“Is it OK to still have children?”
New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently set off a firestorm by putting that very question to her 2.7 million followers in an Instagram live stream. Her words, of course, may have been twisted by her critics, with Steve Hilton on Fox News calling the idea “fascistic” and a “no-child policy.”
But Ocasio-Cortez was raising what she claimed to be a “legitimate question,” in light of climate change. She’s not wrong that some young people are hesitant to bring a baby into a world they see careening toward potential environmental and economic crisis. In fact, there is already a word for these abstainers:
That is the name of members of a group, formed by Blythe Pepino, who have decided not to have children in response to what they believe to be the coming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse.” There is, of course, another word: “anti-natalist”, which describes a group that adhere to the philosophy that humans are an inherently destructive force on Mother Earth and therefore, the optimal population on the third planet from the sun should be zero.
According to the Guardian, Pepino lost her “overwhelming urge” to start a family after she attended a lecture by the direct action group Extinction Rebellion, which laid out the catastrophic potential of climate change.
“Even though I wanted to have a family at that point, I couldn’t really bring myself to do it,” she said. “I don’t know if I can do this, considering what we know — if there isn’t a political will to fix this, we really don’t stand much of a chance.”
And the anti-birthing movement appears to be a growing one.
Just two weeks after starting BirthStrike, she said 140 people have already taken the pledge “not to bear children due to the severity of the ecological crisis.” Pepino has clarified that the point of BirthStrikers isn’t to discourage having children, like the anti-natalists, but to communicate the urgency of the problem.
It is a “radical acknowledgment” of how the looming existential threat is already “altering the way we imagine our future,” she told the Guardian. “We’re not trying to solve it through BirthStrike. We’re trying to get the information out there.”
Hannah Scott, 23 years old, was another young BirthStriker adherent who was quoted as saying: “I feel so desperately that it would be bringing a life into a future that does seem ever more desolate.” “Every time a friend tells me they’re pregnant, or planning on having children, I have to bite my tongue.”
Perhaps ironically, abstention from having kids may be just the sort of move that would foster a bona fide, or potentially worsen, an economic crisis. Financial experts often make the case that a healthy functioning economy requires a growing population to have a sufficient labor force and consumers.
Even still, Americans are already having fewer children. According the New York Times, citing a commonly used measure of fertility, the number of births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, was 60.2 in 2017 — marking a record low.
That said, fear of natural resources dwindling also may support increasing calls from the likes of AOC and researchers to curb population growth.