise. I somehow doubt it really influenced them much, but it was definitely on their mind at the time and they are conservatives. My oldest brother now regrets having brought a single child into the world.

    I guess I beat them all in being childless, somewhat by choice for a number of reasons. When I was younger, I didn’t want a marriage like that of my parents and I never felt optimistic about the future, my own or that of humanity.

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  3. My Dad was born in 1905 when the world population was about 1.6 billion. By the time he died in 1999 it was on the way to 7 billion and is now on the way to 8 billion. In one century! In one lifetime! Obviously we cannot continue like this.
    I am also childless by choice, Quite frankly I don’t see a future and wince every time I see a mother with a pram.
    But how do you counter instinct? A big part of the problem is in most parts of the world women do not have control over their fertility and have children they don’t want. Strong vested interests – political and religious force women to have children they do not want by denying access to contraception.
    We are supposed to be an intellligent species. If we die out due to stupidity and selfishness, perhaps that is the right result of our actions. Nature culling the non-viable, the failing to adapt to reality and in our case the arrogant.

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  4. Excellent post, Robert.

    Hopefully more people will listen to those who care enough about life not to take it for granted (the crazies) than the ignorantly arrogant ones who want what they want without considering consequences.

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