Doing it for the kids: Is climate change reshaping the nuclear family?

Picture this, you’re on the bus and you overhear two women reconnecting after recognising each other from their high school days. One discusses the impending due date of her baby, her fourth child. Fourth.

For some, the concept of a fourth bub may elicit a sense of panic or even fear. Not only because of the chaos synonymous with small children screaming and mess consuming a once orderly household but because of the planet. More specifically, climate change.

If your first thought upon hearing the happy news of a friend, colleague or acquaintance’s new bub is something along the lines of “shit, how is this going to impact the environment?”, you’re not alone.

This isn’t to say you should cancel your future family plans but it’s interesting to explore how building a family in 2020 differs from the decades that have preceded it.

Today, many would-be parents are reconsidering the number of children they have, with a contributing factor in the decision often the climate.

It’s doubtful that a potential parent in the 1950s considered the rising rate of climate disasters and state of climate emergency their child would grow up in, much less their carbon footprint.

Although it’s true that introducing a new human to the planet can create a carbon footprint, the predicted significance of this is often dictated by where that child grows up.

For example, a child born into the developed world creates a carbon footprint of roughly 58 metric tonnes annually, while a child in Malawi is estimated to generate only a fraction of a metric tonne each year.

So, having a child in and of itself doesn’t seem to be the issue, rather something to do with the developed world. Surprised? Unlikely.

It’s the point that many climate change discussions continuously revolve around: the developed world must enact big decisions to reverse the effects of climate change.

These actions are bigger than the individual cycling to work or remembering their reusable coffee cup (although all of these actions are also important).

Conversely, there’s the argument that our children may serve to inspire climate action. For ABC Life, Fellow at The Ethics Centre Dr Matt Beard has discussed the ways in which children can represent hope and serve as motivation to work towards a greener world.

Noting that individually we may be more inclined to pursue an environmentally friendly lifestyle when considering a family, he also explained there must be “structural, widespread changes to economic systems, business models and cultural priorities,” if we want to halt and reverse the damage.

So, although everyday changes and considerations about family size may be useful, the biggest impact ultimately comes from the decisions around our country’s economy.

This is supported by the fact that 50 percent of consumption emissions are generated by the wealthiest 10 percent of the population.

The take-home message is there isn’t a single method to tackling our climate emergency. Slowing population growth may be a viable action and young couples are increasingly seeking psychological support to deal with anxiety relating to deciding whether or not to start a family.

These feelings have been described as genuine forms of anxiety and that global warming may cause legitimate feelings of grief.

The fact is there are people experiencing intense fear for the future largely because of the inaction of those in power. While many of us craft our lives to avoid contributing to the demise of the planet, those with the ability to enact large-scale change seemingly sit idle.

In conclusion, have children or don’t. At the end of the day without the Australian Government taking climate change seriously or putting policies in place to increase the use of renewable energies, we’ll all be left putting our families on hold and recycling our plastics in hope of a better future.

Image by Rachael Sharman 

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