Opinion | Is It Ethical to Have Children Amid the Climate Crisis?

Readers offer different views, discussing Tolstoy, Bill McKibben, adoption, the Supreme Court and more in their arguments.

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To the Editor:

Re “Your Kids Are Not Doomed to a Grim Life,” by Ezra Klein (column, June 9):

Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I read Mr. Klein’s column as an example of Tolstoy’s observation in action.

Citing Greta Thunberg as a justification for having kids is like concluding that the lottery is a sound financial investment on the basis of one winning ticket. We talk about Greta Thunberg because she’s exceptional. Most people are just average, and right now every “just average” person adds to our environmental problems.

Even in the net-zero emissions world that Mr. Klein and I dream of, every person still has a cost. Humans have to live somewhere, eat food (even if it’s all plants), and use energy (even if it’s renewable). We take space. Every person is another little chunk of forest razed, grassland paved.

We as a species have dug ourselves into a rather nasty hole, and we’re dragging a lot of other species along with us. It’s going to take some work and sacrifice to reverse that, and anyone wondering who has to change their habits need look no further than the nearest mirror.

Philip Semanchuk
Carrboro, N.C.

To the Editor:

This is my 50th year as a climate scientist. For decades I and hundreds of other climate scientists have presented evidence that the world is warming because we are burning fossil fuels. For decades our voices were ridiculed or ignored.

But the tide has turned, and we, like Ezra Klein, recognize that though climate change is a challenge, it is a challenge that we can overcome and will overcome. Yes, we will lose some treasured parts of our ecosystem and people will suffer, because we reacted too slowly and now cannot slow the warming fast enough to save everything. But we can slow the warming sufficiently to allow us, and much of nature, to adapt.

It is far too early to say farewell to civilization. Or to stop having children and grandchildren who will be able to enjoy the wonderful, although imperfect, world we will leave them.

Neville Nicholls
Melbourne, Australia
The writer is emeritus professor at the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment, Monash University.

To the Editor:

Ezra Klein’s column felt too optimistic to me at the start, but it got to the grueling details at the end. I personally push back against the notion that the next generation will make the change we need to see in the world. I’m so tired of being thanked by older people with more power than I have for the climate action work I’m doing and being told to keep doing what I’m doing.

We don’t need young people to keep raising the alarm; we need people with power to start putting their money where their mouth is. Next time I get thanked, I’ll respond, “Will you help me?”

Mr. Klein writes, “To bring a child into this world has always been an act of hope.” I’d rephrase that to say that children bring joy, rather than hope, and that counts for a lot in a world with so much suffering and stress.

Monica Nelson
La Jolla, Calif.

To the Editor:

When Ezra Klein concludes, “If the cost of caring about climate is to forgo having a family, that cost will be too high,” he seems to forget that you can have kids without having kids. Indeed, many people do just that.

We adopted our son, James, in February 2020, just weeks before the world locked down. As people’s lives were shrinking, our family grew. He’s been a constant source of joy and light, and we cannot imagine our future without him — no matter how fraught or tenuous his future (or the planet’s) may be.

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