Should fears about climate come before kids?
Christine Rousselle March 5, 2019
Catholic academics have said that concerns about climate change should not discourage millennials from having children.
Recent discussion of millennial concerns began after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) suggested that younger people might not have children because of fears about climate change.
“And so, it’s basically like, there is a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult and does lead, I think, young people, to have a legitimate question. You know, should--is it okay to still have children?” Ocasio-Cortez said in a video stream posted on the website Instagram.
But academics have suggested Ocasio-Cortez’s comments misunderstand why couples decide to have children.
Professors from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, told CNA that while the concept of bringing a child into the world is always daunting, environmental factors should not be enough to dissuade someone from having children altogether.
Dr. Joseph Capizzi, professor of moral theology and executive director of Catholic University’s Institute for Human Ecology, told CNA that he does believe the concerns of millennials are justified, and that “it’s not unreasonable to worry about the world into which one brings children.”
But, he said, having children is an expression of both love and faith, and that includes “faith in each other, faith in the goodness of God, faith in His creation.”
Capizzi told CNA that he thinks people overlook this basic fact because “so much in the world distracts us from the role of faith in the loving relationship of parents.”
“Concerns about the world and its future are distracting: in faith we are taught God saves and loves the world,” he said.
A recent online poll by the website Business Insider suggested as many as one-in-three Americans shares Ocasio-Cortez’s fears, with 30 percent of all respondents saying parents should consider the effects of climate change before having a child, a number that climbed to 38 percent among Americans aged 18-29.
Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, assistant professor of social research and economic thought at Catholic University, said that having children is a sign of optimism and that climate concerns should take a backseat to other factors.
"I think it takes a lot of courage to have a child, in any time," Pakaluk said. “Having children in general seems to require a lot of courage and optimism.”
Pakaluk, whose primary research area is in demographics and families, told CNA that having a child is an intimidating task, but one that is made easier with what she called “spiritual resources.”
She said she is afraid that the spiritual resources needed to inspire couples to raise children are “waning” in today’s society, resulting in fewer births.
She did not, however, place the blame squarely on climate change, noting instead that the climate has undergone massive changes for thousands of years, “apparently without our affecting it.”
Pakaluk also said rhetoric about overpopulation should be tempered by experience, and that while many believe vital resources are becoming more scarce, the opposite is often true.
"As the world population has grown, together with research, industry, and innovation, in fact, most of those scarce resources have actually become less scarce,” she said.
The professor noted that while the world’s population had typically ebbed and flowed before steadily rising over the last century, the “golden age” of sustained population growth is coming to an end.
Pakaluk noted that about four decades ago, people simply ceased having large families --a trend she said cannot entirely be blamed on concerns about changing climate.
Pakaluk told CNA that while the threat of climate change does not worry her too much, one thing does: the recent Center for Disease Control announcement that the United States’ fertility rate was at its lowest ever, and that no state is currently having children at replacement level rates.
"Certainly, for (Ocasio-Cortez) and other millennials--I don't think they have a lot to worry about (in regards to climate change),” Pakaluk said. “I think they should probably be a lot more worried about what our economy looks like without kids, because that actually does give me a moment of fear.”
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