With what we know about climate change, should anyone add another child into that future? We’ll get two points of view from women who write about it: Madeline Ostrander and Alisha Graves. Then we hear recent science from Dr. Marcus Donat proving extreme rainfall events, and extreme drought will continue and get worse as the planet warms.

I’m Alex Smith. Buckle up, and off we go, in this week’s Radio Ecoshock.

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When we talk about “The Conversation” it is usually the far-too-late talk about sex by parents with their kids, who already know all that. Today, we are going to re-label “the conversation”. It’s an inner talk you have with yourself, and and a careful dialog you might share with close friends. The question is touchy and heavy: knowing the climate is going to be wrecked, with huge consequences for humans and nature – should I bring a child into that world?

As Madeline Ostrander put’s it: “How do you decide to have a baby when climate change is remaking life on earth?” That’s the title of her latest article in The Nation magazine. Ostrander is also a contributing editor at Yes! Magazine.

Journalist Madeline Ostrander

Beyond the personal decision to have a child, there is often an indirect pressure, in one direction or another, by the previous generation, by the grand-parents. I am an example. We had two children, and they revolutionized my life in many good ways. But now I worry a little too much about our grandchild and his future. Part of me is quietly glad our other child has not had kids. But then I am sad for what that grown-up will miss that I had.

Most North Americans and Europeans can never again experience what I had, in community, but more especially with nature. There were empty lots and it was safe to play in them without adults watching. There were woods within easy walking distance. We spent two months of every summer on an island in a Canadian lake. Nature and I are siblings. For millions of people, who think they are well off, their children can probably never experience this. Perhaps we can say, even without climate change, there are reasons not to have children in this civilization, in the state it’s in.

There are a few pockets left of natural sanity in all countries. So the question becomes not only “should I/we have this baby” but also: WHERE should this baby grow up? Am I willing to move to a place with space, clean air, clean water, with much more safety and outdoors? I’m sure women from Beijing to Berlin are troubled by this question: “Is this is a place to have a baby?

I think that politics, and mainstream media that makes politics entertainment, is hopelessly distant from this conversation we are having, about to baby or not to baby. This whole conversation, and the fears behind it, are driven underground. It’s pretty well impolite to mention at dinner, at parties, at work, at school – anywhere.

Madeline tells us about a group in New England called Conceivable Future. They host meetings for young people to discuss this dilemma. The banner on their web site says “The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis”.

Part of the problem in tackling this of course, was the early prediction (1970’s) by Paul and Anne Ehrlich about “the population bomb”. It was supposed to have exploded by now in mass death and famine, that never happened – partly due to advances in agriculture. The group they founded, Zerio Population Growth, has now been renamed as Population Connection.

Judging by emails I’ve received from listeners, this issue is far, far from solved. Some folks think I haven’t given the population issue enough coverage, or even suggest I’m afraid to cover it. This show answers that, I hope.

Download or listen to this 21 minute interview with Madeline Ostrander in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

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My thanks to Caitlin Graf at The Nation magazine for her help arranging this interview.

And how about this: ABC Australia is writing about how hot weather can reduce women’s desire for sex…the article is “Climate change and your sex life“.

Even if we say a minority of men and women are concerned enough about climate change to seriously question having a child, two things: first, knowledge about the uber-threat from climate disruption is growing rapidly in the general population, despite the Koch Brothers. That means what is now the minority may be the cutting edge who define a whole new movement or current among humans.

Second: whether it’s just you, or a hundred million people, this question is one of the most important decisions made in a person’s lifetime.


The old saying about the circus: “There’s a sucker born every minute”. But hundreds of new humans are born every minute, as the human population continues to multiply. Many will be Western-style super consumers, the ones who drain resources and fill the skies with greenhouse gases. If we can’t control that urge, a major climate disruption may do it for us.

“Green sex” – Do it for the climate. We’ll find out what that means with Alisha Graves. She has a Masters in Public Health from the University of California. She’s co-founded and leads a group called the Oasis Initiative, which stands for Organizing to Advance Solutions in the Sahel.

Alisha Graves is also a research fellow for Project Drawdown, a group of scientists and other experts working to create a livable climate future, led by Paul Hawken.

Public health expert Alisha Graves

To hear some environmental groups tell it, all we have to do is install solar energy and drive electric cars – problem solved. But can we really tackle the climate issue without talking about population?

Our instant mental defense is to tell ourselves it’s those billions of peasants “over there” somewhere who are responsible for the population impact. What’s wrong with that idea? Think of it this way: if you decide not to have a child, you have done far more to reduce greenhouse gases than buying an electric car or installing solar panels. That is because every new consumer born is a heat engine.

We talk about the IPAT formula: I = P × A × T

As Wikipedia explains it, “Human Impact on the environment equals the product of Population, Affluence, and Technology. This shows how the population, affluence and technology produce an impact. The equation was developed in the 1970s during the course of a debate between Barry Commoner, Paul R. Ehrlich and John Holdren.

Sex is such a powerful urge. It can drive our lives even when our brains are barely involved, maybe especially when our brains are weak. Do you believe that rational debate can change sexual behavior? It’s interesting to discover that half the babies born in the United States were unintended. So fifty percent of the time, there was no conversation like “should we do this?” Meanwhile, states like Texas are making it harder and harder for a woman to access a safe and legal abortion. At times I’m sure we are going backward in population control, not forward.

Then Alisha gives us a quick snapshot of conditions in the Sahel. That’s the region in Africa just south of the Sahara Desert. The Sahel country of Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world: huge families born into utter poverty and lack of health care. Studies show that half the children of Niger are stunted, both physically and mentally. The Oasis Initiative is seeking solutions.

Alisha links to the paper titled “Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals” by Paul Murtaugh and Michael Schlax as being useful in this whole debate on climate and population. You can read the full text as an online .pdf here.

Of course, you should also check out the Project Drawdown web site.

You or anyone can listen to or download just this 23 minute interview with Alisha Graves using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

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News about record rains, or sometimes snow, has become so frequent, I could report on it every week. Just recently, a half dozen people died in recent floods of Louisiana. Parts of Brazil were hit with half their average monthly rainfall in one day. In the desert, the United Arab Emirates recently recorded their highest single day rainfall ever, 50 times normal for March.

New research says this is only going to get worse as the world warms, but with an unexpected twist. A letter published in the journal Nature Climate Change is titled: “More extreme precipitation in the world’s dry and wet regions.” In Sydney Australia, we’ve reached the lead author, Markus G. Donat, a research fellow at the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Dr. Markus Donat

This is important research. Along with journalists around the world, Joe Romm quotes Markus Donat in this article on Climate Progress. But if you listen to my Radio Ecoshock interview, you’ll be surprised to find that Joe got Donat’s research a little bit wrong. It’s all about the long-held slogan “the wet areas get wetter, and the dry areas get drier”. Markus says that was true of a global model where the oceans are included, but not necessarily true on land (where it matters most to us). Yes will get more extreme droughts and super rainfall events, but like everything else about climate change, it’s not quite as simple as that.

You or anyone can listen to or download this 16 minute interview using these permanent links (in either CD Quality, or the faster loading but lower quality Lo-Fi)

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I’m Alex. Thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

By the way, I wrote the bits of music you hear in this program. You can hear the whole piece here on Soundcloud.