German schoolteacher Verena Brunschweiger decided shortly after her marriage not to have children — not because she did not want them, but because she felt she could not justify the climate damage caused by adding to the planet’s population.
She is part of a growing movement of women and young people who have vowed not to have families out of concern about a looming climate change crisis.
“We really thought long and hard about this,” Brunschweiger said in a telephone interview from her home in Bavaria.
“Eventually the environment was the most important factor for me,” she said. “I struggled, of course. We love children — my husband is also a teacher… but I’m certain I made the right decision.”
Climate change is changing choices for some young people as the world struggles to limit global warming, aiming to hold off impacts ranging from more extreme floods, droughts, storms and rising sea levels to growing hunger, water shortages and poverty.
Scientists have said that hundreds of millions more people might be affected by 2050 unless unprecedented action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Among the personal choices people in developed countries can make that will have the most impact on limiting emissions, having fewer children, flying much less and eating a plant-based diet are most important, some scientists say.
Brunschweiger and others believe that it is irresponsible to add to a world population that is expected to rise sharply from 7.6 billion in 2017 to nearly 10 billion by 2050, creating additional pressure on emissions and scarce resources.
Other people have decided not to have children because they fear climate change means there might be a bleak future for their offspring.
Among the second group is musician and activist Blythe Pepino, who set up global campaign group BirthStrike for those who have vowed not to have children due to the “severity of the ecological crisis and the current inaction of governing forces.”
Pepino fell “head over heels in love” two years ago and was planning a family, only to reconsider after reading research about global warming risks.
“Knowing that the likelihood is that we are not heading into a safe future — it started to make me realize that [having children] didn’t seem like a very sensible option,” she said.
However, the pressure on potential parents like her also felt “unfair” and the decision not to have children was “quite a lonely thing,” she said.
She went on to set up BirthStrike — to spread a “punchy” message about the impact of climate change and to offer a “solidarity group for the people starting to feel the emotional consequences.”
Concerns over climate change have reignited an old debate over the impact of a growing population on a world already using natural resources faster than they can be replaced.
Having one fewer child is by far the most effective step a person in a developed country can take to reduce their carbon footprint, one 2017 study found.
It would save about 58 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, researchers calculated in a study that estimated the total impact of a child and their likely descendants.
“It’s such a fraught topic,” said Karen Hardee, a consultant on issues linked to resilience and sustainable development.
“A lot of people say: ‘Let’s just not talk about population and climate change,’ but that to me is like putting our head in the sand,” she said.