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How climate change is impacting people’s decision to have kids in different ways – ABC News

Australia’s fertility rate is falling.

One of the many reasons people are choosing to have fewer children — or none at all — is concern for climate change.

Experts say fewer babies being born can have a positive impact on the environment, although there are negative implications associated with a rapidly ageing population.

While some people are steadfast in living child free to reduce their carbon footprint, there are those who say having children is a statement of hope.

We spoke to two people whose concerns about the planet’s future influenced their decision about whether or not to have children.

Jonathan: Child free by choice

While Jonathan (who asked we withhold his surname for privacy) has never felt the “strong biological urge” to have children, it was environmental concerns that really cemented his decision to remain child free.

“Environmentally, I am very aware of the devastating trajectory that we are already on due to climate change and global warming and, even in my late 20s and early 30s, had decided that the single most impactful decision I could make in relation to reducing my own carbon footprint was not to have children,” the 39-year-old from Brisbane says.

The latest Climate of the Nation report shows Australians have become more worried about the effects of climate change, with 75 per cent of respondents concerned about its impact.

That number is even higher — 84 per cent — among 25 to 34-year-olds.

Jonathan, who works in HR, says while it’s easy to get into “argy-bargy” over corporate responsibility versus individual responsibility when it comes to reducing emissions, he also worries about what future any hypothetical children would have.

He says that’s especially because recent reports show reaching net zero emissions by 2050 is considered “unrealistic“.

“We are going to continue to see the trends we’ve been seeing; increases in natural disasters, fires, floods, rising sea levels — the works.

“What sort of world would that child be coming into?”

Although for different reasons, Jonathan’s partner is also child free by choice, which has made the decision somewhat easier.

In some previous relationships, it has been a source of conflict, but it was those times Jonathan was able to confirm his stance on not having kids.

“Going through that process, having those conversations, taking the time to critically assess why I felt that way, what my main concerns were — that really then crystallised it for me.”

While there are child-free people who openly admit they dislike children, Jonathan says he still enjoys the kids in his life — to an extent.

“I have two gorgeous nephews, and other close friends and family have children that I get to spend time with and dote on but, at the end of the day — or, generally, much earlier in the day than that — I am more than happy to give them back.”

Despite not planning to have any children of his own, he would still like to help future generations tackle climate change.

“Hopefully through interactions I can influence [my nephews and friends’ kids] to grow up to be … really environmentally and socially conscious young people.”

Emma Barnett-Johnson: Mum of one

Emma Barnett-Johnson, pictured with her husband and son, hopes she can help shape the next generation’s passion for climate action.()

Environmental scientist Emma Barnett-Johnson has spent years studying the climate and says the rate at which we are experiencing change is “alarming”.

“We are currently seeing an unprecedented number of natural disasters, which we know has ongoing consequences beyond the climate itself,” the 31-year-old from Townsville says.

“There are huge financial impacts and impacts on food production, people are displaced, injured or worse, we see increases of disease and entire species lost.”

Even more concerning for Emma is attitudes from the “general public and politics”, where she says these concerns are largely dismissed.

Emma’s insights into global warming mean the decision to have a baby wasn’t an easy one for her.

“My biggest fear about having children was not wanting to leave them in a world where there is an increasingly volatile climate and with governments unwilling to act on it,” Emma, who is mum to 17-month-old Finn, says.

But ultimately her desire to raise her own children “overpowered” her fears for the future.

Emma says she has the chance to teach her children about climate issues, so they can grow into adults who will be part of the solution.

She hopes to raise kids “who will involve themselves in education and science, to practice environmentally mindful behaviour and appreciate our natural world” and expect continuing action to protect it.

Emma says she has a lot of admiration for people who don’t want to have children, including those with the environment in mind.

“It’s a selfless act. Overpopulation will cripple us eventually, it’s unsustainable long term.”

Where Emma finds the most hope as a mum is knowing younger generations are more informed and action focused.

“By continuing to have these discussions and putting an emphasis on science, the children born now and in the future, will do better and do more than the generations before them.”

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