Having kids in a climate crisis: can you do it? I’m too scared

By Gudrun Cartwright

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Thankyou to my friend Catherine Van Loo for letting me use her photo from the School Climate Strike in London in September

As always, I was fascinated by what happened in Davos this year. If not necessarily encouraged. Donald Trump criticised climate ’prophets of doom’, pronouncing the amazingness of the USA and promoting their fracked gas as a safe solution to energy security. On the same stage, Greta Thunberg gave all the adults in the room a good talking to about the rapid action needed to tackle climate and ecological breakdown to provide her generation with a future that they can thrive in. HRH The Prince of Wales told us that we have just ten years to get our act together. And an interesting BBC documentary on population, consumption and the outlook if we keep growing both. Which was a first and, in my opinion, welcome discussion of the issues.

It seems to me that population and consumption growth are at the heart of our current crises. And talking about them is still a taboo. In right wing circles it’s an excuse to lay the blame for the world’s problems at the feet of poor countries with high birth rates, whilst frowning on contraception. On the left, it’s impossible to discuss without being accused of wanting to deny fundamental human rights to reproduce and live well. And there are endless discussions about becoming more efficient and changing consumption patterns to accommodate more people. When we know, deep down, that this only slows down progress to the same destination. See Sheri S Temper’s excellent book ‘Beauty’ for a frightening vision of what this future could look like. Surely it is time to think a bit more rationally about this? After all, physics would suggest that we can’t continue to expand without breaking the system at some point. Which means we need to rethink our assumption that we can have what we want, when we want it, with no thoughts to the consequences. And being intentional about bringing more people into the world strikes me as a good place to start.

From a personal perspective, I am purposefully childfree. Both in the sense that I chose not to have children and that I am using my childfree life to do my best to help create a world where all children — human and other species — can live well, now and in the future. It was a hard decision to make and an even harder one to stick to. I had always wanted to be a mother. I didn’t think life could be complete without a family of my own. But as I became settled and started to feel ready to become a mum, my husband and I realised that we couldn’t bring new people into the world. Not at a time when we seem to be hell bent on undermining the life support systems we depend on. When the last thing it seemed the world needed was another spoilt English kid. Let alone thinking about what their future might look like with nature stripped bare and getting on for 10 billion people by the time they are thirty. So, we don’t have children. Now, as I move into my late 40’s, I can start to appreciate what I have developed and become as a result of being childfree. But I have gone through a full process of grieving for the children we never had, coupled with such strong biological urges to have a baby that it was incredibly painful at times. I still feel wistful on occasion when I see families having fun. Less so when I witness toddler tantrums and teenage rebellions!

It is not for me to judge or to tell others how to live. Children are a joy and reproducing important for the future of humanity. But I know that women (and the men in their lives) are increasingly worried about having children in a climate emergency. (Thanks to my friend, Catherine Van Loo for letting me use her photo from the September Climate Strikes here!) My question therefore is how can we make it less of a taboo to be childfree and enable people to feel good about putting their energies into birthing and raising a new way of being in the world, rather than their own families? I know I have experienced too many upsetting conversations where people with children have questioned my decision, told me I’m wrong and will regret it, am selfish and not a proper woman. Even relative strangers. So how can we all support each other so that we can create a better world together?

I believe that the Dalai Lama was right when he said that western women have the potential to save the world. And I feel that childfree western women have a special contribution to make.

Whilst our sisters invest their energy into nurturing the next generation, we can focus on changing memes and nurturing a culture that will start to restore the health of communities of people and nature so that the next generation can look forward to their future. Step into our uniquely feminine powers and develop new ways to lead, at home, at work and in our communities, so that we can bring balance and a different perspective to important decisions that need to be made in all spheres of life. To own our roles as equals in the world and make our voices heard. The role of women has always been to nurture the future. We need that now more than ever and for some of us it involves not having children and finding our own unique path to fulfillment and contribution. But most importantly, we must support each other, with kindness, understanding and appreciation — whether we are mothers or not. We can be the change we want to see in the world, with a little courage, faith and solidarity. Let’s do it!

If any of what I have said chimes with you, please do get in touch. I have created the ‘Purposefully Childfree’ network with groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and am starting the 21st Century Grown Ups project, figuring out how to design a good urban life that maximises my contribution to tackling our shared social and environmental challenges. I have created a free guide to boosting your wellbeing in a climate emergency that you can find at my website — www.gudruncartwright.com. I look forward to connecting.

With much love and hope for what we can create together

Gudrun x

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