"DO you have climate change anxiety?” was the question posed by Kaye Adams last Monday for Radio Scotland’s morning phone-in, and it made for a pretty gloomy listen. Listeners expressed alarm at the devastation caused by wildfires around the world and spoke of their fears for their children’s future.

Environmentalist Penny Poyzer, a mentor for a youth climate organisation, described children as young as 10 telling her “well, I’m not having kids – there’s absolutely no point bringing children into this world”. She added: “What a terrible thing to hear, Kaye.”

Indeed it is, for a few different reasons, but is this stance justified or over the top? To be commended or questioned? And isn’t it perhaps an unsurprising thing to hear from the subset of young people involved in youth climate organisations?

Yesterday a Mumsnet user began a discussion titled “Climate change and not having kids” in which she explained that her son’s partner was opposed to having children on the basis that life would be “cruel and horrendous” for the next generation.

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She sought to establish whether this attitude was common among those in their late 20s and early 30s. Tellingly, she wrote that the climate-anxious partner in question was working in “the field of sustainability in developing countries”.

The discussion that followed was wide-ranging. Some posters expressed the belief that climate change alone was unlikely to be the sole reason for the young woman’s position, with one going as far as to label it “just an excuse”. Others pointed out that her work would give her particular insights into the problems global warming will cause.

In 2019, an 18-year-old Canadian named Emma Lim launched a campaign titled “No Future, No Children” with a public pledge to not to have children until her government took serious action against climate change. She set up a website at nofuturepledge.ca to encourage other young people to make the same pledge and share their reasons for doing so.

“I am giving up my chance of having a family because I will only have children if I know I can keep them safe,” she wrote. “It breaks my heart, but I created this pledge because I know I am not alone.”

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Interestingly, four years on the address redirects to a website offering shipping containers. Presumably the intention was never to keep the pledges in the public domain in the long-term, especially given some signatories were not yet in their teens when they made them.

A 2020 article for Elle Canada asserted that “this movement isn’t actually about procreation; the women at its forefront are trying to humanise the stakes of climate issues by using their young, often privileged bodies – the kind of bodies that might be more likely to get people talking”.

If that was the aim, the attention-grab certainly worked – but were all of the anxious youngsters who made pledges aware of this?

Lim’s mother is described in the same article as an “oil and gas lawyer turned environmental lobbyist”, which not only supports the notion that climate offenders have the capacity to change their ways, but also that activist apples often don’t fall far from the tree.

Some young people living in Scotland today may truly believe the lives of any children they have will ultimately be cruel and horrendous, but if they decide against procreating on that basis alone, they may end up pretty miserable and resentful themselves.

Do we want a world in which only the careless and clueless keep making babies? Who will lead the next generation of activists?

The National: Extinction Rebellion (XR) has warned ministers it will step up its campaigns in “new and inventive ways” if they do not agree to two demands ahead of a major four-day climate protest in central London (PA)

In the same year that Lim launched her campaign, Blythe Pepino, an English musician in her early thirties, founded BirthStrike for Climate, which also hoped to channel fear for future generations into positive action. However, she was dismayed to find its message being misrepresented as advocating population control, and the campaign was disbanded in 2021.

It may be that some young people believe their own children could potentially have decent lives but are wracked with guilt about their personal carbon footprint and believe they, personally, have a role to play in controlling the global population. An influential 2009 study from Oregon State University took as its premise that a person is responsible for the carbon emissions of their descendants – half for each child they produce, a quarter for each grandchild etc.

“Based on this logic,” wrote academics Martin Sticker and Felix Pinkert for The Conversation last year, “the authors found that having one child adds 9441 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the carbon legacy of each parent. This equates to more than five times their own lifetime carbon emissions.”

Stark figures indeed, but as these researchers point out, these figures are based on the assumption that future generations will keep emitting at 2005 levels – despite legally binding net zero targets now being in place around the world.

A child-free life can be a truly glorious choice, but let’s hope no young people feel peer-pressured into closing the door on reproduction due to campaigns that are intended to be motivational and symbolic, not frightening and ethically binding.