Climate change makes young people question whether it’s ethical to have children | KCUR 89.3

Angelica Chavez-Duckworth grew up wanting to be a mother. As a child with a tiny baby doll always on hand, she says her early maternal instincts earned her the nickname “Little Mother.”

Now 26, and acutely aware of the worsening climate crisis around her, Chavez-Duckworth isn’t sure she’ll ever be a mother.

“As a child, I thought, ‘This is something I’m going to do, something I’m going to do,’” says Chaves-Duckworth. “Fast forward to now—must be in the contemplation room because I don’t even know if I can protect myself. [younger] brother.”

Chavez-Duckworth is the founder and principal of LivZero — a climate equity firm focused on developing intersectional climate solutions.

“I can’t lie … I still want to have children of my own,” she said. “But it gets more philosophical at this point.”

Channa Steinmetz

/

Startland News

Angelica Chavez-Duckworth grew up wanting to be a mother, but her environmental concerns make her question the choice to bring children into the world.

Chavez-Duckworth is not alone when it comes to climate and reproductive anxiety. A 2018 survey conducted for the New York Times found that of 1,858 Americans between the ages of 20 and 45, a quarter said they had or wished to have fewer children than they would like; a third of respondents who wanted more children cited climate change as the reason they did not have children.

A 2020 study published in “Climatic Change” found that 80% of survey respondents were very concerned about the effects of climate change on children.

As climate change continues to threaten the well-being of the planet, young people around the world have been suffering from the anxiety and stress associated with global warming. And the future of the planet has become something to consider for Kansas residents in their 20s and 30s who are choosing to have children or not.

Is that selfish?

Amber Abram, 35, said she felt judged by her and her husband’s decision not to increase their family size.

“I was one of the few people I grew up with who didn’t have children,” Abram said. “I think there’s a lot of questions around it as far as, ‘What’s with him? Why doesn’t he want children?”

Abram, who grew up in Kansas City, has witnessed extreme weather phenomena in both the Midwest and the coast. The changing climate was a factor in her decision to take up an eco-friendly job at Kanbe’s Markets. It also factored into her decision not to have children.

“This is a completely personal decision that no one needs to know, but it’s definitely in my mind, ‘What will the world look like for future generations?’”

051322_AmberAbram_PHOTO

Catherine Hoffman

/

Flatland

Amber Abram, 35, says her worries about the future of the planet are one of the reasons she and her husband are childless.

Britt Wray, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, has her own existential concerns about having children. That led him to write “Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis,” which explores a generational perspective on how to stay sane amid climate disruption.

In his work, Wray explores how child-free people are often labeled as “selfish” for deciding to live without children.

But over time, the label “selfish” has evolved, and is used interchangeably to describe people who deliberately reproduce during the climate crisis.

“It’s an interesting shift that is dangerous on both sides of where language is being targeted,” Wray said, “but I think it’s understandable in terms of aligning with people’s concerns about children’s well-being — especially when [World Health Organization] published a report saying … no country on the planet is doing what it has to do to protect the well-being of children today.”

Abram says in the Midwest, getting married and having children is expected of young people. Some of his friends have started families. But some of them haven’t. And climate change is part of that conversation.

“A lot of people want a family, and I think that’s great,” he said. “[My partner and I] have always been on the same page about it … and we feel very comfortable with our decision.”

Crossroads climate justice

While Wray found many people choose not to have children for a number of climate-related reasons, he also found many people feel differently.

Wray said for the Native American and black community, having children can be an act of defiance and resilience.

For populations that have lived despite historical oppression, including colonization, slavery and genocide, procreation can be a way to counter those pressures, he said.

“Marginalized communities have long known how insecure and difficult the world can be,” Wray said. “However, there is resilience all around us from marginalized communities. [Their] children are also a symbol of sustainability and say, ‘The future has us too,’ despite the oppressive forces that may rain down on them.”

In “Generation Dread,” Wray references Waubgeshig Rice, a writer Anishinaabe of the Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario. Although the people of Anishinaabe have great respect for the natural environment, Rice said she has never heard of anyone from her country choosing not to have children as a way to deal with climate change.

Sarah Mayerhofer, 26, is the sustainability coordinator for Kanbe’s. He says his climate anxiety began to sink in when he started graduate school for sustainability leadership.

“I sometimes feel helpless,” she admits. “Six years ago, I was like, ‘I can do something to impact the world’ — and then you learn more, you read more and you have a better understanding of what’s going on.”

Channa Steinmetz

/

Startland News

Sarah Mayerhofer, 26, is the sustainability coordinator for Kanbe’s. He says his climate anxiety began to sink in when he started graduate school for sustainability leadership.

While the anxiety can feel debilitating at times, Mayerhofer says he has found solace in sharing his passion and knowledge on social media. She doesn’t want climate anxiety or climate change to prevent her from having children.

“Since childhood, I’ve always wanted to adopt a child; I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and it only gets stronger as I get older,” Mayerhofer said. “I feel like climate change has robbed so many of us… I don’t want it to rob me of my parenting experience.”

And for some young people in Kansas City, deciding to have children is about raising the next generation of environmentalists.

Building a generation of climate activists

Armando Alvarez, 22, a member of the Heartland Conservation Alliance, and Justine Dale Gelbolinga, 20, supervisor intern at the North Kansas City YMCA and leadership advisor for The DeBruce Foundation, envision their future with extended families—despite their climate anxiety.

“We are very goal-oriented, and one of them is that we have to have some kind of career where we can make a difference in the world,” said Alvarez, noting that they want to teach their children with the same mentality. “We feel having children and raising them in a good and positive way is a must so that they can make the world a better place.”

The couple is still worried about the state of the world their children will face in the future.

A 2021 study of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in 10 countries — including the U.S. — found that more than half of respondents felt that climate change was threatening the security of their families. But Alvarez and Dale Gelbolinga hope sustainable progress can be made.

“For us and our children – future children I must say – one of the biggest goals for us [is] to give them the freedom to choose what they want in their life, but guide them into adulthood,” added Dale Gelbolinga.

Alvarez agrees.

“For our kids, I think what makes me optimistic is that humans always find a way, and with the advancement of technology, who knows what could happen in the next 50 or 100 years?”

What they hope to convey isn’t fear and anxiety — it’s their love for nature and their desire to make the world a better place.

Read a longer version of this story at Startland News.

KCUR_kc_media_collective_lockup.png

Crystal Henthorne

/

KCUR 89.3

This story is part of a series on climate change in the Kansas City area produced by the KC Media Collective, an initiative designed to support and enhance local journalism. Members of the KC Media Collective include KCUR 89.3, American Public Square, Kansas City PBS/Flatland, Missouri Business Alert, Startland News, and The Kansas City Beacon.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: