Is it immoral to have children in the era of extreme climate change?

Is it immoral to have children in the era of extreme climate change?

Morals generally depend on the individual, yet with climate change rapidly evolving and the current knowledge we have of its impacts, our morals can be divisive.

Which begs the question: Is it immoral to have children in the era of extreme climate change?

The environmental toll of having even one child is huge – 58.6 tonnes of carbon each year.

“Having children is by far the easiest way to increase your carbon footprint. A human being causes more carbon emissions than any living thing on the planet,” said Ben Symon, a project manager of sustainable urban developments.

Choosing to be child-free may have undeniable positive impacts on our environment, but it can be a complicated moral debacle for those that want children and identify as pro-choice.

Pro-choice advocates the legal right of a woman to choose whether or not she will have an abortion, which encompasses laws and debates around euthanasia, the choice to facilitate life and/or death, which affects all of us.

Scientists warn that a catastrophic tipping point is very likely in the next few decades.

By 2050 – or maybe earlier – the average global temperature is projected to rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, triggering catastrophic consequences.

We’ve already experienced the ramifications of a rapidly heating world, such as Australia’s 2019–20 Black Summer, a devastating bush fire season like never before.

How old will you be in 2050? I will be 55 years old. If I have children soon, they’ll be in their late teens or early twenties by 2050.

For years, people have lamented how bad things might get “for our grandchildren”, but that future isn’t so far away anymore.

Dangerous climate change is going to be happening by the time I’m 55 – if not before. We’ll be dealing with a different world; a world of unprecedented natural disaster, a natural world that is broken and dying, a world that we noticed a little too late.

Without dramatic immediate action, we are on track to hit at least 4 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, which must be avoided.

Such a steep incline of global warming will cause unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, severe impact on ecosystems and human systems and likely cause the extinction of many animal species and us humans.

Last year’s Paris climate agreement saw world leaders agree that drastic cuts in carbon emissions are needed to get on top of our climate change crisis, however, the world is expected to add several billion people to its population in the next few decades.

Not having children is one way to reduce carbon footprint

Sustainability consultant Dee Allen works with businesses to help them reduce their carbon footprint. She feels conflicted about the topic of bringing children into the world.

“My personal feelings on having kids is undecided. I do think it’s unsustainable to have children, in a black and white sense. But I don’t think it’s ethical to tell people they aren’t allowed to have children,” she said.

“I think that introducing such a sweeping measure would drive huge societal division, which is already a problem for climate action.

“The most influential way to create positive change is accessible climate and lifestyle education, how we can reduce the plethora of other structures that we contribute to in our everyday lives that have huge impacts on the environment.”

The increase of population escalates our universal carbon footprint, guaranteeing a rate of warming that will be next to impossible to come back from.

Choosing not to have children is one way to reduce the world’s carbon footprint.

“It should absolutely be a conversation people have,” said Symon.

“We need to start talking about what creates carbon emissions and how we can reduce it to the best of our ability. Choosing not to have kids is one way to do that and it should be an accepted choice, but it’s not the only way.”

After having a child, eating meat, driving a car, and travelling by plane top of the list of most polluting things people can do to the planet.

Go deeper and you can find several things you most likely do on a daily basis that has a negative impact on the environment, contributes to pollution, and increases your carbon footprint.

Things such as: leaving the tap running, using aerosol deodorants, drinking bottled water, consuming products packaged in plastic, releasing helium balloons into the air, and throwing batteries in the rubbish are a few of many.

Sustainable action is intimidating. It’s day-to-day self-training. It’s breaking years of ingrained habits. And often, it’s going against the crowd.

Allen finds it difficult within her work.

“You have to be pretty resistant to differing opinions from colleagues, friends and family. People don’t like to be told that they’re doing the wrong thing,” she said.

“In my work, colleagues have hidden unsustainable habits or systems from me so that they don’t get told off, which makes me sad. Global warming shouldn’t be thought of as this threat hanging over people to do the right thing. It should be something we know and actively care about reducing, rather than giving into laziness.”

A choice to carefully consider

Looking to the future, it’s pretty terrifying. If we don’t actively make changes in our everyday lives, we are headed for inevitable disaster.

Educating ourselves with sustainable alternatives for our everyday consumption and choices is extremely important and will be different for everyone. We’ve used science to advance for so long that we’re used to it coming to the rescue.

“We industrialised food production,” said Allen, providing an example.

“We’ve used science to overcome pests and disease in crops and created accessible food in places where people would normally die of hunger or lack of nutrients. We’re only going to get better at keeping ourselves alive and for longer. If we can’t balance each humans’ individual carbon footprint, we’re actively accelerating our own demise.”

It’s true that we haven’t yet truly experienced grassroots sustainability in the way most of us have been brought into the world.

Choosing not to have children, or remaining child-free by choice, might be the right decision for you and that’s okay.

It’s vital to think about our environment before opting into increasing our population’s carbon footprint, which we can do through educating ourselves and others.

Implementing sustainability is a choice; it’s a choice for our planet and for generations to come. The way you choose to engage in sustainability is ultimately your call.

But there is a human being to consider – a new life you might bring into the world – that will carry the responsibility and consequences of your decision. You at least owe it to them to carefully consider that choice.

Laura Roscioli writer SHE DEFINED

Laura Roscioli

Laura Roscioli is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. 

Through years of experience working for VICE and other media agencies, she has fostered an invested interest in storytelling and seeks to push boundaries with her work.