Today
Fri 15 November 2019
Subscribe

The threat of environmental catastrophe has led a growing group of women to become so concerned about bringing a child into the world that they have gone on birth strike.

Children are a hot topic right now.

At the lively Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests in London, women and their offspring were becoming the poster children for the climate change generation.

Adorable little people stood behind barriers and carried placards, participated in “die-ins” as they lay prostate on the floor of the National History Museum and boiled inside buggies under a blazing sun.

An average of 58.6 tonnes per year of ‘CO2-equivalent emissions’ could be saved if you forgo having a child in a rich country.

No one will forget the determined face of school strike heroine, 16 year-old Greta Thunberg, addressing the UK Parliament and the XR rebels at Marble Arch.

And a growing group of women are so fearful of bringing a child into a world facing environmental catastrophe that they have gone on ‘birth strike’.

The commitment shown by #BirthStrike founder Blythe Pepino and co-striker Alison Brown when they appeared on ITV’s This Morning was, frankly, heart-rending. These women and their partners want children but, here they are, denying themselves the gift of creating a new life and raising a family while they stand at the forefront of climate activism.

“Birth Strike aims to put the human back in the environmental narrative to show that we are intrinsically linked to nature, and we are part of, and affecting, our world ecosystems,” Blythe explains.

“We have to hope that the majority wake-up from this in time and are willing to act against the people in power who are against necessary change and that this will happen on the huge, unprecedented scale that is needed.”

Factoring reproductive choices into your life plan has just become a whole lot more complicated.

Blythe eloquently points out that they do not stand in judgement over those who do want to procreate. “We will celebrate and fight for any new families,” she says.

But, given that a 2017 study found that an average of 58.6 tonnes per year of “CO2-equivalent emissions” could be saved if you forgo having a child in a rich country – compared to 2.4 tonnes if you live car-free – there are clearly added eco-benefits to joining the birth strike brigade. The former figure was calculated by taking into account a child’s potential descendants.

If you like this article…

Digital edition from £29. Print edition from £36.
Join News Club for events and interviews in London.

… to help us commission more great journalism every day.

Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, a book by National Women’s Liberation organiser Jenny Brown, states that low birth rates are widely seen as a threat to a country’s individual economy. Brown reports that Japan, China, Russia, Turkey, Germany, France and Sweden have changed policies in response to slowdowns in birth rates, improving paid family leave, child and childcare allowances.

With the global population poised to grow from 7.7 billion to 9 billion by 2037, Brown’s fury is directed at the “utter individualisation” of child-bearing and rearing in the US.

“While the whole society gains the benefits – and especially employers – the costs are privatised onto parents, especially women,” she says.

“Birth Strike aims to put the human back in the environmental narrative to show that we are intrinsically linked to nature”

Blythe Pepino

Unpaid leave in America is limited to three months and four out of 10 workers don’t even qualify for that.

“A quarter of employed moms return to work within two weeks of giving birth – only 13% have access to paid leave. Women have turned to crowdfunding sites so they can afford to take leave,” according to Brown.

Factoring reproductive choices into your life plan has just become a whole lot more complicated. Watch this space.

More stories filed under Argument