Dear World Leaders, Should I have a second baby? (An open letter about the climate emergency)

Dear World Leaders,

Should I have a second baby?

I have a son. He’s two. He’s a sweet little boy with big blue eyes, chubby cheeks, and an endless curiosity for the world. Growing up, I always pictured myself as a mom to two children, about three years apart. That means that now’s the time to start planning for a second baby.

But I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m terrified. I’ve read the 2018 IPCC report on climate change,[1] and I understand, as well as any regular citizen can understand, what the world will look like at 1.5°C degrees warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. I know that we have an estimated eleven years to do something about it, or we’ll essentially be locked into irreversible total climate collapse.[2] We’re not experiencing “climate change”—we’re looking at a complete climate breakdown.

Experts tell us what to expect from a 1.5°C increase, and higher:

  • horrific droughts, forest fires, floods, heat, and extreme weather events[3]
  • millions of climate refugees whose homes have become uninhabitable[4]
  • an influx of illnesses and diseases that thrive in warmer environments[5]
  • starvation, famine, poverty, extinction, and death on a scale that we’ve never before seen[6]
  • the loss of glaciers, coral reefs, and rainforests[7]

According to the report, “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence).” An increase of 3°C is expected by 2100. Every decimal point past 1.5°C will change the world into an even more unrecognizable, apocalyptic place.

This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s happening, and it’s happening now. Climate change is occurring earlier and more rapidly than experts previously estimated, and Canada is warming at twice the global rate.[8]

The summer that my son was born, the summer of 2017, was the first summer of terrible Vancouver smoke in my memory. I remember it vividly because I was afraid to walk outside with my newborn, and subject his tiny lungs to the forest fire smog. The next summer was no better. It was worse. How can I look at my beautiful boy and tell him that when his mother was a little girl, we spent full summers playing outside, breathing fresh West Coast air?

Tell me: how can I bring a second baby into this world? How can I look him or her in the eye one day, and tell them that I knew how bad it would get, and I decided to expose them to these horrors regardless?

I don’t want this to be the world I share with my babies. I don’t want my child, or children, or grandchildren, to die from climate change. In the words of Greta Thunberg, “You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”

Sometimes I think that this must be a bad dream—that the experts must be wrong and this can’t be happening. What a beautiful thing that would be. Because I want to raise my children in the same way that I was raised.

I grew up wanting to give my children the sort of dreamy North American childhood depicted in the media: big Christmases, with plenty of presents under the tree, a feast cooking in the kitchen, and the feeling of magic in the air. I wanted to help my children load up on supplies and new outfits for the school year: squeaky shoes and dozens of bright markers tossed into a shopping cart. I wanted to vacation by the pristine ocean, collecting sand dollars and seashells. But now, these aren’t my dreams: they’re nothing more than naive, ignorant shadows of the old world. We can cling to these dreams, but every year we get farther and farther away from them.

I still want to believe the myths of progress and hope: to tell my child, or children, that things are getting better and better all the time, that they’re living in the best point in history, that companies are benign and governments will protect them, that they can be anything that they want, and that they will likely die of old age. But these are lies too.

I am not a climate scientist, but I am on the side of science. Science is one of the best tools we have, and we need to listen to it. The experts are screaming at the top of their lungs, pleading for change. I hear them. Do you? One of the other great tools that we have is language. As a writer and editor, I believe in the power of words to make a difference. That’s why I am writing this letter to you. I need you to hear me.

It may seem like I have lost hope, but a hopeless person would not be writing this letter. I do have hope, but it’s a desperate, frenzied hope—the hope of a mother worried for her babies. I want my son to see not only the beauty of the world, but also the good in people. Here’s my new dream: him telling his grandchildren how the people of the world came together to push back and save our climate, our animals, our world.

See, my hope also comes from a different place: from the stories that I grew up hearing, of when we did this before. Because we did do this before. I heard stories of a world united by a singular threat, of a time when everyone pitched in to help—and defeated the enemy. We can look to the war effort for inspiration. People rationed, planted victory gardens, volunteered, made sacrifices, conserved resources, supported one another, and understood that the world needed to look very different in order to win the war.

We can do it again. The only difference is that this time, the threat is much less visible. It is just as real.

This climate effort will require all of the energy of the war effort. Our economy needs to look very different, and our consumption patterns need to shift radically. This will take much, much more work than what we’re currently doing. This is an emergency in the realest sense, and it needs the attention of a house on fire. Because your house is on fire. Mine is too.

In 2019 I decided to drastically reduce my waste, joining the Zero Waste movement, and blogging and Instagramming about my efforts. I do believe that living with less waste is an essential part of saving our environment, but I also know that massive change needs to come from above. That means you.

I have a feeling I know how you will respond: you’ll describe the steps you’re taking and the promises you’ve made. I want more. I want so much more than you’re imagining. I want every world leader to make real changes, today, in all of the following areas:

  • carbon emissions (including net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out fossil fuels in favour of clean energy)
  • polluter accountability
  • protecting wildlife habitat and wildlife (including pollinators, forests, and coral reefs)
  • food (including encouraging and incentivizing eating lower on the food chain, investing in regenerative agriculture, and working to increase food security)
  • waste reduction (including banning single-use plastic waste; rethinking the production of any waste that cannot be reused or easily recycled; and increasing the number of refill, bulk, and unpackaged options)
  • a massive shift to anti-consumerism

These are not the only solutions, and I am not an expert on any of these. Again, I look to the scientists. Science tells us that we have the solutions in our hands to stop this ticking time bomb before all hope is lost. Will we do it?

World Leaders, I ask again my question: should I have a second baby? Or was it wrong to even have my first child? What about all of the children who are yet to come—what sort of world are we giving them? Is it time for me to set aside my childhood dreams and instead roll up my sleeves and prepare for the collapse of human civilization, which my son will witness?

Please tell me what you’ll do, and that will tell me what I should do.

Leah Payne

[1] https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

[2] https://www.un.org/press/en/2019/ga12131.doc.htm; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report

[3] https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

[4] https://www.unhcr.org/climate-change-and-disasters.html

[5] https://www.who.int/globalchange/summary/en/index5.html

[6] https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

[7] https://report.ipcc.ch/sr15/pdf/sr15_spm_final.pdf

[8] https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/canada-warming-at-twice-the-global-rate-leaked-report-finds-1.5079765

One thought on “Dear World Leaders, Should I have a second baby? (An open letter about the climate emergency)

  1. I made the decision to have no children at all for the very reasons you are concerned about. How can I bring a life into the World and leave them to deal with a clinate that is heading towards food security issues, extreme weather events, a possible collapse of the oceans food chain. All of this is very real, supported by good sscience, and the lack of urgency from the governments of the World is astounding.

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