The Blissful Obliviousness of Today’s New Parents
Some of you will hate me for what I am about to write.
I’m quite accustomed to it.
It used to be acceptable to ask questions about what future can be expected for children brought into our world now, this world with its increasingly grim environmental prognosis. At one time the bleak forecasts were mostly about extreme heat and pollution. Present projections involve far more: oceans acidifying at dizzying speed and full of microplastics which have now entered the food chain, possible massive methane eruptions from underneath polar ice caps which are melting at a phenomenal rate, water wars driving mass migration which in the future will dwarf anything we have seen so far, the list goes on. But instead of making the debate about children and population growth more relevant than ever: oddly, most of what was once known as “The Left” now considers the subject taboo. Lefties galore, just like right-wingers, will now tell you that everyone has the right to have children and no one should be “shamed” about it. Many also assert that our planet can easily support two or three times its current number of humans … “if we only (do such-and-such, all pitch in to do this or that)…” … which we will certainly NOT all do. As if we had the right, anyway, to keep wiping out other species faster and faster to make that even theoretically possible.
The truth – from my perspective, obviously — is that, however horrifying the forecast for our planetary future becomes, almost no one wants to admit that it is THAT bad. The decision to have children is widely considered to be a Human Right. Even many of us who accept the likelihood of these dire environmental scenarios want to believe that “it will all work out somehow”, that technological solutions will be developed, that humans can adapt to anything.
But above all, many of us who don’t yet have children consider a life without children somewhere in our future to be a tragic and horrifying thing to contemplate. Our genetic and cultural programming is so strong that we will go to almost any lengths to convince ourselves that things are “not that bad” yet, and that whatever horrors are headed our way, they are far enough in the future to make such a grim decision unnecessary.
Full disclosure: I have two grown daughters. I love them more than anything else that has come along in my long life. And when we were pregnant with Honourable Daughter Number 1, I was already having this debate with myself and with her mother. That was in 1987. At that time the Ozone Hole was the growing threat.
That was more than 30 years ago.
I have told both of my daughters that I would not make the same decision today that I made in 1987 and again in 1992. It hurts them to hear it, and it hurts me deeply to say it to them.
Here in Germany where I live as an American Refugee, the population has shrunk from 88 million at the time I first moved here (1987) to 80 million today. Germans are afraid of becoming extinct as a national group. The German government pays people to have children through a generous program of financial support for young parents called “Kindergeld”. This is a government which appears, in some ways, to be pretty concerned about our planet’s future. But it has obviously not connected the dots when it comes to actual humans dealing with actual environmental disaster, in a future that may not be so far off. The governing coalition’s most powerful political party, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), places great value on “family-friendly” politics. The party and the government it led at the time moved to abandon nuclear energy and develop renewables after Fukushima; the CDU and the succeeding governments it has led since then have done some relatively progressive things in the environmental arena, although the current edition is backsliding badly at the moment.
But to admit that the world may be a terrifying place by the time these babies are adults is simply out of the question for them. And it certainly will not help them, or any other political party, to win elections.
Every day, I see happy young women proudly pushing their new babies around our peaceful little village here in baby carriages and strollers. Some of them are Germans. Some of them are refugees and immigrants who appear to feel that they have finally found a safe place to live a normal life. And to a great many in both groups, “a normal life” means having babies. It is what they have always wanted. I look into the faces of these innocent new arrivals and I try to imagine what they will face in 30 years, even if Germany remains the island of relative affluence and economic stability which it is today. But for a vast number of Germans and Americans and people all over the world, a life without children would be incomplete.
And therein lies the crux. Most of us who make that decision are thinking less about that new baby’s future than about our own futures … our own happiness … our own sense of fulfillment. Of course we plan to do everything within our power to give that child a good life.
Unfortunately, it no longer lies within our power to give those babies a secure future, as I see it. No amount of money in the bank or property amassed, no expensive education, will keep plastic out of the food chain or prevent the planet from overheating drastically. If such a thing were even possible at this late date, it would require a worldwide consensus and fast, decisive, emergency mandatory action. Governments which routinely compete and make war or proxy war against one another would have to drop their jockeying for power and cooperate rapidly to save the planet.
It is of course true that a great many young people are largely unaware of the alarming new scientific forecasts which have recently been published, along with urgent appeals from groups of major scientists urging world leaders to take corresponding action. All of this is far beyond the extremely limited imaginative capacity of a great many of our fellow humans. Many of them (especially in the USA) tend, in any case, to be highly skeptical of this whole thing, if they do not label it outright as a “hoax”.
What would it take to make such prospective parents see that the danger is real, urgent, and unparalleled in human history? to convince them that a baby born now – or if not that baby, the next generation — is increasingly likely to face a terrible future?
It would take governments and media and authority figures willing to speak what they now know to be the truth, about what is highly likely and growing more so.
It would require these governments and elites and their presstitute media to take off the Happy-Face Mask, and make the real news the headline story, every day. It’s time.