“Having children showed me a whole different kind of love that I had never known,” the late musician Scott Wieland said. “It was something that had always been missing. Complete love. I would die for them.”
Comedian Martin Mull had a different view: “Having children is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain.”
Most parents probably would agree that having children is both of those things. What having children should not be is a reason to regret bringing them into this world, or a reason not to have them at all. This has become an issue in public discourse recently because of global climate change.
Ash Sanders, a contributor to the Internet news site BuzzFeed, says she decided 12 years ago not to have babies. “I did not want to bring a person into this world to generate tons of carbon,” she says. “I didn’t want to raise a person who would push another animal out of its home, or put island nations underwater…. I was supposed to look at a baby and see a child of God, a cooing joy bundle, a future missionary or a father or a grandmother. I was supposed to feel joy. But instead I felt grief. And anger. And nausea.”
Another writer, the conservative American journalist Gracy Olmstead, says that many millennials are feeling this. They “wonder whether the children conceived now might face a fate somehow worse than nonexistence in future years – a fate involving planetary apocalypse or catastrophe – and they don’t want to bring children into that future1.”
Theirs is not the first generation to wonder about it. Nearly 60 years ago in the middle of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, Bob Dylan wrote and recorded his scathing indictment of “the masters of war”.
“You’ve thrown the worst fear that can ever be hurled -- fear to bring children into the world,” Dylan sang to bombmakers and world leaders. “For threatening my baby unborn and named, you ain’t worth the blood that runs in your veins.”
In those days, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which was founded by scientists who participated in the Manhattan Project, maintained a Doomsday Clock to illustrate how close humanity was coming midnight, the apocalypse. When they started the clock ticking in 1947, it showed 7 minutes to midnight. It was the same when Dylan sang his song. Today, it is only 100 seconds to midnight because between global warming and nuclear weapons, the “international security situation is now more dangerous than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War”.
For young couples wondering whether to raise families, the climate and arms issues could not be more personal. For most of us old enough to be thinking about our legacies, 100 seconds to midnight probably is not what we want to leave behind.
The abandonment of arms control agreements, the continuing proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the inadequate climate action by the international community are multigenerational issues in the broadest sense. They risk the achievements of all the generations before us, and all the achievements to come.
We who are alive today have a lot of work to do in the next 100 seconds.
As this article went to press, Russia and the United States reportedly were nearing an agreement to extend their last remaining arms-control treaty, SALT II, for a year before it expires on Feb. 5, 2021. Donald Trump was said to want the extension to score a diplomatic win before the United States’ presidential election on Nov. 3.
In a key development on October 24, the island nations of Jamaica and Nauru submitted the final two ratifications necessary for a multinational ban on nuclear weapons to go into force next January. The treaty, adopted by 122 nations during the UN’s 2017 General Assembly, declares that the ratifying countries will “never under any circumstance develop, test, produce, manufacture or otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.” So far, the major nuclear powers – the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France, have not signed.
1 Don’t let climate change stop you from becoming a parent, Gracy Olmstead, New York Times, September 19, 2019.