Meet the westerners going child-free to ‘save the planet’
A November 2021 report by the Pew Research Center found that 44% of non-parents aged 18 to 49 said it was “not at all likely that they will have children someday,” and the majority of them (56%) claimed that it was just because they didn’t want to. While the lack of financial security and instability brought on by the pandemic are often cited as the most common reasons, one seemingly increasing trend is the desire to remain child-free in order to save the planet.
Kate Chapman, 51, is a life coach and Broadway performer who moved from rural Ohio to Boston in 1988 and was “absolutely gobsmacked” by the amount of people around her. To supplement her income, she would often work as a teacher or nanny. She also helped babysit the 13 children her three siblings had, and decided early on she wanted nothing to do with it:
“I calculated the amount of ‘disposable’ diapers, tiny baby food jars, discarded toys and books, ‘adorable’ outfits, strollers, and ridiculous footwear that would soon clog the landfills popping up in small towns across the ‘heartland’ I'd just left. I witnessed – firsthand – how Capitalism had blanketed itself over child rearing, and I wanted no part of it."
“As a very young woman I vowed not to contribute to the mess being created by producing another child. I saw it as a very selfish act in our society. If I really needed to be a parent, there were thousands of foster children who needed homes. Having a child ‘of my own’ seemed more about narcissism and less about parenting.”
Courtney Ordway, 31, similarly decided early on that she didn’t want to have children, and also believes that if she ever feels the urge to be a mom, she would just go the adoption route.
“There are so many children in the world who need a good home, and it would be a great honor to take care of one of them,” she said.
Courtney lives in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, Canada, where she runs the blog Dink Life, which is all about the joys and challenges of being a DINK (Dual Income No Kids). She and her husband have been together for 10 years, and decided against having children early into their relationship.
Some of their reasons for being childfree included “loving their freedom,” “wanting to spend money on things [they] enjoy,” not “creating an even bigger carbon footprint than we already have,” and “overpopulation in the world.” One of the reasons, however, was “not wanting to bring children into the world as it currently is.”
The latter is interesting, because people who choose not to have children are often labeled “selfish.” In fact, Pope Francis recently caused quite a stir by saying that people who do not want to have a child exhibit a “form of selfishness,” adding that “this denial of fatherhood or motherhood diminishes us, it takes away our humanity. And in this way civilization becomes aged and without humanity, because it loses the richness of fatherhood and motherhood. And our homeland suffers, as it does not have children.”
But the people I interviewed believe it can actually be more selfish to have children.
“The pope really needs to parent a child of his own before he says that parenting makes humans better,” Kate said. “ In some humans it can do just the opposite.”
Scott Hasting, 38, is the co-founder of the betting information website BetWorthy. He met his wife through an environment protection organization in college, and they “decided not to bear a child as s/he will just suffer on Earth” just as much as the Earth will suffer.
“We know the needs of a growing child and the toll it can bring to the environment,” he said. “Think of all the clothes the baby will use, the diapers even if they are reusable, the toys. These will all go to waste and that hurts our planet so much.”
At every family reunion, Scott and his wife receive lectures, endless questions, and concerned stares about their decision to remain childfree, but they are resolute in their conviction that they’re doing the right thing for both the planet and their neverborn child.
“Bearing a child will just add to our carbon footprint and that is going against our values. My wife and I chose to not bear a child into a world that is doomed to suffer because of the worsening effects of climate change. We are not doing this for us; we are just trying to avoid any hardships that our supposed baby will feel.”
Due to this line of thinking, people who choose to remain childfree are often described as “anti-natalists.” In a Reddit group for anti-natalists, one user describes the philosophy as such:
“Anti-natalists assign a negative value to birth for multiple reasons, such as the presence of suffering, selfishness, consent, environmental reasons … To put it shortly, we believe that giving birth is unethical.”
And yet, the people that I interviewed were reluctant to label themselves as such.
“Anti-natalist is a strong word to describe us,” Scott said. “Technically, yes, we are anti-natalists in the sense that we encourage other people to have fewer children and we don't want a child of our own. [But] in our group of friends, we are the only ones who didn't have children; most of them have one or two.”
Courtney said that while she is definitely not anti-natalist, she does believe people should treat having children like a well-educated decision rather than a fact of life:
“For some people being a parent is their life's journey and greatest gift, and I would never suggest that someone doesn't follow that equally amazing path. I believe that if society supported women more in their right to choose being a parent, rather than it being an expectation of their gender, then we would see some great shifts in humanity.
“Providing women in extreme poverty the education and protection to be able to choose whether or when they want to become a mom would support ending poverty, overpopulation, anxiety and depression.”
Kate similarly does not consider herself anti-natalist, but believes our society should make people really know what they’re getting themselves into when they choose to have a child:
“Many people haven't even held a baby before they've had their own. How do they know they are someone who is well-suited to parenting? I've seen many people over the years produce their own offspring, only to be terribly regretful that they did. As a life coach, I hear this narrative more frequently than I ever imagined I would. I think a utopia would be one in which teenagers received a child to care for as soon as their hormones ignited.
“I'm certain that babysitting from the age of 13 helped me understand what parenting was all about and allowed me to understand that it wasn't the correct decision for my life. Having a child changes a life, and not always for the better. The pope is correct that we need more humanity, but having more humans isn't the way to get there. Helping humans understand that living a life centered in love is the point.”
When asked whether or not they worry that they will one day regret not having children, both women responded firmly in the negative.
“People often say to me ‘You will change your mind one day’ or ‘You will regret not having children when you are old’. So far I haven't changed my mind, and I don't fear the loneliness of not having children to take care of me in my old age,” Courtney said. “To have a child out of fear of missing out in the future is not a great way to live in the present moment. I only have the present moment to live in, and worrying about raising another human being is not something I want to do.”
“I'm not sad I chose to remain child-free for the sake of the planet,” Kate said. “I enjoy taking care of Mother Earth in the ways I am able to do so.”
A few years ago, Kate and her husband bought a 40-acre piece of land in Yoder, Colorado, where they have planted over 80 trees, dug a pond, and raised a flock of chickens. They are hoping to replant a portion of the land with native grasses this spring, in order to “create a little oasis microclimate in the middle of what is quickly becoming a place of desertification.”
None of this – according to Kate – would be possible if she was pooling all of that money and energy into sending a kid off to college. At 51, she is happy to say that she’s “lived a life of adventure, not tied to school schedules and 18 years of being tethered to someone with various dependence issues.”
And while she will never have kids of her own, children still play a meaningful and fulfilling role in her life.
“I am not childfree. There are many ways in which children have found their way into my story, and I suspect there will be more to come. In the meantime, I will plant some trees and seeds and see how I can make this little piece of Earth a bit happier than I found it.”