We came to Gippsland for our little children. Local work at the university was on the table, but as we toyed with our options — imagining the happy, stable country childhoods our kids might enjoy as a result of the move — it was their best interests that were the deciding factor.
We packed, we moved across the state, we settled in. In our new environment, with a beautiful home in a beautiful town in a beautiful lush, green landscape, the children flourished. Isn’t this what all parents do though, in one way or another? Seek to give their children the best lives they can afford, in accordance with their personal worldviews, their priorities and the assets they have at their disposal?
When we moved, I had already done a lot of research on the impacts of climate change on Australia from a cultural perspective — for a PhD, and for my novels, Anchor Point (2015) and The Glad Shout (2019). I was curious about the sense of inertia and even ambivalence I detected around climate change in this country. Most climate change research points to the fact that our lands and lifestyles are already being impacted by changing weather patterns, and that no matter what we do now, we are already committed to a significant degree of warming over time. But I couldn’t detect a corresponding sense of urgency around environmental degradation in the media, in policy, or even from within whole swathes of the population (myself and my friends included). Given that we all stand to be impacted by climate change as it manifests, this lack of critical action seems surprising at best and negligent, even dangerous, at worst.
In the context of my little children, who will have to live in the future we are allowing to unfold, all of this is horrifying to consider. It also goes against everything that we, as parents, strive and work so hard to provide for our children: safer, more affluent lives than our own. We yearn to give our children one of two things: the same childhood that we ourselves enjoyed, if it was idyllic, or a better one, if it was not. As climate change manifests, neither of these options will be readily available. We will be bringing children into the world with the understanding that their lives, on many levels, will never be as easy or abundant as our own.
Given my public interest in climate change, and my motherhood, people often want to talk to me about whether, on an ethical level, it is a good idea to have children at all. Knowing what we know about human impacts on the environment and how these might complicate our lives as time goes on, how can parenthood be justified? By putting more humans on the Earth, we are almost certainly not helping to reduce emissions — if anything, we are making the problem worse. Folks also want to know whether the choice to have children can be sanctioned on a moral level. They are curious to know how to reconcile procreation while knowing that they will be sending the person they love most — and certainly their descendants — into conditions that will be unstable and even potentially unliveable.
It seems to me that, given what we know about climate change, there is no way to ethically or morally justify having children – not when the issue is considered intellectually, with the best interests of all life on the planet – human, animal, plant or otherwise – at heart. But this does not account for the extraordinary sense of joy and hope that children bring to their parents, to families and to communities. Considered from an emotional standpoint then, children are critical to our wellbeing. Children are also a direct investment in the future. They are, in fact, harbingers of the future — sharp reminders day by day that the now will give way to the unknown as time passes. If we want to have a stake in that unknown, in ensuring that the future will be as we want it to be, then there is nothing more galvanising than children. I don’t think it is coincidental that climate change rallies and protests are full of folks with very small kids. No one has a greater stake in trying to mediate the impacts of climate change than parents.
If we are going to have children under these conditions, then as a part of our attempts to give them the best lives possible, we should consider not only the myriad opportunities we already strive to put in place for them — stable homes, good education and reliable healthcare — but also the ability to understand and navigate the circumstances of their adulthoods in relation to climate change. Our children will need a special set of inner-resources at their disposal, the least of which will be the desire and agency required to make the change for the better, for themselves.
Alice Robinson grew up in Parkville and Wallan. She earned a Bachelor of Creative Arts from the University of Melbourne and a PhD in Creative Writing from Victoria University. Alice’s debut novel, Anchor Point, was long-listed for The Stella Prize and the Indie Book Awards (debut fiction) in 2016. Alice’s second novel, The Glad Shout, is out in March. She lives in Warragul with her family.