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Author: Gray Griffin

Women Are Sharing The Devastating Reason They’re Deciding Not To Have Children

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Laura Paddison, HuffPost |July 1, 2019

There’s a moment in the evening when I go to check on my children in their beds. I stay and watch them sleep for a while, enjoying their peaceful, steady breathing and the rare stillness in their faces. I feel a wave of love for them but also a jab of fear.

There were many things I expected to experience when I became a parent. Love, a fierce sense of protection, exhaustion, bone-crushing tedium. What I didn’t expect was so much fear — not so much about grazed knees and high fevers, but an existential fear about what kind of life my children can expect in a world facing down environmental crises too enormous and terrifying to wrap our heads around. 

I have covered the environment for many years; I knew climate change was a disaster already unfolding: waste was building up on a planet with nowhere to put it, wildlife and trees were disappearing at an alarming rate. And yet I decided to have one child, and then another.

Five years later and the world feels so much worse. My head is filled with statistics about soaring temperaturessea level rises and insect deaths, with images of fires ripping through communities and islands being swallowed by the sea

In 2050 — by which time, according to a June study, the Arctic could be ice free, the Amazon ecosystem may have collapsed and human civilization as we know it will be disintegrating — my children will be just 34 and 36. Maybe a stage in their lives when they’ll have, or be thinking about having, children of their own. Maybe they won’t ever have the luxury of that decision. 

As scientists continue to punch out increasingly apocalyptic warnings about the state of the planet, and feelings of “eco-anxiety” rise, it’s perhaps not surprising that some people have started to question whether they want to bring a child into the world.

In this landscape of uncertainty, a nascent movement of grassroots organizations has sprung up to help people try to navigate these impossible decisions. 

One of the most high-profile is Conceivable Future. Co-founders Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli met at a concert in 2014. Within minutes of being introduced, they found themselves talking about how the climate crisis was shaping their view of having children.

“We we were really hungry to talk about this obviously, it was really close to the surface for us both,” Ferorelli, a writer, illustrator and yoga instructor, told HuffPost. “And it was a powerful relief to say it out loud and to hear someone else recognize it.” 

This connection between the two women planted the seed for Conceivable Future’s model, which centers on bringing people together to talk about the climate crisis through the lens of their parenthood hopes and fears.

“When you look at all the social movements in history that have been successful, a common theme is that people can really understand what this means for their own lives,” said Kallman, a sociologist and city councillor.   

The organization helps people put on “house parties,” gatherings where participants — those without children as well as those who are expecting or already have kids — come together to tell their stories. 

Some of these stories, which Kallman and Ferorelli call “testimonies,” are filmed and uploaded. 

Mei’s is one of the most recent. For a long time, she says in the video, she didn’t want to have children. There was a knot of reasons: The potential hit to her career along with the lack of support in the U.S. for parents raising kids. But one concern really gnawed at her. 

“I came to realize it was about climate change and anxiety about what kind of a world I would be leaving to a potential child,” said Mei, 37, who lives in Chicago. 

She had lengthy debates with her husband. “The entire time the conversation centered on climate change and whether that was an ethical thing for us to do.” Eventually, they decided to go for it, and Mei’s first baby is due in August. But she remains deeply worried. 

Other testimonies reveal the agony of indecision. Meghan Hoskins, a 23-year-old from New Hampshire who very much wants kids, lays out her dilemma: “I am afraid that they will eventually have to live in a world where there is no fresh water and that is increasingly full of dangerous and toxic chemicals.”

Back in March, during an Instagram livestream from her kitchen, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) paused from cooking to say: “There’s scientific consensus that the lives of 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?”  

She triggered plenty of conservatives with this statement, including Sen. Mike Lee (R-Ut.), who staged a bizarre presentation from the Senate floor claiming the answer to climate change was more American babies. But Ocasio-Cortez also hit a nerve with people around the country, tapping into deep-seated concerns that are rarely voiced publicly.

There remains a strong taboo around women deciding not to have children, whatever their reason: whether it’s the climate crisis, the growing number who choose to be childfree, or the increasingly divisive national debate about abortion. This taboo is even stronger in some developing countries, where often women have little agency over their reproductive choices, explaining why the conversation about climate crisis and reproduction tends to be a relatively western one. In common with much of the climate movement generally, it’s a relatively white one, too.

Part of the reason that talking about reproduction can inspire so much pushback, said Colin Hickey, a researcher at Utrecht University who focuses on philosophy and climate ethics, is because the world is geared toward having children. “We celebrate when people announce they are going to have kids, it’s sort of expected, it’s built into our tax code, it’s built into our advertising and film representation.” 

Groups like Conceivable Future, said Hickey, provide a counterpoint to this prevailing culture. “I think infusing the popular debate with some other sketches of viable alternative ways of living, where being childless is not necessarily seen as a kind of failing, actually can be helpful.”

Conceivable Future’s Kallman and Ferorelli insist they have no desire to prescribe or judge people’s choices. Discussions about kids and the climate crisis “tend to get stuck in this question of ‘what people are doing’ with their reproductive lives,” said Kallman. “We are totally agnostic about what people actually choose, whether they have five children, whether they have none.” 

The aim, she said, is to draw attention to the fact people are having to ask this question at all: “It’s an impossible question in an impossible time.” 

For the more than 330 members of the U.K. organization BirthStrike, the impossible decision has been made. Each has signed a voluntary declaration that they’ve decided not to have children while the political will to tackle climate change continues to languish.

The group’s founder, Blythe Pepino, a 33-year-old musician from the U.K., wanted to have children with her partner. But then she found herself haunted by climate change research — in particular the grim 2018 U.N. report that warned we have just 12 years to get our act together on climate change. Suddenly awakened to the extent of the crisis, her motherhood ambitions dissolved. 

She wondered if others felt the same. “I put it out on Facebook and I got like 50 people coming back saying, ‘I think I’m in the same situation as you, I’m interested in this, I’m willing to sign up’.” 

And so, in 2018, she formed BirthStrike. The aim of the organization is not to judge people for their choices, said Pepino, but rather to get the message out about ecological breakdown, “to wake people up,” and bring them together.  

As with Conceivable Future, Pepino takes pains to distance herself from the population control movement. Instead, she wants to galvinize this anxiety around having children into an activist movement and a support network.

The public controversy her organization inspires helps her reach people with her climate activism message. It also exposes her to online vitriol. “I see people saying ‘I wouldn’t rape you anyway’ or ‘You’d be a terrible mother, thank god the libtards are all stopping giving birth’,” said Pepino. 

One of the reasons the topic is so divisive, is that people fear that they will be judged for having children, said Hickey (even though both Birthstrike and Conceivable Future hammer home the point that they respect all choices). “The decision that’s always seemed natural and inevitable and personal, now it faces a kind of moral criticism that we haven’t been confronted with before.” People bristle at the implication that having a child is selfish, he added.

And while birth rates in the U.S. and other western countries are declining, the climate impact of having a child in a developed country is much more intense. A 2017 study found that having one fewer child was the best thing an individual could do to tackle climate change, saving a family in a developed country 58.6 tons of carbon a year. To put that in perspective that is far more than the report calculates you could save going car-free (2.4 tons), quitting flying (1.6 tons saved per transatlantic flight) or eating a plant-based diet (0.8 tons). 

But making reproductive decisions based on carbon metrics can feel unbearably pessimistic. And for some, having a child is a form of hope. 

This has been true for Londoner Lucie Brown. The mother of two, who works in the nonprofit sector and is a climate activist, told HuffPost, “Maybe having children and experiencing that grief and fear for the future is what spurred me on to find the power within myself and a community of other parents to say actually we can — and we have to — change the systems that we’re living within.”

Still, she fears for the future. “I don’t know in this moment [whether] I would have children if I was currently without children.”

Jessica Garrett feels the same. After spiraling into a depression after the birth of her son — “How could I do my first job as a parent: keep him safe and healthy?” — the science educator from Somerville, Massachusetts, joined activist group Mothers Out Front, where she found a community. 

“We could share our fears and grief and hopes for our children. And then we go out together and speak up.”

But if she were deciding now, she said, she might not have had any children. She completely understands would-be parents agonizing over their futures. “It’s an utterly heart-wrenching kind of decision to make.”  

“We do not like to think or talk about a terrifying future that we do not seem to be able to do anything about,” said Jem Bendell, a sustainability professor at the University of Cumbria and the author of a 2018 viral paper on how to adapt to the inevitability of climate breakdown. “We feel it is more kind to agree about visions of a better future,” he said, “it is a way of not facing loss and death until we have to.”

Conceivable Future’s Ferorelli concurs. “It’s not a particularly hopeful project,” she admitted of her cause. “It involves acknowledging what a dark situation we’re in.”

Even under normal circumstances, so much about parenting can feel tinged with grief. From the difficulties many have with conception, or finding someone with whom to conceive, to the frequency of miscarriage, the pain and devastation of labor, the abandonment of an old life, the little of punches of sadness as your kids grow up and away from you

I once held tiny, utterly dependent babies in my arms. Now I have two boisterous preschoolers. I don’t know what their future holds and I don’t know how I will prepare them for vastly uncertain lives. The climate crisis brings with it a whole new form of grief. But what I am certain about is, that knowing all this, I would still have children again. There are no right choices here but, for me, there is hope in humanity. There has to be.

Have fears about climate breakdown caused you to rethink your family plans? Share your story with us at thisnewworld@huffpost.com

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If the issue is not enough babies, Mike Lee is part of the problem, not the solution

By George Pyle. The Salt Lake Tribune

“Sure overpopulation is a problem. That’s why people should have lots of babies. Because one day, one of those babies is going to grow up and solve that problem.”
— Ted Baxter
In geometry, any two points make a line. In professional punditry, any three points constitute a meaningful trend.

• Point 1: Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee made a total fool of himself by standing up on the floor of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body to claim that the answer to problems caused in large part by the overpopulation of the world was for people to have more babies.
• Point 2: Republicans are trying to have the whole of the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional, attempting to toss upwards of 20 million Americans off the already-too-small roll of people who have health insurance.
• Point 3: The latest edition of the General Social Survey indicates that the number of people who had no sexual relations with another person over the preceding year has reached an all-time high. Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults self-reportedly came up empty in that department in 2018. (One presumes that the number of people who had sex and denied it is balanced by the number of people who didn’t have sex claimed they did.)
• Meaning: We are well beyond the era where people have lots of babies out of fear that only a few of them will survive to adulthood — or even long enough to pull a plow — and have entered a time when many people, quite logically, are having fewer babies out of fear that they won’t be properly taken care of. That, in fact, their arrival will only accelerate the demise of human civilization as we know it.

Lee’s argument is exactly the one referenced above, made by the dimwitted anchorman who was the bane of Mary Richards’ existence on the classic “Mary Tyler Moore Show” more than — gasp — 40 years ago. Not that there is never wisdom in the words of fools.

In a slightly more sentient essay on his Senate web page, Lee correctly points out that past predictions of global catastrophe have not come to pass because human ingenuity stepped in. Increased population did not cause millions to starve to death, because agriculture made great strides even as the birth rate soared.

Lee might well also have noted that aerosol sprays didn’t destroy the atmosphere, the turning of the calendar to the year 2000 didn’t play havoc with every computer on earth and the American bald eagle did not go extinct. In each case, humans became aware of what the future was going to be like if we did not act. So we figured it out and, individually, culturally and through our government institutions, invented new technologies and changed our behavior, thereby avoiding what could well have been a dreadful future.

Of course, the senator also included a sorry No-I-didn’t-see-“Chinatown”-why-do-you-ask? example of how city of Los Angeles was able to grow to its current megalopolis size with major water projects. Projects built with a massive grab of water rights from farmers and Indian tribes described in Mark Reisner’s 1993 “Cadillac Desert“ as “chicanery, subterfuge … and a strategy of lies.”

People are having less sex, and fewer babies, for reasons both good and worrisome. Women have other things to do. A knowledge economy that places no value on upper-body strength should be, and increasingly is, a way for women to realize, like Ted’s friend Mary, that they can make it after all with no husband and no children.

Meanwhile, the social safety net that might make people feel more secure bringing new lives into the world is under active and sustained attack — by Lee and his fellow Republicans. The deliberate transfer of wealth from the rest of us to the 1 percent, increasing numbers of men with no jobs and no prospects, Third World rates of maternal and infant mortality in the U.S. and political leaders whose response to climate change is, “Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it,” do nothing to inspire confidence in our future as an ideal place to raise a family.

We could well, as Lee says, think our way out of this. We could invent sustainable, clean sources of energy and build a future where the population can increase in ways that don’t destroy the planet. But you can’t avoid a calamity if you refuse to see it coming.

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, notes that we have made it well into the 21st century with neither Martian colonies nor World War III. gpyle@sltrib.com

Sen. Mike Lee criticizes the Green New Deal

By Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune, March 26, 2019

Washington • To poke fun at a liberal plan to tackle climate change, Sen. Mike Lee on Tuesday took to the Senate floor with a poster of President Ronald Reagan riding a dinosaur while firing a machine gun.

No joke.

The Utah Republican, a serious conservative not generally known for prop-supported political stunts, said his point was that the Democrats’ Green New Deal was as absurd as the poster he was showing.

“I rise today,” Lee said, “to consider the Green New Deal with the seriousness it deserves.”

The GOP-led Senate took a vote on the package Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to put Democrats on the record about the Green New Deal ahead of the 2020 elections.

Democrats didn’t bite; four of them joined Republicans to oppose the measure while 43 Democrats voted present. It didn’t reach the 60-vote threshold to reach a final vote. Lee and Romney voted against the bill.

“I’m not immediately afraid of what the Green New Deal would do to our economy and our government,” Lee said. “Rather, after reading the Green New Deal, I’m mostly afraid of not being able to get through this speech with a straight face.”

“The aspirations of the proposal have been called radical. They have been called extreme,” Lee added. “But mostly they’re ridiculous. There isn’t a single serious idea here. Not one.”

The Green New Deal is essentially a wish list of actions to slash carbon emissions as well as expand the social net for those in need.

The proposals include guaranteeing a job at a living wage, with paid family and medical leave, vacation time and retirement security, health care for all, access to higher education and repairing or replacing aging roads, bridges and sewer systems. It also calls for making all energy consumed in the United States emission-free, adding new energy-efficient buildings and eliminating manufacturing that causes pollution.

Lee pointed out that his poster also included a rocket launcher strapped to Reagan’s back and a tattered American flag.

The Utah senator added that point underscores his message “because this image has as much to do with overcoming communism in the 20th century as the Green New Deal has to do with overcoming climate change in the 21st.”

Lee offered up his own solution to climate change: babies.

“You know where the solution can be found, Mr. President?” Lee asked of the stand-in for the Senate president pro tem. “In churches, in wedding chapels, in maternity wards across the country and around the world. Mr. President, this is the real solution to climate change: babies.”

The planet, Lee added, “does not need us to think globally so much as think family and act personally. The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution that we’re considering this week in the Senate but rather the serious business of human flourishing. The solution to so many of our problems at all times and in all places is to fall in love, get married and have some kids.”

Lee also used other posters to make fun of the Green New Deal, which had sought to decrease air travel because of its carbon emissions, noting that Alaskans could use the fictional “Star Wars” animals called tauntauns, which were ridden by humans on the planet Hoth and that Hawaiians could turn to the comic book hero Aquaman and his trusted seahorse to get to the mainland.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who is sponsoring the Green New Deal in the House, fired back at Lee in a tweet.‏

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez@AOC
Like many other women + working people, I occasionally suffer from impostor syndrome: those small moments, especially on hard days, where you wonder if the haters are right.

But then they do things like this to clear it right up.

If this guy can be Senator, you can do anything.

Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted about Lee’s posters, noting they were paid for by taxpayers.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez@AOC
“GOP Senators are using their Congressional allowances to print Aquaman posters for themselves to argue that a #GreenNewDeal saving our nation from climate change is a ‘waste of money,’” she said, using an emoji that is laughing so hard, it is crying.