The Activists Going On 'Birth Strike' to Protest Climate Change
"I don't think it's an acceptable risk to bring children into the world – the likelihood of a safe future for them has to increase dramatically first."
Planet Earth needs some help. Despite stacks of evidence proving that we need to radically re-haul our approach to climate change – not least the 2018 IPCC report warning of the dire consequences of further global warming – few world leaders seem committed to actually doing anything about it.
Frustrated with government inaction, many new activist factions have sprung up to draw attention to these issues. Members of one of these groups, #BirthStrike, have chosen to do that by declaring their intention to remain childless – too concerned about the implications of a brewing "ecological armageddon" to consider having children. At the time of writing, they stand at around 90 members, mostly based in the UK, from a range of social backgrounds.
"We are on course for 'no future' and our government is steering us there," the group say in their manifesto. "We have been abandoned by our leadership to committing species-wide suicide via lawless economics and business."
When I spoke to 33-year-old Blythe Pepino, founder of BirthStrike and former lead singer of Vaults, she was quick to clear up the misconceptions surrounding this action: the group is not encouraging other women not to procreate; not branding parents irresponsible or unethical; and not making a statement about overpopulation or the potential carbon footprint of any future children. Rather, this is a way for individuals to share their personal decision, which they hope will act as an educational message drawing attention to the impending environmental catastrophe we all face.
"I came to my decision last year, after doing quite a lot of research," she said. "I had recently attended an Extinction Rebellion lecture and read the IPCC report when I came to this decision – that I couldn't face the idea of having a kid. Then I got quite active talking to a lot of people who I knew understood the situation with the ecological collapse. I soon realised that a lot of people were feeling the same way, both men and women."
Alice Brown, a 25-year-old from Bristol, was one of the first women to join BirthStrike.
"For me, the biggest factor is the stress and depression around our removal from a connection to the planet that we live on, the natural world," she told me. "When our kids would get to, say, 30 what would that world look like?"
What does she think?
"Well, all these things act as feedback loops – mass migration leading to food shortages with suppliers running out of pollinators, leading to mass starvation, leading to loss of land mass. We can't exactly predict it, but it’s not looking good right now."
This is a big step; it must have been a difficult decision.
"Of course," said Pepino. "I am really in love with my bloke, so there is a part of me that hopes we can turn it around, but there's also a big part of me that's lost faith entirely in the system. I just can’t see it working out, unless we really change, like, straight away." Brown added: "There are millions of people moving around the world, on the borderline of survival, already. They are looking for a safe place to live, and look at the hostility they face. Think about the way we treat refugees at the moment – what hostility is going to exist in the world in the future? That's so scary and depressing for me. Our kids wouldn't be able to hide from that; that's the world that they are going to live in."
Oliver Graves, a 25-year-old member of BirthStrike, told me that he was also spurred to join after reading the IPCC's report. "If things aren't urgently addressed, it's looking like a dire situation for the entire planet," he said. "Unless we change our course, I don't think it's a good idea for me to start a family. I joined to send a clear message that, as things currently stand, I don't think it's an acceptable risk to bring children into the world – the likelihood of a safe future for them has to increase dramatically first."
Hannah Scott, a 23-year-old who works for a sustainability charity, joined the group a couple of months ago. "It's something that I've been considering for a while," she said. "Climate change, if unmitigated, will result in a very dire future for us. If we don’t do anything about the problem, I don’t want my potential future children to have to face that; I, myself, am scared – how much more scared would they be? I think that I have a moral compulsion not to have a child, because I can't imagine bringing a life into a world that right now has no future. Unless we do something about it."
Tiana Jacout, a prominent activist with Extinction Rebellion, told me about the moment she came to the same conclusion. "The past New Year's Eve, a group of us were playing a game where we just asked questions that people answered," she said. "One of the questions was, 'What are you looking forward to in the future?' I surprised myself when I said, 'I want to have a future where I even have a choice whether to have a child or not.' I burst into tears, and everyone else burst into tears, because we realised that it had got to that point."
"I feel like my choice has been taken away."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.