Bringing children into a disintegrating environment used to be a theoretical fear. Now it’s a very real one
Saturday 2 April 2016
The decision whether or not to have a child is one of the bigger ones a person will make in life – often the biggest.
I needed some strong convincing from my wife when it came time for us to make it. Most of my reluctance was self-interested: I liked my life well enough, and I didn’t want to change it. My wife talked about feeling a biological imperative, which I had no answer for. Who was I to stand in the way of something like that? I signed on.
But there is a whole other potential person to consider, too – the new life that you are bringing into the world without asking first.
It’s not really fair. For while the world is a wonderful place, one we humans have made nicer for ourselves with wonderful inventions like books and record players, penicillin and pizza, it’s also a really awful place, one we’ve ravaged with deforestation and smog, nuclear weapons and mountains of pizza delivery boxes and other garbage.
The awfulness seems to be getting worse, especially now that climate change has sped up – sea level rise that was supposed to take centuries has recently been projected as taking just decades. This complicates the already difficult decision of whether to have a kid.
We’re living through what scientists call the “Sixth Extinction”, an era of precipitous decline in the number of species able to live on the planet. The last mass extinction, the fifth, happened 66 million years ago, when a giant asteroid crashed into Earth and 76% of all the species on the planet perished.
This time, we’re doing it to ourselves.
“Climate scientists agree that humanity is about to cause a sea level rise of 20 or 30ft, but they have tended to assume that such a large increase would take centuries, at least,” the New York Times’s Justin Gillis reported. But a recent study led by retired Nasa climate scientist James E Hansen, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, indicates that the negative effects are happening a lot faster than we’d thought, perhaps feet of rise within the next 50 years.
“That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history,” Hansen told Gillis, adding, “We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control.”
Imagine that: New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai, Bangkok, Amsterdam, Miami would go first. Think about the implications. Global economic collapse, famine, border disputes, wars. Jesus, just the inland traffic.
Thinking about the horrific future scientists predict hurts a very specific part of me, a part of me that I only first learned was there when I met my newborn son, 11 years ago, as he lay on the tray of the scale where the doctors had just weighed him and counted his fingers and toes.