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Explained: How climate change can lead to fewer babies

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Not only are people making active choices against having children but 'climate change is also impacting fertility rates quicker than any preceding trend in the field of fertility decline,' according to Morgan Stanley.

Explained: How climate change can lead to fewer babies
As climate change takes shape, people are increasingly gripped with anxiety about the future of Earth. Just recently, the United Nation’ expert panel on climate change said this was a “code red for humanity.” More reports have followed with grim news about the current situation of the fight against climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that the world is not on track to keep global temperature increase within 1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Other leaks have suggested that emissions must peak by 2025 in order to reach net-zero in time.
Amid this distress, many couples are choosing not to have children.
Morgan Stanley highlighted that the “movement to not have children owing to fears over climate change is growing and impacting fertility rates quicker than any preceding trend in the field of fertility decline,” in a note to investors recently.
Climate change and fertility
The financial institution made the prediction based on a growing body of research that has highlighted that fertility levels are declining as climate change increases. A 2018 study by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that spikes of high temperatures “cause a large decline in birth rates approximately 8-10 months later.”
Another study in China found that particulate pollution contributed to lowered fertility in individuals. A 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 particles was found to increase infertility by 20 percent.
“PM2.5 exposure was associated with reduced human fecundity, presented by a longer TTP and higher odds of infertility, which might explain the increased infertility rates in areas with heavy PM2.5 pollution,” said the study.
It’s also about choice
But it is not just the physical and environmental effects of climate change that are contributing to fewer childbirths. Many individuals are actively choosing to not have children on a planet that may soon be ravaged by climate change. Increasing temperatures, more erratic weather events and frequent climate disasters have made many individuals have second thoughts about putting potential offspring at grave risk.
A contributing factor is that giving birth to children can have a long-term environmental impact, as the world with finite resources needs to cope with the demands of yet another individual.
“Having a child is  seven times worse for the climate in CO2 emissions annually than the next 10 most discussed mitigants that individuals can do,” analysts at Morgan Stanley said.
A Swedish study, published in IOPscience in 2017, found that having one fewer child per family could save approximately 58.6 metric tonnes in carbon emissions from families in developed countries.
What experts say
But no expert suggests having fewer kids to save the planet. The goal remains to reduce and eliminate emissions through other methods.
“It is true that more people will consume more resources and cause more greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s not really the relevant timeframe for actually stabilising the climate, given that we have this decade to cut emissions in half,” said Kimberley Nicholas, one of the lead authors of the study, in an interview with Vox.
Many countries around the world are already seeing dangerously declining levels of childbirth, but experts highlight that while overall population can have an effect on emission levels, other factors are more important.
 
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