Fear of an uncertain future: Generation Y questions their desire to have children

It is one of the most personal decisions that a person can make: to realize one's own desire to have children.

Fear of an uncertain future: Generation Y questions their desire to have children

It is one of the most personal decisions that a person can make: to realize one's own desire to have children. But more and more young people are considering whether they want to give up children - because of a global and social crisis.

Blythe Pepino actually wants children. When she meets her boyfriend, she has an "overwhelming urge to start a family with him," the British singer and activist tells The Guardian. But then she attends an event hosted by climate activists Extinction Rebellion, who speak about the catastrophic reality of climate change. "I realized that I couldn't start a family, even though I wanted to at the time," she tells the British newspaper.

Pepino is not alone in making the decision not to have children because of the climate crisis. For more and more young people, climate change is an important aspect of family planning. A global survey has shown that 40 percent of young people are unsure whether they want to have children because of the climate crisis. A ZDF survey of 25 to 34-year-olds in Germany found that 13 percent of respondents are unsure whether they want to have children - one of the main reasons for this uncertainty is the climate crisis.

According to a study, by 2070 more than two billion people will live in places where temperatures are "almost unbearable". A person who is 25 today will be 72 by then. A child born in 2025 will be 45 years old in 2070 and will therefore still be in the middle of life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's forecast that sea levels could rise another two to three meters by the turn of the century if the 1.5 degree target is not met could affect this child. Even if we manage to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, humanity will have to cope with significant effects in the next 20 years.

The impending effects of the climate crisis are no longer an abstract matter for this generation. If the Paris climate agreement is not met, scientists agree, tipping points will be reached that will have real and real impacts on the lives of Generation Z, perhaps even on their predecessors. And even more on the lives of their children. According to a study, 96 percent of young, climate-conscious people are concerned about the well-being of their potential children.

Because there are currently many indications that the 1.5 degree target agreed in the Paris Agreement will not be achieved. The world is already on average 1.2 degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times. At the current rate of burning fossil fuels, there are only seven to eight years left before the 1.5 degree mark is exceeded. Some young people have little hope that global climate policy will be able to adapt quickly enough, leading to uncertainties when it comes to family planning. "The Fridays for Future Generation is frustrated that the reduction of CO₂ is proceeding so slowly and that the world climate goals are becoming increasingly difficult to achieve," says Martin Bujard, research director for family and fertility at the Federal Institute for Population Research.

In addition, there is the concern that having children of their own will contribute even more to climate change. A study looked at what each individual can do to reduce their carbon footprint. Along with less air travel and less meat eating, by far the biggest change was having one less child. According to the calculations of the 2017 study, each newborn child would contribute 58 tons of CO₂ to the parents' footprint annually. For comparison: The average CO₂ footprint in Germany is 11.17 tons of CO₂ per year. However, the study is controversial as the method used to calculate this figure is questioned.

Thomas Nice, a researcher at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, is also critical of the study. "Sure, every new person contributes to climate change," he says in an interview with ntv.de. "But instead of looking at how an extra person affects climate change, we should look much more at how we produce and consume." Because not everyone contributes equally to climate change. A person in Germany causes more than ten times as many emissions per year as someone in Nigeria.

According to Nice, even if fewer children were born in Germany, a country with comparatively high CO₂ emissions per capita, this would not be a solution to climate change. Countries like Nigeria in particular show that population growth is not the problem. The population there has increased almost sixfold in the last 70 years. But emissions haven't grown nearly as fast. "Lifestyle is more responsible for climate change than number of people - the richest 1 percent of the world's population causes significantly more emissions than the poorest 50 percent," says Nice.

Scientists cannot yet say whether young, climate-conscious people will really no longer have children in the future. There are not enough long-term studies for this. But it's not the first time a crisis has sparked a debate about children, says demographics researcher Bujard. At the beginning of the 19th century the lack of food for children was discussed, in the 1960s and 1970s overpopulation was a reason for not having any or fewer children. In the 1980s, the fear of nuclear war was often cited as an argument for not having children.

Because of these crises, individuals may have decided not to have children. In any case, this did not affect the birth rate. In the end, personal reasons often prevail, says Nice. "Having children is one of the most fundamental personal decisions you can make," says the demographic researcher. "Of course, if people come to the conclusion that they don't want to have children, that's their right." However, he warns against looking for the solution to the fight against climate change in population growth. "Birth control is not a solution to climate change," says Nice.