Title media by
Paige Gurstein

Illustrated by Paige Gurstein

Scientists say that we have to act immediately or our Earth will be irrevocably warmer by 2050. In 2050, my sibling, who was born in 2000, will be younger than most of our current politicians are today. I will be 54.

My parents are currently in their late 50s, and I am 24. If I continue on the same life track as my parents, I will have children in my mid-30s, leaving them with less than 20 years to live before our world is completely changed.

My generation struggles with the burden of each new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The findings from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are “a code red for humanity,” said Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a recent statement. This report, co-authored by over 200 scientists, acts as a warning for the magnitude of irreversible harm that fossil fuels can cause to our planet. The global temperature is expected to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next 20 years. Furthermore, half of the world’s population is threatened by water shortages and the other half threatened by floods. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe, and more than 14 percent of the world’s species are at high risk of extinction.

As our earth becomes more and more inhospitable, we cannot ignore the question at hand: is it ethical to continue to reproduce? We’re not invincible. We need clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. And it’s not like we haven’t had time to think of a solution. The research about the apocalyptic trajectory of our planet has been published and publicly available for years, but many in power have chosen to ignore it. Politicians with children and grandchildren younger than me, whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren will end up in the same situation as my future children, are refusing to recognize our climate crisis as an issue. Perhaps they haven’t thought about it – after all, it’s a horrible truth to have to face. Or maybe it’s that they don’t care about a future that they won’t be living in. It’s ironic how much money matters to politicians when they are alive, but in death, their children will suffer at the hands of such greed.

Lower-income and marginalized communities around the world face disproportionately high rates of environmental hazards due to climate change. For example, the Flint water crisis disproportionately harmed Black residents. In addition, there are over 20 million climate refugees who are forced to evacuate their homes each year due to rising sea levels, drought and rising temperatures. In Bangladesh, for example, flooding due to rising sea levels puts millions at risk of being displaced. 

There are direct monetary ties between politicians who support policies that favor fossil fuels and the oil and gas industries. As the general population starts to reject America’s dependency on fossil fuels, industries including Chevron Corp, Koch Industries Inc., and Occidental are pouring millions of dollars into politicians who are willing to sell their souls for power. According to E&E News, the 2022 election cycle saw more oil and gas donations to Republican-aligned super PACs than from any other interests. Democrats aren’t innocent either, with many of them owning stock in fossil fuel companies, including Senator John Hickenlooper, who serves on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

It’s scary to think about how much the climate crisis will inevitably affect Earth and all of its inhabitants. When I think about my future children, I can’t help but weep. How can I justify bringing life into a world of death? How can I pass this environmental burden onto our children, who will have no choice but to be brave against wildfires, monsoons and rising sea levels? How can I show them the beauty of life as it chokes on polluted heat? 

On top of other societal woes, young people in this world are feeling the massive weight of climate change. The term “climate anxiety” has been coined to describe the specific feelings of anxiety that young people feel in relation to the health of our planet. These feelings are exacerbated when kids experience climate-caused environmental disasters such as wildfires or flooding. In fact, children are being affected before they are even born. A recent study by members of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University posited that fetuses could be affected by extreme climate events when the person carrying the fetus is exposed to climate stressors. The same study concluded that current generations have a responsibility to act now to protect the climate. 

I began writing this article three and a half years ago, in a state of inner turmoil on a train ride through the south of France. I was struggling with loneliness and my desire to create life in a world that seemed destined to die. 

Since that time, it seems that the world has begun to see things differently. I don’t think I’m the only one who suffered a paradigm shift as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The slow and insufficient response to the pandemic by the US government highlighted not only the brutal failures of our healthcare system, but also the way that people are willing to sacrifice the most vulnerable in society for their comfort. This realization has only furthered distrust in the government in their response to climate change.

Almost three years ago now, I asked my college advisor, who had recently had her first child, how she personally grappled with raising her daughter in a world inflicted by climate change. She told me that she sees the future differently than me. What if her daughter, and her daughter’s generation, are the ones to fix things? What if all the babies born to people my age, the people who know exactly how bad things are, are the ones to force the previous generations to take responsibility?

I want to have that kind of hope. The decision not to have a child would be very difficult for me. I have long since dreamed of carrying a combination of myself and the love of my life inside of me. Maybe it’s selfish, but I want to perform that miracle of life. I love children and the unbiased, unblemished way they see the world. The relationship between a child and parent is so poignant, so strange and miraculous, that I desperately want to be a part of it. I want to see a version of myself, so like me yet so different, grow up and become their own person with their own thoughts and experiences. I want them to tell me things I would never have thought of on my own. I want them to look me in the eye and disagree with me, telling me they can make their own decisions. I want to marvel at their existence. And my parents would make wonderful grandparents.

So, where do go from here? The Koch brothers, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos – some of the wealthiest people in the world – are refusing to take responsibility for the harm their corporations are causing our planet while simultaneously contributing to climate-change denial. We had the research decades ago – corporations could have changed from plastic to paper or started eliminating plastic altogether, while the government could have increased regulations. Electric cars like Teslas don’t mean much when the electrical grid is still powered by coal and natural gas. The government needs to be proactive in ensuring that big corporations switch their source of our power from fossil fuels to nuclear energy and renewable energy. Such changes would cost corporations only a fraction of their billions.

Big corporations such as JBS Foods, Tyson Foods and Phillip Morris International (a tobacco company), along with corrupt politicians such as Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro, need to take responsibility for destroying our rainforests. BP needs to take responsibility for the 2010 deadly oil spill, which killed 11 crew workers and millions of marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and fish. Shell needs to stop pretending it’s all for renewable energy when they are still trying to drill in our arctic, which is melting while I write and leaving skeletal polar bears in the overflowing oceans.

It’s ironic that those in power who claim to be “pro-life” are the ones who are ignoring climate change and destroying the planet, the thing everyone needs to survive. Maybe in 10 years, things will be different – better. Our generation and the next have the potential to be incredibly proactive in protecting and restoring our planet. Perhaps my daughter will be instrumental in the rehabilitation of the earth.