Though Laura Formisano says she never felt a huge desire to have children, she used to presume that would change.
But climate change could make the planet so uninhabitable, she says, she’s not sure she can ever bring herself to become a parent.
“It almost feels like a con, to bring a child into the world when it’s probably not going to be a place we’re really going to want to live,” says Formisano, 30, who manages a co-working space in Los Angeles and has been married for seven months.
Is the future simply too horrific to bring children into? Some couples, frightened by the prospect of droughts, wars, famines and extinctions brought on by climate change, are making that decision.
A Facebook group for women to discuss the idea launched this month, and it's winning over supporters in Europe and the USA. Conceivable Future, a U.S.-based group, has held more than 50 house parties in 16 states in recent years where women worried about global warming discuss forgoing motherhood.
“There are around 70 new signups in the last seven days,” says Blythe Pepino, who helped create the Facebook page #BirthStrike.
The reasons women come to that decision are many and varied, but they tend to focus on what they call a clear-eyed view of the changes a warming planet are likely to bring.
For some, the consequences are all too easy to imagine.
Eight years ago, a tornado devastated Christy LeMaster’s hometown of Joplin, Missouri. The monster storm was 22 miles long and at times a mile wide. It killed 158 people, injured 1,150 and destroyed almost 7,000 homes. LeMaster's family was OK, but she knows many people who weren’t.
“The reality is, they’re still rebuilding. Tornadoes on that scale are only supposed to happen every 50 or 60 years. When catastrophes on this scale start happening more often, what does life look like?” says LeMaster, 38, who lives in Chicago and curates public programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Though LeMaster says she's not someone who has "a deep drive for child-bearing," she'd long thought she would have children. But as climate change stokes the prospect of serious economic dislocation and fights over resources, "I feel even more scared now," she says.
"If I'm honest with myself, I don't know what water will look like in 10 years, what temperatures will look like in 15, or even food distribution," she says.
A congresswoman asks: Is it OK to have kids?
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 29, who pushed for a Green New Deal to help fight climate change, broached the topic last month on Instagram.
"There's scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question – is it OK to still have children?" she says in a video streamed from her kitchen.
Newlywed Luci Kade of Atlanta says her friends don’t talk about climate change much, which she attributes to the shift “happening on a larger and slower scale than we can comprehend.” But the trends are clear to her, and she says she can't ignore them.
“It’s really important to respond to the climate change crisis by actually treating it like a crisis. One way you do that is you don’t go on with business as usual,” says Kade, 28.
The forest fires, hurricanes and other catastrophic weather events in recent years give her pause about what kind of world humanity will live in 30 or 40 years from now.
Because of that, she and her wife decided to adopt. Kade works in the foster care system, so she knows how many children there need families.
“It just feels morally and ethically irresponsible to have my own children,” she says.
Climate change poses a real danger
There’s growing concern over the dangers climate change poses. People in 13 of 26 countries polled by the Pew Research Center last month said it is the top international threat.
Women more than men are worried about it. In the USA, 66 percent of women cited global climate change as a major threat to the nation, and 51 percent of men did.
Last October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that mankind has 12 years to act to avoid “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Even in the best scenarios, it said, the world will face more extreme weather events – more wildfires, more droughts, more floods, rising sea levels and the loss of almost all coral reefs.
Whether that affects women's family planning isn’t known. The U.S. birthrate has been falling for years, and in 2017, it was 60.3 births per 1,000 women – the lowest fertility rate since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began keeping records in 1909. Causes such as women marrying later, worries about the economy and the difficulty of finding affordable child care have all been suggested.
No one has polled American women to ask whether climate change is a part of their decision. In Australia, a survey of 6,500 women released last month found that 22 percent of respondents in their 30s said they were considering having no more children, or not to have children at all, because of climate change.
“It would break my heart having this child that you love, that you nurture and raise, and then you’re leaving them behind with a ‘Well, good luck! Things aren’t going to get better, you’re on your own,’ ” says Formisano of Los Angeles.
Her husband agrees, she says. “He always says, ‘We’re too many. We don’t need to have this many people on Earth.’ "
Feeling like 'part of the solution'
In 2014, Meghan Kallman and Josephine Ferorelli met at a concert in New Hampshire.
Both 30 at the time, they began talking about climate change and “within five minutes” came to the topic of not having children because of their worries about how bad things seemed likely to get, they say.
They had never found a place to share their fear. After talking most of the night, they decided they couldn’t be the only ones wrestling with such concerns. They launched house parties where people could talk about the ethics of family planning and climate change.
Kallman, a professor of international development at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Ferorelli, a climate activist in Chicago, acknowledge that whatever happens, as two white women in the USA, they won't find things as difficult as women elsewhere in the world. Even so, they're consumed by "the knowledge that what we're facing is so much worse than we imagine," Kallman says.
Ryanne Hoogeboom, 38, attended one of the early events. She lives in Albuquerque with her 4-year-old daughter, Kit. Though she loves her daughter dearly, she and her partner decided not to have any more children. "He's in the same camp I am," she says.
Hoogeboom says she made many changes in her life, including traveling less and moving into a smaller home, as she realized she "was part of the problem." She has gone back to college to earn her bachelor's degree while she works as a file clerk and tries to raise her daughter "so she'll be part of the solution."
When Hoogeboom explains to relatives why Kit doesn’t have any siblings, she gets confused looks if she mentions climate change.
“People don’t really understand what I’m so freaked out about. ‘It’s going to get figured out’ is their attitude,” she says.
Hanna Scott, 23, says it won't get figured out. "We’re on a trajectory toward a real hellscape," she says.
A resident of Bicester, England, she heard about #BirthStrike in early March, finally finding common ground on a topic gnawing at her.
At 23, she can't see things improving in her own lifetime, much less a child's. Even the idea of a quiet retirement is inconceivable to her.
“The climate will have changed, sea level will be rising, people will be migrating. It will cause huge geopolitical issues,” she says.
Although she’s not seeing anyone, she’s clear this would be something she’d bring up if she started a serious relationship.
“I fully respect that my partner might have a different perspective. If my partner really, really wanted a child, then I guess adoption is potentially in the cards. But more likely, I don’t think the relationship would continue.”
On Facebook, #BirthStrike is a closed group. To join, women must agree to a declaration that they won’t bear children “due to the severity of the ecological crisis.” Participants must state they are in compassionate solidarity with all parents, celebrating their choices and not judging those who do bear children. There were 225 women signed up.
Pepino, one of the founders, says she wishes her vision of the future wasn’t so full of famine, violence and global wars over resources. “I’m 32, and I absolutely love my partner, and I want his kid so badly. But I just can’t figure out how I would do that.”
For some, that vision of the future comes as their biological clocks are ticking the loudest.
“Up until about two years ago, I said I didn’t want children anyway. Then I started to be drawn to the idea of motherhood at the same time I was becoming really aware of what was going on in the world,” says Jen Witts, 38, in Bristol, England.
“I thought, ‘How could I bring a child into the world knowing what we face and how bad it’s going to get?’ ”
The discussion didn’t go well with her family. “My mother is absolutely devastated. She says it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done because she simply can’t understand it," Witts says.
Lori Day, 55, in Newberry Port, Massachusetts, has come to terms with her 27-year-old daughter not having kids, even though she had been “so looking forward to having grandchildren."
Mostly her daughter just "doesn't have that biological clock ticking, but she also doesn't believe it's going to be a world to bring a child into," Day says.
Day sees her daughter's point. “I have solar panels on my house, I drive a hybrid car. But deep down, I think it’s too late. I don’t know what the speed is at which things are going to unravel – but I believe it will affect the end of my life, and it will affect her when she’s my age,” she says.
Not population control
To be sure, the decision to not have children isn’t a full-on movement; it's more a discussion beginning to bubble up in people’s consciousness. Organizers are clear that it's not about population control.
“It’s not like my choosing to have a kid or not is going to solve the climate crisis,” Kallman says.
The goal isn’t to get women and men to pledge not to have children but instead to provide a place to talk about a topic that most people don’t want to discuss.
“It’s not anybody’s answer to this question that matters, it’s the fact that people are even having to ask this question," Ferorelli says. "That’s what’s messed up.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'How could I bring a child into the world?': More women say climate change means they won't have kids