By Fenelle McLaurin
I was sceptical and concerned when I first came across a recent article about women declaring that they were going on “birth strikes” as a response to climate change. Women (and a handful of men) were publicly pledging to avoid having children because of the ecological state of the world.
At first glance Birth Strike looked like a pseudo-moral crusade for population control, but as I explored their motivations more deeply it became clear that, for many of them, the Birth Strikers’ declarations were driven by something much more relatable than anti-child or population control sentiment: they were driven by an intense fear of the future.
At the heart of it the Birth Strikers are terrified of bringing life into a world in which their children’s futures will be uncertain at best and desolate at worst. They fear that any future they could offer their children, with the world as it is, would not be worth having.
Understanding their motivation helped me to move from disbelief to sympathy, for truly there is nothing new under the sun! How many other men and women have had those fears throughout history? How many more are sharing those fears today, but for a variety of other unhappy reasons: economic, social, religious, political, personal and so on.
But even the Birth Strikers acknowledge the research which shows that were the world to experience significantly reduced fertility rates and increased mortality rates resulting in slower population growth, the effects of climate change would not be seriously mitigated. This is because the impact on the environment is primarily caused by human behaviour, not humans per se.
Raising children to take responsibility for the environment and to care for this world and its citizens would be a far superior act to striking on birth. Since it is consumer behaviour rather than population number that is driving concerns for the climate and our environment, raising generations to value sustainable consumption and to care for the environment will do far more than having less children ever could.
Every child brings with them into the world an array of entirely new possibilities and opportunities. Some children might grow to contribute to more sustainable development, power, or products; others might help form a generation of citizens who are responsible in their consumption and teach that responsibility to their communities and to children of their own. That’s how you have an impact. Rather than living in fear of the future, the Birth Strikers would be better off raising children who will contribute to and fight for a better world for themselves and for their children, and for their children’s children.
Almost all fears of the future, including climate-based ones, will require sacrifices in order to be challenged. Having kids familiarises you with sacrifice; you get used to giving up things for others because you do it all day long. In the process of putting your own needs last, you become more generous and more willing to do things that are hard out of love.
Throughout history children have been born into desperate and desolate circumstances. There is a great sadness in this reality, but more than sadness there is joy in new life and the very weapons needed to fight for a better future: love and hope. Authentic love is properly geared towards hope for the future. That kind of love is optimistic even in the face of great hardship – why? Because it doesn’t know how to be despairing! It is too keen to cherish and to grow!
This may sound abstract but truly it is so very tangible. Love actually, literally grows: the love between a man and woman has the potential to conceive an entirely new, irreplaceable, and unrepeatable person. As a wife and mother of two glorious children I can personally attest to this incredible trajectory of love.
Sometimes that love compels you to get up for the tenth time that night, but other times it drives you to be brave when you are scared, to give more when you thought you had nothing left, or to have hope when you can see no reason to be hopeful. I have experienced this love myself and have witnessed it in the lives of others and I can safely say that the love that is possible between parents and children is exactly the kind of force we need to confront our fears of the future.
Some Birth Strikers may stick to their pledge to not have children, others might change their minds down the track. I dearly hope they do open themselves up to the gift of children. Because we are all scared of things in this world, and welcoming children into it is one of the most uncertain things many of us will ever do. But this is the way of love: to cherish, to grow, and to hope.
Fenelle McLaurin is a mother of two and a freelance writer.
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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