Millennials rethink parenthood amidst climate crisis
Rowman and Littlefield Publishers

Millennials rethink parenthood amidst climate crisis

CORNWALL ­­— Should potential parents fear the future? Yes and no.

A new book released this February from Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, “The Conceivable Future: Planning Families and Taking Action in the Age of Climate Change,” tackles reproductive planning from the point of view of millennial couples — ages 28 to 43 — contemplating bringing new life into an environmentally uncertain world. Written by Meghan Elizabeth Kallman, a member of the Rhode Island Senate from the 15th district, and Josephine Ferorelli, a writer and climate activist, the two met ten years ago at a concert. There they bonded over their views on how inequality, heat, fossil fuel pollution and other eco-concerns intersect with reproduction.

At Cornwall Library on Friday night, Feb. 9, Kallman and Ferorelli celebrated the launch of their book and discussed challenging rhetoric on population control as a remedy for climate change and messaging that burdens those with the least power with the responsibility of solving the Earth’s problems.

So what are millennials’ significant concerns regarding family planning and climate change, and is anxiety around global warming actually halting childbirth for this generation in their prime childbearing years?

As Business Insider, among several other publications, reported recently, “Since 1950, the worldwide fertility rate dropped from an average of 4.7 children to 2.4 children. U.S. fertility rates peaked in 2007 before declining in 2008 during the Great Recession, and they accelerated their slump when the pandemic hit. Last year, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that the U.S. birth rate fell by 4% from 2019 to 2020, the sharpest single-year decline in almost 50 years, and the lowest number of births since 1979.”

It’s harder to pinpoint this data to one specific cause — recent decades have seen more significant access to birth control, increased student debt in the face of an exuberant child care affordability crisis — studies show numbers ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 for the child’s first year of life — and more career and workforce opportunities for women which might be hindered by maternity leave. As the U.S. Census Bureau reported, more women are delaying marriage, with the median age for an American woman’s first wedding increasing from age 20 in 1950 to age 28 in 2023.

“So much of the discourse around the climate crisis says we must avert disaster for the children,” said Ferorelli. “When we love our children, our students, our siblings, our [nieces and nephews], our young friends, we understand it’s visceral. But in an equally true way, we are the children. [Millennials] were all born into this crisis.”

She addressed that the focus on reproductive planning in the book was a way to open a broader conversation on eco-activism, specifically geared toward women, whose bodies are centered in conversations around population control or decline. “For us, reproduction isn’t the whole story, but it reveals the story’s heart. Focusing on reproduction in the context of climate change exposes the same unjust core that motivates many other social movements. It shows what’s at issue for all of us. As the climate changes, all stakes are raised. Some non-parents feel that their commitment to climate work would foreclose the possibility of parenting. At the same time, parents have described feeling locked out of activism or struggling to stay involved because time and money are short, activist spaces do not often accommodate children, or they find themselves dismissed as mere mothers, not meeting the conventions of radicalism.”

As Bryan Walsh wrote for Vox last year, “While it’s true that a child born today will be responsible for adding more carbon into the atmosphere…In a rich country like the U.S., a baby born today will emit less CO2 on average over their lifetime than their parents did; according to the International Energy Agency, if the world achieves carbon neutrality by 2050, the carbon footprint of those New Year’s babies could be ten times smaller than that of their grandparents.”

Using an extreme angle, Kallman pointed out that forgoing childbirth for the sole sake of reducing harm to the planet is as radical and unnecessary as suicide: “Rather than identifying the bigger forces acting on our lives, the innate climate problem of scale, that we’re tiny and helpless, is aggregated by isolation. But this cognitive dissonance is paralyzing and demoralizing. So, if you follow the personal footprint reduction strategy to its logical end, the most effective action you can take for the planet alone is to kill yourself now. And we don’t say this to be callous or macabre. The tragic reality is that some people who are no longer able to bear this devastation have ended their lives. But the example proves the point. Suicide doesn’t solve the climate crisis. One person fewer on the planet does not fix systemic injustices. So we can move beyond the view that our individual consumer or reproductive choices are the most meaningful contribution to the fight against climate consequences.”

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