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Climate change is making women rethink having children

But this climate change expert says it doesn’t have to be a ‘yes or no’ question

Climate change is making women already concerned about the environment now reconsider having children, according to a new survey released this week.

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The Australian Conservation Foundation and 1 Million Women surveyed over 6500 of their supporters and found that one in three women under 30 were “reconsidering having children or more children because I am increasingly worried that if I have children they will face an unsafe future from climate change.” One in five women (22.4%) in the 30-39 age range said the same.

But Dr Mick Pope, a lecturer in meteorology at Monash University and author of several Christian books including A Climate of Justice: Loving your neighbour in a warming world says the decision not to have children based on climate change plays into a “lie we’ve been told that climate change is a solely individualistic thing.”

“If you think not having kids is the biggest contribution you can make towards climate change, I think you’ve been sold a lie. It’s problem with capitalism – the way we do economics, the way we manufacture things. Society as a whole needs to change.

But, says Pope, we all need to reduce our individual carbon footprint as well, and that could involve a conversation about having children.

We are meant to be people of hope. So deciding to have no children can be perceived as putting your hands up and giving up on the world. — Dr Mick Pope

“It’s a two-edged sword,” Pope told Eternity. “Australia has a very high carbon footprint per capita, so the more kids we have with our particular lifestyles, the more impact we have on the climate system. So there is a reason to have a conversation about the number of children we have – we don’t want to have too many children. But it’s not necessarily a yes or no question to having children at all.”

“Humanity has been fruitful and multiplied, and now we’ve multiplied so much it’s hard to be fruitful (in the broadest possible sense). There’s something to be said for reducing the total global population, but that is actually happening quite naturally anyway in many developing countries.”

Having children, as Christians, is also a symbol of hope for the world, says Pope. “We are meant to be people of hope. So deciding to have no children can be perceived as putting your hands up and giving up on the world. It’s saying there won’t be a world worth inheriting, that there won’t be something for Christ to redeem. And I think that’s not a good thing to commit to either.”

We have to be more vocal in the political arena, because that’s the key way society will change.

“I wouldn’t be making a blank recommendation that [people in church] don’t have kids because of climate change. But of course it’s going to be an individual choice.”

Pope, who has one child and a dog, says climate change did factor into his family’s decision on the number of children (and pets!) they decided to have. He acknowledges that the decision to have children is often not just about one issue, but a number of factors that play upon each other. One of those, he hopes, might be climate change.

“We only wanted two children, and for other reasons actually ended up with just the one. But two is the replacement rate – replacing the population. So I would have said no to having three. But it’s a very personal issue. Broadly for the sake of the climate, having only a couple of kids is probably a good thing. But it is only a part of the issue.”

He lists other things that Christians might consider instead: “You could chose never to fly – that’s a large carbon footprint. Some people will tell you not to have pets, because they eat meat, too. You could go off the grid. You could be less consumerist: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle.

But one of the biggest things we can do as part of the church today, according to Pope, is being unified in our voice in the political arena.

“We need to say [to our politicians] that we want a future for ourselves and for our children, and we want to take good care of God’s creation. And that means moving to renewable energy and getting off coal. It means no coal mines in this country. We’ll blow the global carbon budget for 3 degrees if we fully exploit the Galilee Basin. It’s a crime against future generations. This isn’t just about personal issues. We have to be more vocal in the political arena, because that’s the key way society will change.

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