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Worried About A Bleak Future, Climate Change Activists Hesitant To Have Kids

Aug 28, 2016
Originally published on August 29, 2016 11:14 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just discussed, Zika is a serious concern for expectant mothers living in places where they might be exposed. But there's another threat that's making some people think hard about starting a family, and that's the changing climate. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has this story.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: In Keene, N.H, a dozen people have scooched folding chairs into a circle in the spare office of an environmental group. The meeting's organized by a nonprofit called Conceivable Future, one of more than a dozen such meetings across the country. The topic? It's not melting ice sheets or solar power. It's something deeply personal. This group has gathered to ask - with a climate crisis looming, is it a good idea to have children?

MEGHAN KALLMAN: I've probably been thinking about it as long as I've been thinking seriously about having a family.

LUDDEN: Meghan Kallman is 32. A year and a half ago, she co-founded this group with Josephine Ferorelli, 33. Both are in committed relationships. Both worry that any children they have would live long enough to see devastating climate impacts from flooding coastal cities to more intense super storms to shortages of fresh water.

JOSEPHINE FERORELLI: If you're in your 20s or 30s, thinking about maybe having a kid, digging into the science and understanding what we're looking at - like, it's not an intellectual problem at that point. It's really a life problem, like a heart problem.

LUDDEN: Though not a problem likely to come up in casual conversation or one that many with pressing daily struggles may feel able to focus on. But for those here steeped in scary science, passionate about the environment, it's a relief to know they're not alone.

MEGHAN HOSKINS: It's kind of, you know, emotionally difficult to deal with.

LUDDEN: Twenty-three-year-old Meghan Hoskins says her parents are desperate for little red-headed grandbabies, the sooner the better. She has not shared her concerns with them or her ex.

HOSKINS: If I had told my boyfriend at the time, I'm not ready to have children because I don't know what the climate's going to be like in 50 years, he wouldn't have understood. There's no way.

LUDDEN: She's hardly the first to wonder whether it's the right time to bring a child into the world - think of wars, the overpopulation scare in the '70s, the Cold War threat of nuclear holocaust. Though Kallman's been surprised at the reaction of some who remember that.

KALLMAN: Oh, I thought we were going to blow ourselves up in nuclear war, but it didn't happen. And therefore, you know, just be quiet and have some babies and see everything will be all right. We have had that reaction more times than I can count.

LUDDEN: It may be well-intentioned, but as she and Ferorelli see it, the threat of climate change is worse. It's not a possibility - it's happening.

NANCY NOLAN: I'm old enough to be a grandmother, but I'm not.

LUDDEN: Nancy Nolan tells two younger women that people didn't know about climate change when she had her kids in the '80s. Then she became a climate activist. Her children are grown now.

NOLAN: And when they were old enough to go off on their own, you know, I said to them, I hope you never have children, which is an awful thing to say. It can bring me to tears easily.

LUDDEN: Because, Nolan says, people are driven to have children, and you can't really tell them not to. One young woman looks a little stunned. She tagged along here with a friend and says she had no idea that forgoing kids because of the climate was even a thing.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is anyone feeling moved to testify?

LUDDEN: Some record videos to post to the web. Organizers hope these meetings get more people speaking out about climate change, whatever they take away from the discussion.

BECKY WHITLEY: It hasn't impacted my decision to have more children.

LUDDEN: Becky Whitley says becoming a parent is precisely what motivated her to care about the climate. She's with the advocacy group Moms Clean Air Force.

WHITLEY: I see a 2-year-old and I see everything that's sort of, you know, raw and natural and beautiful about people. Like, I think I really do come from a place of hope because I am a mother.

LUDDEN: Whitley also recruits activists. She worries that suggesting things are so bad you shouldn't have kids could turn people off. Josephine Ferorelli says she and Kallman don't want to tell anyone what to do. In fact, neither is ready to rule out having children themselves.

FERORELLI: I'm not ready to, like, get rid of the fantasy. I'm curious about the fantasy. In certain versions of the future, I would love to have a kid.

LUDDEN: Every day, she says she looks for some clue that the future will feel safe enough to have a baby. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.