Larger hands giving smaller hands a ladder

I am 20 years old. I am a soon to be senior in college, and I am going to have a BS in Environmental Science by the end of 2021. I’m excited for the future. I’m excited to see what it holds. Studying the environment has taught me a lot, especially when it comes to the impacts of climate change, voting for green policies, and conserving the earth. One thing I still wonder about though is how my lasting impact and the decisions I make will affect the planet. Is it ecologically irresponsible to have children? 

This isn’t something you learn in school, and again, I’m only 20, but this is still a big question mark. I wonder what the world will look like in 10 years. I wonder what new opportunities there will be. What new innovations there will be. How legislation will look. How predictions for the future of the climate might change or remain the same. And I wonder if all of this will impact my decision to have children. I want to know what factors will I take into consideration before having a child. I want to know if I should skip out on having children, because bringing a person into a world that might be too late in saving a sustainable climate, is morally wrong. As someone who studies the environment, is it hypocritical for me to procreate?

When I think about why someone like me would not want to have children, the first thing I think of is my carbon footprint. I live in a country with one of the highest per capita carbon footprints in the world, and if I were to reproduce, I would create someone with a similar footprint to mine. If a major way to stop climate change is to curb carbon emissions, my hypothetical child would just contribute to those carbon emissions. The moral argument of it all is that it’s not ethical to bring a child into a world that is quickly warming beyond dangerous temperatures that have already severely impacted our environment. No matter how much I may personally want a child, it’s not fair to subject someone to a quickly degrading planet. In the Environment Journal, one study pointed out that “A US family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives” (Mortimer, 2017). By not having kids, or having fewer, I could be avoiding emissions. Maybe there’s hope. According to Seth Wynes, a climate change researcher at the University of British Columbia, the top four things that can result in a significant decrease in one’s carbon footprint is a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families (Mortimer, 2017). When reading this, realistically, I don’t think I’ll live a car-free life. Maybe I could avoid flying as much, and I could definitely switch to a plant-based diet. If having smaller families is a significant way to decrease carbon emissions, I could do that too. For example, I could have one child instead of two. But then again, if I really want to make an impact, it might be most beneficial to just not have children at all.

I also want to consider what my hypothetical children might do in the world. I was born in 1999; climate change was happening well before I was born and will continue to happen in the future. I turned out to be someone who deeply cares about the environment and is fighting to conserve it. If I have children, there’s hope my offspring will also protect the environment and fight to end climate change. Maybe they will be able to make more progress than I ever would have, or maybe they will do the same things I am doing to minimize my impact and educate my peers. They could turn out like I did: someone who’s environmentally conscious and cares. On that end though, it might be unfair to assume things about a person you haven’t met yet. They could do the exact opposite of what I would like them to do, or worse, they could not care about their environmental footprint at all.

What do I owe my children anyway? Going further than just choosing to have smaller families in order to reduce carbon emissions, do we owe it to our children to provide, or at least work toward, a habitable earth for them to live in? In an environment where severe storms, heat waves, and melting glaciers are getting worse, is it just to bring someone into the world? I don’t think it is. But then again, we have no idea what the future holds. Tatiana Schlossberg, a climate reporter who also contemplates whether to have children, mentioned in her Vanity article that “We also don’t know how we will react to climate change, and what we might ultimately do about greenhouse gas emissions” (Schlossberg, 2020). For all I know, things could get better in the next 10 years. Predictions change. One of the biggest factors in predicting the future of our climate is how humans behave. And if that’s the case, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have kids if things get better over time.

Before doing my research, another concern that came to mind when thinking about the decision to have kids was overpopulation. I thought that having kids would mean contributing to an already overpopulated planet. This isn’t necessarily a climate change issue, but it is an important factor to look at and educate yourself on. It’s important to bring up because as someone who studies the environment, making sure I am always seeing through a social justice lens is critical when thinking of solutions to climate change and educating my peers. Reducing the global population does, over time, slow carbon emissions (Porter, 2014). One thing I’ve learned though is that the fastest growing populations are in developing countries. When developed countries say that controlling the population could help with climate change, it’s important to ask which populations they are talking about. 

Countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and most European countries have had steady or declining birth rates while countries like Niger, Angola, the DRC, and Equatorial New Guinea are among the fastest-growing (Indexmundi). Developed countries asserting that controlling overpopulation is the way to save the environment not only steps into an ecofascist mindset but is reminiscent of the 1970s and 1980s when rich nations’ support for population control was just another form of colonialism (Porter, 2014).

Through my ecology classes at USF, I’ve learned that the number one way to reduce population growth is expanding access to education for girls. The more girls that are educated and the longer they are educated, the less likely they are to have children at a young age and the less likely they are to have as many children. Perhaps instead of thinking that by me having kids, I would contribute to overpopulation, I could support education for girls and reframe the way I think about overpopulation. It’s critical to research your views, who’s informing those views, and to always look at things through a lens that considers all people, especially when holding privileged positions like living and being raised in the United States.

Another thing to think about is the reasoning for having children, especially for women. Am I thinking about this because of climate change or because of societal expectations for women to have children in their 20s? It’s critical to examine why I may want children and if the reasoning may be expectations that have been placed upon me. One thing I’ve noticed while researching this topic is that most articles concerning ecological responsibility and reproduction are written by women. This may suggest that women get asked more often than men whether having a child is harmful to the environment. By that alone, I wonder how fair it is for the pressure to procreate to seemingly be a women’s issue. Ecological responsibility and reproduction are important issues, but it’s not fair that I have to be the only one to think about it. Men should too. Again, when it comes to examining critical issues, especially dealing with the environment, looking at it through an social justice lens is important, especially considering women are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

The truth, from what I’ve learned, is that having kids is one of those things where there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. There isn’t some sort of guarantee you’re doing the right thing by not having them. And we don’t know how much time we have to decide. If climate policy gets better and powerful legislation is enacted to move towards a more sustainable world, then I would feel more comfortable having children. But the thing is we don’t know if that will happen, and for most prospective parents there’s a limited window when having children is an option. Perhaps I’ll wait to see how policies turn out and, around the time I’m ready, I might make my decision based on that. After reading about women in climate and their decision to have or not have kids, it seems like the ultimate decision is up to me. And that unsettling, because I have no idea what that will mean in 10 years. What I do know though is that I will try my best to protect the environment for the generations that will come after me. I will be conserving the environment and minimizing my footprint for the children who will be here long after me, whether they are mine or not. I am 20 right now, but in 10 years I hope I will have done my best to contribute to a greener, cleaner planet for the children who come after me.

Works Cited

Mortimer @cjmortimer, Caroline. “Having Children Is Bad for the Environment, Say Researchers.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 12 July 2017,

“Country Comparison > Birth Rate.” Birth Rate – Country Comparison, 1 Jan. 2019,

Porter, Eduardo. “Reducing Carbon by Curbing Population.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Aug. 2014,

Schlossberg, Tatiana. “How Should a Climate Change Reporter Think About Having Children?” Vanity Fair, 21 Apr. 2020,