The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a dire letter to humanity, warning us of the imminent, catastrophic effects of a warming planet that we will see within our lifetimes without immediate intervention.

To be clear, these are effects that we’ve already begun to witness in the form of unprecedented heat waves, wildfires, and floods but the scale, frequency, and intensity of these changes to our environment are going to be disastrous.

The report says that we’re already assured 1.5C of global temperature within the next two decades and without a rapid 180 on energy production, we’re on track for a 4 to 5C rise in global temperature, which is, to put it scientifically, Hell.

The release of this report has been a painful reminder for many of us about the suffering humanity will face in coming decades. A reminder that the populations least responsible for emissions will feel the consequences of the developed world’s greed faster and harder than anybody else.

And on a personal level, a reminder for many of us that we have to reconcile the compromise of our own futures in the face of catastrophe.

The morning after the IPCC report was published, my group chats with friends began flooding with distressed messages about changes to life plans and anxieties about having children if this is the future we’ll be forcing them to endure.

As women in our late 20s and early 30s, many of us have started to talk about motherhood and the topic of having babies is brought up with fairly frequent excitement. Some were planning it earlier than others; my best friends and I had dreams of raising kids at the same time, a little pact of getting knocked up and bringing up a bunch of mixed-race babies alongside one another.

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Over the past year, it’s been relatively easy to put climate change on the mental backburner, so to speak, while we’ve been overwhelmed with the consequences of the pandemic. Lockdown has given us time to nurture these fantasies of what life could look like beyond lockdown. Shit, if everyone’s getting dogs, might as well have a kid, right?

I was starting to feel genuinely prepared to be a parent. This week, that burgeoning enthusiasm is gone – it’s collapsed into a stark feeling of grief.

The messages from friends were full of distraught and even reading them back now feels physically heartbreaking, like I’m being stabbed in the gut.

“It’s really fucked living in a time when you can’t envision the future.”

“Why would it be fair to bring babies into this world? You can’t bring a kid up and safely tell them ‘Yep, you will die of old age before anything happens to you’.”

Another friend simply messaged, “I cannot believe our futures have been stolen from us”.

I know we’re not alone in this – one study published late last year found that 96.5% of respondents (both male and female) were “very” or “extremely concerned” about the well-being of their hypothetical children in a climate-changed world.

Nearly 60% said they were worried about the carbon footprint caused by their procreation.

I also know the arguments for continuing to have children despite these concerns: ‘They could be the person that solves the crisis!’ ‘They could be the next Greta Thunberg’ or the distinctly more pro-life argument: ‘It’s a worse choice to deny them life’.

I’m well-versed in these statements because I use them myself: tiny optimistic bullets in a war of absolute cognitive dissonance.

Then there’s the argument I’ve leaned on consistently for a few years, the little glowing beacon that makes me feel like it’s all going to be ok: ‘To give up on the idea of children, is to give up hope.’

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? It’s a warm consolation for the frenetic mind trying to insulate itself from terror. Children are symbols of hope.

Only, I’m not sure they are, really. Children aren’t symbols, they’re children. Sentient, feeling things that will experience the same agony as the rest of us if the world fails to come to an agreement that things have to change. Now.

Photo: Getty.

All of this being said, I believe that hope is incredibly important and ultimately, active hope (the kind that moves and organises and innovates and yells about things) is the only thing that’s going to scrape humanity back from the brink.

Hope can be really, really difficult for Australians.

Neither Labor nor the Coalition have committed to the ambitious near-term emissions reduction targets needed to prevent the devastating effects of climate change. The Morrison government has still failed to commit to 2050 as a net-zero target, even though it’s approximately 20 years later than the years the IPCC has outlined as the latest to claw our way back from 1.5C of warming. Our federal minister for emissions reductions, Angus Taylor, released a misleading statement claiming Australians should be “proud” of our progress in the fight against climate change.

So, this week, I wonder – do these politicians understand how scared we are for the next generation of Australians? Do they get that young Australians are turning away from their futures and deciding against children because the coming decades look so terrifying?

Do they even care?

The IPCC report said that in the most ambitious scenario, if we rapidly cut down on the world’s emissions, we will still reach 1.5C but we could dip below those levels later in the century. It’s a reason to hold on.

For those of us who have made the decision to have children, it’s a reason to fight harder than ever before.

I am determined to remain hopeful for our world, to foster active hope for change. It’s just that to my mind, that hope will not come from our leaders and it probably won’t come from having a child, either.

Elfy Scott is a journalist, presenter and writer based in Sydney, who’s work has appeared in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, Junkee and more. You can find her on Twitter here and Instagram here.

Image: Getty Images