Climate scientists thinking twice about getting pregnant

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2024/05/14/climate-scientists-thinking-twice-about-getting-pregnant.html

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First, let’s avoid this topic devolving into people shaming or criticising others for having kids – even in the current dire situation of the climate emergency, resurgent fascism, and growing economic inequality. It isn’t a constructive discussion, and most people whose kids are now teenagers or older (probably most parents on this BBS) couldn’t have foreseen how quickly and how bad things would get.

That’s not to say I have any sympathy for Xtianist quiverfull types and white supremacists backing up the 14 words through warfare by reproduction, but the climate emergency is low on their list of priorities when it comes to the decision to have kids.

That out of the way, the majority of the teenagers and twenty-somethings in my life have either expressed no interest in having kids or have explicitly said they’re not going to bring kids into this omnishambles. The exceptions come from wealthy families. This is anecdotal, of course, and all of them are educated and aware of current events. I’m sure some will change their minds, and either way I remain confident that these impressive kids are alright.

As for my child-free self, what used to be the unalloyed joy at seeing babies and toddlers is now tarnished by my pity for them when I think about the future they’re facing thanks to shortsighted greedpigs. Which sucks.

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How does this statistic compare with non-climate-scientists, I wonder? Certainly more than one in five women I know have chosen to have few or no children, but I don’t know how representative my peers are.

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And of course, some would have STILL made the decision to have kids.

and most of us who have kids ARE NOT THAT, as a reminder. I fully support ALL women’s reproductive rights and choices. Every single one of us, whatever choice we made, that’s OUR choice, and anyone else sneering over the choice of others (or worse, trying to take those choices away because of their sick ideology) is just being an asshole. Yes, that includes all the childfree types (not a dig at you gracchus) who sneer at people with children. Do what you feel like you want or need to do in this world, but maybe all of us can stop pretending like our choices are inherently more moral (with the exception of those amoral fascists - who are… not remotely moral).

Yeah, and that’s probably not just the climate crisis, but literally everything else, too. Of course, the young people we talk to might be a self-selecting group (with regards to the “great sorting”) who are more politically aware. That might not speak to other 20-somethings…

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Probably is down to whether or not the women you know are highly education or not (or religious in some cases, as even highly educated religious women often still want to have more than one or two - see Justice Barrett for example).

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Oddly the trend is almost reversed in my social circles; most of the women I know who have more than two children also have doctorates whereas most of my friends and family who never went to college also never started families.

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That could be a byproduct of what’s financially possible, too. I’m guessing that the women with doctorates probably have a higher income than those without a college degree.

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Oh, absolutely. The old image of working-class people raising large families is largely giving way to the cold hard fact that it’s damn near impossible to afford a large family unless you’re rich.

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Add to that source of confidence that their kids will be able to ride things out their anticipation that their offspring will likely have post-secondary degrees too. Absent a revolution from the left, money and a college degree are always seen as smoothing the way in late-stage capitalist America, crisis or not.

In financial terms it costs a little above $230,000 to raise a single child in the U.S. to age 18, and not necessarily in the comfort of a large home that many young people have given up on ever affording.

People who aren’t rich do make the choicehave large families, but a lot of them are working on the assumptions that that the kids won’t have a lot of nice material things (e.g lots of hand-me-downs), the older kids will take on parenting roles for the younger ones, that the kids are basically their old-age pension plan (because society doesn’t really offer actual pension plans to most workers anymore).

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True, but the expansion of the academy that happened in the postwar era, which absolutely democratized the academy to a pretty large degree, is now reversing, in a pretty destructive and vicious way.

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I wonder how unusual it is in general. Looking at some quick searches, it looks like 20% of American women being childless is possibly on the high end but not by that much.

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Yep. The endgame of the neoliberal backlash against Keynesianism was always to restrict that smoothing of the way to families that already had generational wealth. They loathed the GI Bill just as much as the New Deal programes (even though all of them screwed over PoC in way more in line with American conservatism). Bringing things back on-topic, I’m sure the same “I’ve got mine, Jack” attitude informs their dismissal of the climate emergency having a negative effect on their rugged individualist kids.

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Yep, but it was hard to get most of the white working class on their side until Black Americans began to really bring down Jim Crow, and they were able to use racism to justify tearing down the systems that the white working class had absolutely benefited from.

Oh yeah, for sure. They hold onto the idea of individuals being the only ones that matter (them, more than anyone else).

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Yeah that’s the impression I get, though probably the stated reasons vary depending on the individual woman’s situation.

So a climate scientist might say “I’m not planning on having any children because I worry what their life would be like on a warming planet” whereas a business professional might say “I’m not planning on having any children because I’m focusing on building my company and career” and a working-class person might say “I’m not planning on having any children because it’s hard enough keeping up with the bills as it is in this economy.”

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Yes, there are bad things in the world. But there are tons of amazing things too! Yes, our lifestyle would be a lot more sustainable if there were 1 billion humans on Earth, not 8 billion. Yes, it’s a massive failure of vision that we didn’t take more steps to avoid the situation we’re in. (For instance, I think that forcing every local electricity utility to buy and sell power from HVDC lines at rates set by the free market would be a no-brainer that would reduce CO2 emissions substantially and cause minimal economic harm. There’s an HVDC line through the Chunnel that paid for its construction IN ONE YEAR by allowing surplus wind power on windy Scottish days to displace fossil fuel burning in Europe. More of this, please!)

Still, I also think that the world in 1960 for most people was worse than it will be in 2060 for most people, climate change notwithstanding. We’re going to muddle through in some ways and develop awesome mitigations in other ways. Climate change is going to be a factor making the world worse, but in my estimation there will be loads of other things that will make the world better, and on balance I think it’s not crazy or selfish to have a kid or two.

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When in reality the society that one of their patron saints dismissed as “non-existent” is the only thing that will get humans through the climate emergency.

This is an important point. The post-war economic anomaly in America, brought to us in large part by Keynesianism, excluded (often by design) PoC and women.The climate emergency is already affecting vulnerable people in the global community, but they’re motivated to do something about it to a degree that they might leapfrog the advanced economies when it comes to solutions and coping methods.

Especially if that lifestyle isn’t a middle-class white American one based on mid-20th century expectations. As pleasant as it’s been for those who could enjoy it, billions of people outside know that lifestyle isn’t the only path to happiness.

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When I was in college, I seriously considered getting a vasectomy, as I believed that the world was headed toward WW3 and that I didn’t want to consider bringing another generation into what seemed like a planet on an inevitably destructive course. Eventually I decided to postpone that decision for a few years, and later became a father.

Two months ago, I learned that I will become a grandfather in a few months. My child and their spouse are looking forward to having their first (probably of two) children and while I have substantial misgivings about the planet that we will leave to them, I also have some confidence that they will have the opportunity to lead loving and caring lives, even as their world may not be what we want it to be.

People have birthed and raised children in horrible, oppressive social and environmental situations for thousands of years. Even if we have a warming planet that is filled with warring governments, I have faith that my grandchild will be able to live a life that is filled with love and joy, and that they will live in a world that is worth saving through adaptation and cooperation, even if their physical environment is unrecognizable to us in 2024.

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“If you’re younger than 60, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilisation of life on Earth – massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under 30, you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.

You can keep on hoping that catastrophe is preventable, and feel ever more frustrated or enraged by the world’s inaction. Or you can accept that disaster is coming, and begin to rethink what it means to have hope today.”

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Of those surveyed, I wonder if any had decided to have more children than planned and bring them up to be responsible citizens of the Earth… or beyond that to be climate scientists. Make more scientists. Army Earth!

Just a thought.

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I’m… not sure about the research here. “20% of female client scientists polled agreed with my very specific interpretation”. Is it more or less significant? I’d be uncomfortable jumping to those conclusions from the data provided, but then I’m a scientist, not a journalist.

It’ll be rough in the future, so we’re going to make the call that it’s better if our children never existed than to deal with struggles? That’s a… pretty specific lens. It’s not a far jump from many eugenicist interpretations about quality of life and full-on eco-fascism. We’re going to have a hard time surviving, so we better get ahead of it and start culling our numbers now :roll_eyes:. It’s the same story we get from the ‘lifeboat analogy’ despite Malthusian ecology having been jettisoned awhile ago. We can do better and the decision about it is more what systems we build instead of how many people we have (and crashing our demographics over it ain’t gonna make it easier).

Am I worried about what my kid is likely to face? Absolutely. That’s why I’m going to do whatever I can to forestall it as much as possible, and arm them to be able to help other people. I have a say in what kind of person we’re turning out here, and I’d like to think that another informed, prepared person is worth more to solve the problem than their carbon footprint in a back-of-napkin calculation.

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