No Children Because of Climate Change? Some People Are Considering It

That has changed, she said — either because more people are having doubts, or because it has become less taboo to talk about them.

Facing an uncertain future

If it weren’t for climate change, Allison Guy said, she would go off birth control tomorrow.

But scientists’ projections, if rapid action isn’t taken, are not “congruent with a stable society,” said Ms. Guy, 32, who works at a marine conservation nonprofit in Washington. “I don’t want to give birth to a kid wondering if it’s going to live in some kind of ‘Mad Max’ dystopia.”

Parents like Amanda PerryMiller, a Christian youth leader and mother of two in Independence, Ohio, share her fears.

“Animals are disappearing. The oceans are full of plastic. The human population is so numerous, the planet may not be able to support it indefinitely,” said Ms. PerryMiller, 29. “This doesn’t paint a very pretty picture for people bringing home a brand-new baby from the hospital.”

The people thinking about these issues fit no single profile. They are women and men, liberal and conservative. They come from many regions and religions.


A house party in Chicago organized by the group Conceivable Future.

Marya Spont-Lemus

Cate Mumford, 28, is a Mormon, and Mormons believe God has commanded them to “multiply and replenish the earth.” But even in her teens, she said, she could not get another point of doctrine out of her head: “We are stewards of the earth.”

Ms. Mumford, a graduate student in a joint-degree program at Johns Hopkins and Brigham Young Universities, plans to adopt a child with her husband. Some members of her church have responded aggressively, accusing her of going against God’s plan. But she said she felt vindicated by the worsening projections.


Smog shrouding Mexico City. When Cate Mumford, 28, saw similar pollution in China, she thought, “I’m so glad I’m not going to bring a brand-new baby into this world to suffer like these kids suffer.”

Josh Haner/The New York Times

A few years ago, she traveled to China, where air pollution is a national crisis. And all she could think was, “I’m so glad I’m not going to bring a brand-new baby into this world to suffer like these kids suffer.”


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‘Some pretty strong cognitive dissonance’

For many, the drive to reproduce is not easily put aside.

“If a family is what you want, you’re not just going to be able to make that disappear entirely,” said Jody Mullen, 36, a mother of two in Gillette, N.J. “You’re not just going to be able to say, ‘It’s not really good for the environment for humans to keep reproducing, so I’ll just scratch that idea.’”

And so compromises emerge. Some parents resolve to raise conscientious citizens who can help tackle climate change. Some who want multiple children decide to have only one.

For Sara Jackson Shumate, 37, who has a young daughter, having a second child would mean moving to a house farther from her job as a lecturer at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is not sure she can justify the environmental impact of a larger home and a longer commute.

But for Ms. PerryMiller, the Ohio youth leader, the thinking went the opposite way: Once she had her first child, climate change made a second feel more urgent.

“Someday, my husband and I will be gone,” she said. “If my daughter has to face the end of the world as we know it, I want her to have her brother there.”

Laura Cornish, 32, a mother of two near Vancouver, said she felt “some pretty strong cognitive dissonance around knowing that the science is really bad but still thinking that their future will be O.K.”

“I don’t read the science updates anymore because they’re too awful,” she said. “I just don’t engage with that, because it’s hard to reconcile with my choices.”

‘The thing that’s broken is bigger than us’

People who choose not to have children are used to being called “selfish.” But many of them see their decision as a sacrifice.


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Parenthood is “something that I want,” said Elizabeth Bogard, 18, a freshman at Northern Illinois University. “But it’s hard for me to justify my wants over what matters and what’s important for everyone.”

This attitude seems particularly common among people who have seen the effects of climate change firsthand.

Hemanth Kolla is from Hyderabad, in India, where drought and scorching heat waves have been deadly. He lives in California, where the threat of wildfires is increasing and a six-year drought only recently ended. Mr. Kolla, 36, said it felt wrong to have a child when he did not believe the world would be better for him or her.

And Maram Kaff, who lives in Cairo, said she had been deeply affected by reports that parts of the Middle East may be too hot for human habitation by 2100.

“I’ve seen how Syrian refugees, who are running from a devastating war, are being treated,” Ms. Kaff, 33, said in an email. “Imagine how my children will be treated if they have to flee their country due to extreme weather, drought, lack of resources, flooding.”

“I know that humans are hard-wired to procreate,” she said, “but my instinct now is to shield my children from the horrors of the future by not bringing them to the world.”

Ms. Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli, the founders of Conceivable Future, said that the predominant emotion at their gatherings was grief — and that the very existence of these conversations should spur political action.


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“These stories tell you that the thing that’s broken is bigger than us,” Ms. Ferorelli said. “The fact that people are seriously considering not having children because of climate change is all the reason you need to make the demands.”

Most of the people interviewed, parents and non-parents alike, lamented having to factor climate change into their decisions at all.

“What kind of nightmare question is that?” asked Ms. Guy, the Washington nonprofit worker. “That we have to consider that?”

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