For much of the last century, people had good reason to wonder whether it made sense to have babies. Millions of young men had died or been maimed in the trenches, and then along came the risk of being pulverised by an atom bomb.
Nonetheless, men and women continued to have children and after both world wars there was a baby boom. As C.S. Lewis wrote in 1948: ‘It is perfectly ridiculous, to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances.’
Somehow, we have lost this perspective. Back then, in the 20th century, schools taught young people to keep calm and carry on. Now, we’re teaching them to panic. A relentless focus on the challenges of climate change, intended to persuade people to take the environment seriously, has instead created a culture of despair. Men and women who might otherwise have families have become so burdened with guilt and so worried about the effect humans have on the environment that they’ve become blind to the fact that there’s never been a better time to have babies.
Falling birth rates are, for the most part, a sign of a country becoming wealthier: when incomes rise, family sizes tend to shrink. Academics, however, have begun to identify a new reason for the sharp decline in the number of babies in the West: ‘climate anxiety’. A global poll of young people published in the Lancet last month shows that 39 per cent feel ‘hesitant to have children’ due to climate change. A University of Arizona study identified three concerns: overconsumption, overpopulation, and an uncertain future.
What we once perhaps dismissed as the fringe fear of a small number of activists is now a force in world demographics.