Climate Crisis and Children
From Words
posted on November 13th, 2014

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
Henry David Thoreau, from Walden

In response to a characteristically brilliant and challenging piece by Paul Kingsnorth in the London Review of Books, Labour-left blogger and tweeter Ellie Mae O’Hagan (@misselliemae) published this pithy, sarcastic tweet:

It wasn’t the debate (such as it was) between these two that piqued my interest. It was O’Hagan’s inclusion of the example of not having children, with her other “comedy extreme” examples of building a nuclear bunker and dying young.

O’Hagan’s no Blairite centrist, not pro the current corporate hegemony. She’s to the left of Labour, a fierce, admirable activist and writer. So it’s fascinating to me that even someone like her can equate (mockingly) a decision not to have children (clearly meant to be read as ridiculous) with a nuclear bunker hidey-hole and an early death.

I (we) don’t have children, at least partly for ecological reasons. That decision is something I reflect upon a lot. I know I’ll feel sad about it in the future, yet news about the state of the world often makes me feel powerfully relieved that I’m not contributing in that way to the overall consumptive mess.

But it’s idiocy to present that as a reneging of some kind of responsibility, or an extremist’s reaction, as so often happens like this in mainstream cultural communication. It’s fascinating that within my life (particularly as we age, along with our social circle) it becomes a question I’m expected to answer – why haven’t we? – as opposed to the greater question that could travel in the other direction – why did you? – yet rarely does, still bearing a ridiculous sense of being socially unacceptable. I’ve even found myself pretending to acknowledge it’s my “selfish” decision not to breed, to make the answer feel easier for people who ask. While deep down thinking the very opposite. It’s taboo.

So, er, why did you? 

What, don’t you bloody LIKE my kids!? They’re ACE!

What are the remaining selfless, outward looking reasons for having children in today’s world? Especially when children out there need adopting? Or do parents generally acknowledge it to be a fundamentally inward-looking, desire-based decision? Without meaning any disrespect, in my heart I know it as an inherently self-serving act (albeit co-ordinated with powerful biological imperatives).

Everyone’s presumption is that their own child will offer something unique, maybe even something so outstanding it singlehandedly counter-acts the global problems, because of that perfect nature of individuality where that is possible. How dare you question us: in 25 years my little Timmy will end the world’s food shortage! Despite huge numbers of wonderful offerings from smart humans; after all this time, we still head gradually for disaster while most people live in horrific, exhausted, soul-demolishing circumstances that they fight, day after day, to make the meagre best of, while those of us who have basic comfort don’t give a shit. If technology will save us all (rather than just saving the super-rich in the secret mountain) can it bloody hurry up please?

Your children aren’t special.
Bill Hicks

Undeniably there are too many humans on planet Earth. Unquestionably the world (as it is now) is being slowly devastated, not just by the greed and expansionism of a callow few (although there is that) but by the vast majority of normal, decent people around the world, trying to make their way within systems and infrastructures that were built in earlier periods of history, when we had space to go forth and multiply. That’s you and me – and our kids.

This reaches towards the core problem with mainstream environmentalism. The only viable solutions have a big effect on our comfort levels. The only viable solutions fundamentally alter our deeply embedded social and cultural ambitions for ourselves. In many ways, the only viable solutions require us to completely rebuild our sense of ourselves from the ground up. That’s how big the ask is. The scratching-at-the-edges solutions that we do engage with en masse (recycling, changing lightbulbs, a bit of middle-class composting, ooh I bought a fixed gear bike!) have negligible effect without an entirely different paradigm of global political and corporate willpower.

And we know this. And the Green Party can’t even get in the TV election debates.

Three things to save the planet: ditch cars, ditch the global meat trade and stop having kids. Me, out on the extreme? A skeptical reader reacting negatively to this blog entry is actually far more of a climate fatalist than I am: at least I chose a path to shift the riverflow of the rest of my days, for reasons of climate.

No, they’re the ones building a nuclear bunker, perpetuating what they think they need, for lack of the courage to step outside.

We are screwed.

Oh, by the way, look over there: some new episodes of High Maintenance on Vimeo.

  1. Matt Sisson
    10:50 am on 11/14/14

    That’s one way of looking at the climate issue. The other one is to consume less. Unfortunately, some people choosing not to have kids isn’t going to stop other people from choosing to have kids, and what’s to say that as soon as population starts coming down, it doesn’t just gives more firepower to those that say ‘we can keep consuming more then’.

    As you rightly point out, change might be uncomfortable at first, but we also have to show how life can be better. This requires a human soul/psyche change (Read ‘hell and high water’ – Alastair McIntosh). It requires humans to be invited into a better future, that allows them to understand the fullness and richness of what humanity can be, living within the sustainable capacity of the beautiful Earth.

    Yes there will be ‘sacrifices’, but actually who wouldn’t want to live closer to where they work, work less, have more time for their kids, learn more skills, engage in art, culture, politics, as well as just being able to properly relax? The key to environmental success is showing that our consumptive world is a failure, not just because it obliterates the planet, but because it obliterates our souls – it is the thinnest veneer of existence; and then reforming the structures to allow people to live differently.

    So that’s my issue with the ‘don’t have kids’ argument – it goes against a huge chunk of what is so beautiful and incredible about LIFE! (but yeh, don’t have more than two…). I also suspect it IS somehow a ‘quick-fix’. A single act to say ‘look, if everyone did this it would fix the issue’, but actually it doesn’t solve the massive economic, societal, and cultural transformations required to move humanity onto a harmonious path. This job is much harder, and requires wrestling with the political power structures that exist, and reclaiming that power to begin to build the world that we need.

    Yes that might take longer, and yes it might trigger more climate change than we would like, but there are no ‘quick-fixes’. Unless we learn to order our economies and societies differently, then no single change (or even three changes) is going to stop us coming up against the same problems again and again in the future.

© Chris T-T 2008–2013
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