Tom Woodman

Having a child is the grandest act of climate destruction


About four years ago, my wife and I, who are both in our thirties, briefly thought we were having a baby. For the next few nights my dreams were of nuclear flashes lighting up the sky, of the earth cracking open and of waves lapping at the front door.

Humans are swiftly making the planet uninhabitable. Why would we want to bring another human being into the world? I’ll admit that my climate anxiety is as melodramatic as it is severe. But polls show that I’m not alone and the figures of declining birth rates speak for themselves. For a population to sustain itself, the average woman has to have 2.1 children in her lifetime. In 2017 that figure was just 1.74 in the UK, and — thanks in part to fears about the future of the planet — it’s now around 1.6.

This is quite something, given that procreation is hardwired into the human psyche. Passing on our genes is the biological reason we were born. It’s why we want sex, arguably why we ‘want’ at all. To choose not to have children is to prune oneself from the genetic tree — to defy human nature. It’s not much to help the planet by recycling or driving an electric car. But to not have children? That sounds extreme. Yet to me and many others, so too is the threat we all face.

Everything inside me says ‘have children’, but it’s everything outside that makes so many of my generation say ‘no’. The scientific consensus is clear: unless we all take drastic steps to limit our carbon emissions, the planet will become uninhabitable, and I don’t believe humanity will coordinate those steps in time. The choice for parenthood is based on hope for the future, so of course it’s affected when that future looks hopeless.

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