Seeing the love between a parent and their newborn is magic. Speaking with friends and family about having children, they’ve all said something similar of feeling a love like no other. This tiny human becomes the centre of their universe, and they can no longer imagine life without them. I’ve always imagined that one day, if the circumstances permit, I would love to have children. However, there’s a growing movement of ‘birth strikers’ who have vowed to abstain from procreating because of the current state of the planet. And as sad as it is, this subject has certainly crossed my mind.
As a collective, I think many of us will agree that humans have screwed up. Yes, we evolved and became super intelligent and invented things and continue to achieve the impossible, but look what we’ve done to the earth in the process. We live in a disposable world where we can buy anything at the click of a finger. We watch news reports about melting ice caps and rising sea levels, yet we jump for joy when it’s 20 degrees in February. Extinction is a natural phenomenon, but there’s been a 60% decrease in wildlife populations in the last 40 years because animals are going extinct at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. How many more whales need to be washed up with bellies full of plastic before the world realises the severity of these problems?
The earth is heating up at an unprecedented speed. In 2018, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we have only 11 years to avert climate-induced catastrophe. The world’s leading climate scientists have urged that failure to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C could result in more droughts, floods, wildfires, food shortages and migration problems. People around the world are becoming increasingly climate and eco-conscious with bigger efforts to change our lifestyles, such as eating less meat. But scientists believe the crisis has already surpassed the point of being able to be alleviated by our choices and changes as individuals. There needs to be systemic change — we need the policymakers and global governments to act.
While the fight against climate change ultimately requires world leaders to take drastic action, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of our efforts, however big or small. Our choices as consumers are also a catalyst for change. As the demand for more eco-friendly products increases, retailers will have to adapt. This year, Glastonbury Festival tackled the plastic plague by going plastic-free, saving over 1 million single-use bottles. And look at Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist and founder of the Fridays for Future movement. Greta inspired over 1.4 million children to break the law and skip school on several occasions this year. Children in more than 110 countries took to the streets protesting for global leaders to declare a state of climate emergency. In a recent speech, Greta commented, “We have started to clean up your mess and we will not stop until we are done.”
The personal has never been so political, and our choices and actions can, and do, influence on a political level. With damning statistics and scientists' predictions for the future, it’s not hard to understand the growing number of people choosing not to have kids. The U.S congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke out saying, “It is basically a scientific consensus that the lives of our children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it OK to still have children?”
Some people are choosing not to have children to stop the carbon and environmental impacts their descendants would have. A major study, published in Environmental Research Letters, recommends that the most effective way to lower our carbon footprint is by having one less child — following a plant-based diet, not using cars and avoiding aeroplane travel are next. But for others, the decision is more of a political statement, and a painful one at that.
The global BirthStrike movement was set up by activist Blythe Pepine. She and her partner planned to start a family, but after realising the reality of climate change and where we’re headed if government inaction continues, they decided it was something they just couldn’t do. There is an underlying fear that the children of the future will be left with the mess we failed to clean up now. In an interview with The Guardian, Blythe stated, ‘It is OK to make this choice, but it’s not OK to have to make this choice.’ We should never be in a situation where we are genuinely scared to bring life into the world.’” Publicising the couple’s decision wasn’t easy, but Blythe says the movement is as much of a support network as it is political. She noticed more and more people were struggling with the same questions, but there were no safe spaces where people could openly share their concerns. Blythe urges that the aim of BirthStrike “is not to discourage people from having children, or to condemn those who have them already, but to communicate the urgency of the crisis.”
International action groups like Extinction Rebellion (XR) are pushing civil disobedience even further to drive climate change up the political agenda. The group uses non-violent and creative resistance tactics including mass protests, roadblocks and public transport disruptions to persuade governments to take extreme action. The UK group got major press coverage in April when they brought parts of London to a standstill for over a week. More recently, activists threw red paint over the Brazilian embassy in London to protest against the injustice towards the indigenous people in the Amazon following mass fires and deforestation.
While birth striking alone isn’t going to stop climate change, the movement has been powerful in opening up an important conversation. It’s a tender subject, but the reality is that it’s a subject young people are feeling increasingly pushed to think about.
To find out more information about Extinction Rebellion visit their website: https://rebellion.earth