Climate guilt and the baby bust are rooted in a belief we just aren’t good

The origin of our abuses is us,”
population control advocate Tracy Stone-Manning, who heads President
Joe Biden
’s Bureau of Land Management. “If there were fewer of us, we would have less impact … We must consume less, and more importantly, we must breed fewer consuming humans.”

“Having a child is the grandest act of climate destruction,” blared the
in the Spectator.

“We’re getting handed a piece-of-shit planet,” Miley Cyrus
in 2015, “and I refuse to hand that down to my child. Until I feel like my kid would live on an Earth with fish in the water, I’m not bringing in another person to deal with that.”

This has been a constant drumbeat on the cultural Left for the better part of a decade, so I was unsurprised by the lede of a recent New York Times
by Bay Area-based, liberal, millennial columnist Ezra Klein:

“Over the past few years, I’ve been asked one question more than any other. It comes up at speeches, at dinners, in conversation. It’s the most popular query when I open my podcast to suggestions, time and again. It comes in two forms. The first: Should I have kids, given the climate crisis they will face? The second: Should I have kids, knowing they will contribute to the climate crisis the world faces?”

Many of my conservative friends have scoffed at this or at least noted that Klein seems to run in odd crowds. To be sure, it’s a minority who let climate change affect their family formation plans. But that minority might include most young liberals.

A third of childless Gen Zers, a third of childless Democrats, and a third of childless adults in the West said in
a 2020 poll
that climate change was a reason for them not having children. If you combined these categories, you’d probably find that an easy majority of childless Democratic zoomers in California cite climate change as a reason not to have children.

So, no, climate doom causing doubts about marriage and parenthood isn’t something made up by journalists. The next question is whether it’s an honest explanation or a handy excuse. A lot of people see that raising children is extremely difficult — that it gets in the way of doing what you want to do in your career, for fun, with free time, in your sexual relationships, in your hobbies — but want some higher-sounding justification.

Surely, that 25% of childless young people giving climate as a reason includes some true believers and some just searching for an excuse. But I think,
like Ezra’s colleague Ross Douthat
, that it’s best to take this climate-based child hesitance seriously, if not literally.

It’s completely inadequate to say, “Millennials and zoomers are too selfish to have kids,” because selfishness, like gravity, is a constant. You can blame gravity for plane crashes, but that doesn’t tell you much.

So it’s worth setting aside the “selfish” charge for a moment and just asking, what is it about the young generations that makes them less likely than Gen X or even baby boomers to want children? And why do they mention climate when they talk about not wanting children?

Douthat is right that
a lack of religion
is central to the problem. A secular, materialistic worldview makes it harder to make the case for having and raising children in the face of suffering. We can get more precise, though, and Klein gets us to the heart of it.

He quotes one expert saying, “The people who are least responsible for climate change are the most affected by it … It’s simply morally wrong.”

Klein sees here that those who, like Miley Cyrus, say they won’t have children because those children would inherit a burning, unlivable planet are really telling a cover story: “The fear about the future our children will face, when voiced by well-off residents of wealthy countries, sometimes strikes me as a transference of guilt into terror. To face what we’ve done to others is unimaginable. It is easier, somehow, to imagine we have done it to ourselves.”

Yes. It’s about guilt. Douthat agrees, writing, “The ideas of white and Western guilt are particularly important to contemporary progressivism, and in certain visions of ecological economy, removing one’s potential kids from the carbon-emitting equation amounts to a kind of eco-reparations.”

It’s ironic that our society has untethered itself from Christianity and, as a result, become paralyzed by guilt— but that irony can wait. The guilt here is telling, because it’s not just guilt about carbon footprints or rising sea levels. It’s a broader guilt conquering secular America. It’s a total guilt.

It’s a belief that we just aren’t good, as a people. I call it
civilizational sadness

You see this sadness outside of climate stuff. Most Democrats wouldn’t defend America if we were invaded, a recent poll
. Most young Democrats don’t believe America is “one of the greatest countries in the world,” according to a recent Pew poll.

Consider how many people’s lives were taken over by COVID, and ask why young people were so primed to the constant masking and distancing. It came natural to people who already saw other people as vectors of destruction.

Climate change isn’t quite an “excuse” for those not having children. Climate change is instead a totem of dread, which is a cover story for guilt, which is rooted in sadness — a belief that we aren’t good, so why should we have more of us?

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