Fear of the Future
By Michael Gregson
Ask Sri Lankans what their biggest worry is at the moment and they’ll likely tell you: COVID-19, whether it’s the damage done to the economy – or the risk of catching the deadly virus, which has now claimed more than 100 lives on the island.
But ask Americans and many will give you a very different answer. Their biggest fear is a climate change apocalypse. So much so that it is stopping young people from having children.
A study, published in the Climatic Change, surveyed 607 Americans aged between 27 and 45 about global warming and the impacts it would have on their decision to start families. A staggering 59.8 percent of respondents say they are 'concerned about the carbon footprint of procreation', while 96.5 percent of those surveyed admit to worrying “about the well-being of their existing, expected, or hypothetical children in a climate-changed world”.
Some say they are so anxious about the negative impacts of the climate crisis that they have decided not to become parents. “I feel like I can't in good conscience, bring a child into this world and force them to try and survive what may be apocalyptic conditions,” one 27-year-old woman told researchers.
“Climate change is the sole factor for me in deciding not to have biological children. I don't want to birth children into a dying world [though] I dearly want to be a mother,” another 31-year-old respondent stated.
A number of those surveyed were already parents, six percent of whom say they even feel guilty about having kids. “I regret having my kids because I am terrified that they will be facing the end of the world due to climate change,” a 41-year-old mother wrote.
These views were based on very pessimistic assessments of the impact of global heating on the world, the researchers said. One respondent, for example, said it would “rival world war one in its sheer terror”
Lead researcher Matthew Schneider-Mayerson said the respondents' quotes prove that younger generations are incredibly concerned about climate change.
“It is an unprecedented window into the way that [some people] are thinking and feeling about what many consider to be the most important decision in their lives,” he told The Guardian.
“Fears about the lives of existing or potential children were really deep and emotional. It was often heart breaking to pore through the responses – a lot of people really poured their hearts out.”
The number of people factoring climate change into their reproductive plans was likely to grow, Schneider-Mayerson said, as the impacts of global heating became more obvious. “To address this, we really need to act immediately to address the root cause, which is climate change itself,” he said.
The report is the first peer-reviewed academic study of the issue and analysed a large group of concerned people. The survey was done anonymously so people could express themselves freely.
“It is an unprecedented window into the way that [some people] are thinking and feeling about what many consider to be the most important decision in their lives,” said Schneider-Mayerson.
Other findings were that younger people were more concerned about the climate impacts their children would experience than older respondents, and that adoption was seen as a potential alternative to having biological children.
One 42-year-old father wrote that the world in 2050 would be “a hot-house hell, with wars over limited resources, collapsing civilisation, failing agriculture, rising seas, melting glaciers, starvation, droughts, floods, mudslides and widespread devastation.”
There is also growing evidence of climate anxiety affecting mental health and earlier in 2020 more than 1,000 clinical psychologists signed an open letter warning of “acute trauma on a global scale”.
The climatic change study comes at the tail end of a year filled with natural disasters linked to global warming.
California and Colorado witnessed some of their largest wildfires on record, with blazes burning across millions of acres of land, destroying homes and taking lives.A sweltering heat wave in parts of Australia is sparking fresh fears of wildfires. Parts of the country sweated through the hottest November night on record, with the mercury rising to 45c.
Meanwhile, the 2020 hurricane season - which is still ongoing - is the most active on record.
The long term climate change forecast for Sri Lanka also makes worrying reading. According to a recent report by the Asian Development Bank, extreme heat threatens human health and living standards on the island, particularly for outdoor labourers in urban areas without adequate cooling systems. This will particularly impact communities in Sri Lanka’s northern region. There is also potential for unfavourable implications to Sri Lanka’s large tourism sector.