Morgan and Adam have always wanted children but fears over climate change are making them reconsider.
The committed pair, aged 36 and 35, are part of a growing trend for young couples to abandon plans for a family because of the climate crisis.
Millions of people around the world rallied for climate action over the past two days, including 300,000 in Australia on Friday, ahead of a United Nations climate action summit on Monday.
“I feel so sad, it’s such a hard thing to let go of,” says Morgan, who works in logistics. “My conscience says, ‘I can’t give this child what I’ve enjoyed, I can’t give them the certainty of a future where they can be all that they can be … or have the things they should have, like breathable air and drinkable water’.”
Morgan is feeling “pretty damn certain” a baby is off the cards, even though she fears she might regret it. She has at least two close friends in their early 30s, with good partners, who have made the same decision.
Her partner Adam, who works in web development, agrees. “I have a lot of love to give and would love to raise a child … but it doesn’t feel justifiable. The world is heading blindfolded towards catastrophe.”
Prince Harry made headlines when he revealed in an interview in British Vogue, in the September issue guest-edited by his wife Meghan, that the couple would have two children “maximum” for the sake of the planet.
The idea of limiting family size to two children to represent net zero population growth has been around for decades. But is no children the new two children?
Dr Bronwyn Harman, a lecturer at Edith Cowan University in Perth who studies people without children, says it is a progression of the same theme. She says some people are avoiding parenthood because they are worried for their unborn children, while others are motivated not to make things worse.
“They’re saying things like ‘we don’t want to add children into the mix and put more strain on the planet’,” Harman says. “It’s started coming up [in my research] in the past six months but it’s not very common.”
The phenomenon is growing. The Age and Sun-Herald have spoken to 20 and 30-somethings all over Australia wrestling with the dilemma. Most asked to use first names only to avoid online harassment.
“I’m terrified that in another 50 years, if my hypothetical child was all grown up, what would our world look like?” says Jessica Ivers, 29. The digital specialist and yoga teacher from Northcote in Melbourne says she is “100 per cent certain” about her choice.
In Mackay in Queensland, community organiser Emma, 32, says she and her partner Mick, 33, were planning to start trying for a family next year but changed their minds after the federal election.
“After the LNP won – with no climate plan – we cried and agreed that the dream of a family wouldn’t be for us,” Emma says. “It’s a terrifying thought for us that the world will be uninhabitable in a few decades if we continue charging ahead with fossil fuels and approving coal mines like Adani.”
Melanie, 24, from Highgate Hill in Brisbane terminated an unplanned pregnancy last year and says the climate crisis was the “ultimate deciding factor”. She read scientific articles about the best and worst-case scenarios and decided she would never have children.
“It’s been a hard year coming to terms with the reality of the situation,” says Melanie. “I cannot justify bringing children into a world in the midst of a mass extinction event and facing total ecological collapse. “
Shalini, 33, and David, 35, from Summer Hill in Sydney have decided not to have biological children but would like to adopt or foster in the future.
“It makes more sense for us to look after a child that is here and needs someone rather than make more children,” says David, a 3D animation artist.
Shalini, a public servant, says climate change is a big reason, along with her focus on career.
“I don’t eat meat and I’m really conscious about consuming goods and services that that are more sustainably produced and in the same vein, I don’t want to produce more people,” Shalini says. She finds it hard to discuss with friends because she doesn’t want them to feel judged.
Maddie, 32, from the lower north shore, sought counselling to deal with her grief and anxiety over climate change and her dilemma over having children.
“My psychologist is having more and more couples coming to her about this,” she says. “The first thing she said to me was, ‘this is not a manifestation of normal anxiety, this is a real threat and real grief that you’re carrying’.”
Maddie would love children but feels an obligation to fight for her newborn niece and friends’ children instead.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures suggest one in four women aged 15 to 35 will never have children. Harman says roughly two-thirds of those women make an active choice to be “child-free” while one-third are “childless” because of circumstances, including fears over the state of the world.
A global trend
In Britain musician and activist Blythe Pepino, 33, kicked off the “BirthStrike” – a movement of people pledging not to have children “due to the severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces in the face of this existential threat”.
In February, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez commented on the grim scientific outlook and political inaction: “It does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it OK still to have children?”
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American singer and actress Miley Cyrus, 26, told Elle magazine’s August 2019 US issue that Millennials didn’t want to reproduce because they knew the Earth could not handle it.
“We’re getting handed a piece-of-shit planet, and I refuse to hand that down to my child,” Cyrus says. “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.”
Yet even at the coalface of climate change research, some see this as extreme. Earlier this month, Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organisation (parent body of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), weighed into the debate.
“The latest idea is that children are a negative thing,” Taalas told a Finnish magazine. “I am worried for young mothers, who are already under much pressure. This will only add to their burden.”
He warned facts could be hijacked to justify “extreme measures” in the name of climate action.
Taalas told The Sun-Herald in a statement he supports strong climate action and a science-based approach offers hope.
“We must not be driven to despair, given that reasonable solutions are available to the international community, governments and civil society,” he says.