Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez right to ask if the climate means we should have fewer children

alexandria ocasio-cortez at a news conference for the proposed green new deal
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a news conference for the proposed Green New Deal. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

On Instagram, the congresswoman said millennials are choosing to be childless because of the climate crisis. But that approach risks overlooking systematic factors

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, freshman congresswoman and social media sensation, has taken time out from baiting Donald Trump and establishment members of her own party to raise a profound moral question for us all: in light of the escalating climate emergency, should we still be having children?

During a recent Q&A live-streamed on Instagram, apparently shot while she was pottering in her kitchen, the rising star of the Democratic party – and one of the few frontline politicians to get the scale of the environmental emergency – pulled no punches in telling viewers that unless we take urgent, radical action on emissions, there is no hope for the future. “It is basically a scientific consensus that the lives of our children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it OK to still have children?”

With this one question put to her 2.5 million Instagram followers, Ocasio-Cortez has stumbled into a highly contentious area. Population has long been a controversial factor in the climate change debate; one recent study said the most effective thing individuals can do to address the crisis was to have one less child.

However, critics insist we should focus instead on overconsumption, and that putting the onus on individuals to address climate change obscures the systematic nature of the crisis. Crucially, they say, it lets the real culprits – fossil fuel corporations and successive global governments’ inaction – off the hook.

And even if you accept the premise that having fewer children will tackle climate change, there is also the thorny question of exactly who should be having fewer kids: an American is responsible for 40 times the emissions produced by a Bangladeshi, but often those who advocate population reduction focus on women in the developing world.

Ocasio-Cortez is not encouraging people stop having children. And as the leading advocate of the Green New Deal plan – which aims to radically transform the US economy by 2030 – she is one of the few politicians to be working on a plan that might just offer a way to avoid the worst impacts of this crisis.

But perhaps she is raising a more profound issue. Faced with a future of social and political breakdown, flooding, deadly heatwaves and food shortages – and a world full of politicians in various states of denial – why shouldn’t young people question whether bringing children in the world is a good idea?

The answer is one we must all grapple with. But it is worth remembering that throughout history – even in the most horrific circumstances – people have continued to have children. It is a profoundly human act.

And the thousands of young people who took to the streets to voice their concern around the climate crisis in recent months are a reminder that often – far from being the problem – children embody a profound hope for the future.


by Matthew Taylor | The Guardian

 

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