Many young adults think prospective parents should consider the effects of climate change as they decide whether or not to have children, Business Insider reported on Tuesday. Thirty-eight percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 said climate change “should be a factor in a couple’s decision about whether to have children.” Overall, 30 percent of Americans said that they “either strongly agree, agree, or somewhat agree” that climate change should be a consideration for couples. The news site commissioned the poll after Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, said on her popular Instagram account that young adults “have a legitimate question: Is it OK to still have children?” because of climate change.
In predictable fashion, right-wing commentators seized on Ocasio-Cortez’s remark as proof of her dictatorial tendencies. Fox News host Steve Hilton even called the freshman congresswoman “fascistic.” To call that reaction overblown would be generous. Ocasio-Cortez did not say that people should avoid having children, or that the government should prevent or reduce births as a response to climate change; only that climate change made young people wonder if they should still have children. That’s hardly a “fascistic” sentiment. In fact, we already had evidence that climate change, alongside and in conjunction with economic pressure, influences reproductive choices.
Last year, a New York Times poll found that a full third of Americans who said they’re having fewer children than they wanted cited climate change as a factor. But it’s important to understand that climate change is of a piece with other social factors that may dissuade some prospective parents from giving birth. Climate change is an economic problem: Experts generally agree that climate change will worsen food and water scarcities and could drive more people into poverty. With wealth inequality already rising in the U.S., middle and lower income families are poorly positioned to endure the economic and environmental challenges that will inevitably arise from warming global temperatures. Contemporary life is already difficult enough: The same Times poll found that 31 percent of young adults who say they’ve decided against having kids did so because of the cost of child care. Parents who did have children, but plan to have fewer children than they wanted, cited child-care costs as the number-one reason for their decision.
Reproduction is already becoming a luxury. Climate change will only further complicate the lives of aspiring parents — unless, of course, elected officials like Ocasio-Cortez do something about it. Conservatives aren’t fond of her Green New Deal proposal, but whether they like it or not, it does address the economic dimension of climate change. Business Insider’s poll doesn’t just affirm Ocasio-Cortez’s remark. It also adds data points to an increasingly urgent case for climate-change action.