Patricia Untinen is a 25-year-old digital marketing professional
If my friends and I are any indicators, having kids is a much more complex issue for us than it was for our parents or grandparents. Given the state of the world and its potentially disastrous future, is having kids the right thing to do, or is it selfish and cruel? Is having children becoming unconscionable?
When I ask my friends about having children, this is a typical response: “I think I might want to have children. But I don’t know if I want to bring a new life into a miserable world with a bleak future.”
As a young adult, I’ve seen the world’s problems only get worse, not better. And having children could intensify the problems the planet currently faces.
I understand that previous generations have had their own threats to consider – poverty, postwar hopelessness, economic depression, to name a few. They, too, had to wonder about their children’s futures.
Today’s hardships, however, seem to have created a unique and perfect recipe for continuing misery. Our current problems – a climate crisis and inequality chief among them – are systemic and chronic, and many of them will likely worsen over time. Summoning your own hope for the future feels like an impossible task. Giving your children a better life than you’ve had may no longer be attainable.
The internet is rife with articles describing a future that seems unfathomable for raising children. From deadlier diseases that spread more easily, to worsening pollution, to large-scale blackouts and energy crises, predictions for a few decades from now and beyond sound utterly terrifying.
Today’s children enter a structurally unjust world. Wealth inequality is out of control – according to Federal Reserve data, for example, the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans controlled nearly US$44-trillion of wealth in the third quarter of 2021, while the bottom 50 per cent controlled around US$3.4-trillion. In 2020, amid lockdowns and widescale job losses, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s net worth grew by a whopping US$75-billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index.
Speaking of the “haves,” anyone who’s been able to purchase a home over the past year falls into that category. Buying a house, which used to be a rite of passage for young adults, is now out of reach for many of them – especially in Canada. The “forever home” looks to many of us to be a forever dream.
Then we have the potential for intensifying military conflicts with large-scale geopolitical consequences. China continues to ratchet up tensions with Taiwan, while Russia eyes its border with Ukraine.
But all of these problems pale in comparison to the big one: Climate change is threatening the planet’s 7.9 billion people. Previous generations may have foreseen a difficult future for their children, but tomorrow’s children may have no future at all. According to a recent UN climate report, we have reached a “code red for humanity,” and climate change will trigger existential problems for billions of people. In the coming years, a growing portion of the global population will lack access to clean water, food production will be increasingly under threat, and rising water levels will endanger coastal cities.
Even if we limit climate change, global temperatures are already 1.2 degrees above preindustrial levels, and the effects of this increase, including wildfires and floods, are now too obvious to ignore.
It’s hard to justify having children when you’ve seen the big picture. Indeed, research suggests that one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to have fewer children, a subject avoided by governments wary of the economic consequences of a declining population.
Of course, having children is a personal decision. There is no “right” answer. One friend said to me that it’s our job to create a new generation that can build a sustainable and better world. But personally, I wonder if that’s a burden I don’t have any business bestowing on another person.
If wealth distribution were more equal (and if billionaires spent more of their time and money on making the planet a better place rather than launching rockets into space), my age group might have a more optimistic outlook on the future. As things stand now, billionaires are planning their exit strategy while the rest of us don’t have one.
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