The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow is over and has widely been received as not having delivered enough. Climate activist Greta Thunberg lambasted the talks as a “failure”, echoing the sentiments of many commentators since the conference’s close.
The perceived failure of humanity’s ‘last, best hope’ in the climate fight is unlikely to do anything to soothe the rampant climate anxiety taking root in younger generations. A recent study conducted by the University of Bath surveyed 10,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 25 in ten countries. It collected data on their thoughts and feelings about climate change and government responses to it to date.
The findings make for stark reading regarding the current mental landscape around climate change. Those surveyed said they were worried about climate change, with 59% reporting extreme worry, while 84% reported at least moderate worry. Over 50% said they felt “sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless and guilty”, while over 45% said their negative feelings were impacting on their daily life and functioning.
With such a potent combination of emotions swirling in society, particularly among the young, in the face of what is consistently presented as the apocalypse on steroids, it’s no surprise, then, the nihilistic philosophy of anti-natalism is enjoying something of a rebirth.
Anti-natalism is the position which views procreation as morally wrong. Traditionally, this was because suffering was viewed as so intrinsic to existence that you spared a potential child that evil fate by refusing to have it in the first place (and you lessened your own suffering by choosing not to undergo all of the trials and tribulations inherent in raising and loving children).
However, it has taken on a new dimension in the 21st Century. While that same old vilification of being and life is there in many cases, a social dimension has been added as a result of the looming threat of climate change. Extreme climate activists have taken to arguing that the greatest contribution a person can make in the struggle against climate change is to forgo having children at all – or limiting family size as much as possible.
The position isn’t exactly unpopular, either, with such high-profile proponents as Prince Harry and Megan Markle saying they’re limiting their family to two children, and US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez musing in an Instagram livestream whether it’s still ok to have kids. Scores of articles on the internet ask the same question, while a 2019 survey revealed a notable minority of 30% of respondents agreed with the notion that climate change should be considered when deciding whether or not to have children.
There are surely many factors to be considered when a couple discusses their family, but this burgeoning philosophy is the very antithesis of “open to life”.
Instead, it condemns life as no more than the suffering and evil that often afflict it – a fact that is expressed nowhere more clearly than Christ’s cross.The proper response to this, as Jesus showed us, isn’t to clam up and admit evil’s triumph over good – as the anti-natalists are doing. I When God sent humanity forth to be fruitful and multiply, he didn’t set a limit on it. The solution to climate change isn’t to decide not to have children, or to stick to a one or two child policy. It’s to raise a family centred on Christ, trusting that he’ll lead them to proper treatment of his creation.
It’s to open ourselves up ever more generously to life, trusting in God’s goodness and the goodness of his creation.
Legislation and conferences are surely an integral part in the nitty-gritty of solving the world’s problems, but they must never lead us from a fundamental trust in the goodness of God and his creation.