Azerbaijan was one of the first countries in the world to grant women equal voting rights. Its time in the Soviet Union was characterized by relative prosperity, and its citizens enjoyed something resembling equality until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. My mother is from Azerbaijan, and I’ve spent every summer there since the age of 3. My childhood memories are vibrant — I spent the majority of my time glued to my grandma’s side in Baku, watching her make sticky jam out of watermelon rinds and eating (surprisingly cheap) fresh caviar from the Caspian Sea.
Conversation topics with my grandma spanned from discussing the political demise of the country, to the age at which my wedding was supposed to take place. Both highly appropriate topics for a nine-year-old, of course. She insisted I get married as soon as was legal so she could see my wedding before she died (dramatic tendencies are essential qualities of being an Azerbaijani grandma). Most Azerbaijani women are expected to study hard, find a suitable husband and bear as many children as possible. Preferably sons. I’m now 23, and according to my Azerbaijani heritage, it’s time for me to fulfil my civic and familial duty. It’s been a long time since Azerbaijan granted women equal voting rights, and the country’s social norms are becoming more oppressive towards women every day.
Growing up, I never questioned that one day I’d feel the pleasures and pains of pregnancy, and that I’d hold my newborn in my arms. I was raised with the idea that marriage and children were the next logical sequence of events to follow after university. Boxes that needed to be checked. But is reproduction really a requirement anymore? Why do people even have children, anyway? The more I thought about my reasons to have a child, the more I realized my reasons were selfish. Is bringing a child into a world increasingly characterized by heatwaves, floods, droughts, hurricanes, water shortages and unbreathable air ethical?
Don’t tell my grandma, but I’m probably not going to have children. How could I, when the world is surely headed for disaster? In the UK, our 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 20 years. The UK government still refuses to recognize ecocide as a crime, and corporations continue to profit at the expense of the environment with no repercussions. In the words of Greta Thunberg, they are stealing our children’s futures. Research has shown that even now, air pollution stunts the lung growth of children, who are then more likely to die early deaths.
There is a saying that life is a gift, but the gift I’d be giving to my children would be, at best, a permanently air-conditioned existence, and at worst, lung cancer. This year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 19th, which means we have already used up all of Earth’s resources that can be sustainably regenerated by the middle of the year. Anything we are now consuming is essentially stolen from future generations.
I’ve quickly come to realize that I am definitely not alone in my decision. A movement called Birthstrike was founded by Blythe Pepino at the end of 2018, and brings together a group of people who have pledged not to have children until climate change is over (if ever). Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez caused a storm on Instagram in March after saying, “there’s a scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult. Is it still okay to have children?”. Some people even refuse to have children out of sheer generosity – insisting that their decision will free up our scarce resources for those who do have children.
Unfortunately, some children’s lives are going to be much worse than others’. Children born in Malawi will experience droughts which will impact the amount of available food and clean water. Children born in Bangladesh will be at risk of dying in cyclones and severe flooding. My children would probably experience the odd heatwave, but would contribute six times more CO2 emissions than the average Indian. Developed countries aren’t immune to the effects of climate change, however. July was the hottest month on record for Europe, and research has found that pregnant women who experience heatwaves are more likely to have underweight and unhealthy children.
Climate change is permeating every nook and cranny of our lives and it’s becoming impossible to ignore, even for the staunchest of climate deniers. While the world and economy goes on business as usual, humanity is headed for extinction.
Ironically, countries like Azerbaijan are, by and large, responsible. The oil-rich country has been feeding the West’s ravenous appetite for oil and gas, and there are no plans for scaling down. To make matters worse, Azerbaijan’s position as an oil supplier means Western governments overlook gross human rights violations in the country. Journalists are routinely jailed for speaking up against the government and everyday citizens are subjected to surveillance in their own homes. It’s a scary world to be living in, and it’s about to become even scarier.
I haven’t announced my potentially heartbreaking decision to my grandmother, whose sole calling was definitely to be an incredible mother and grandmother. I’m sure my decision will be met with tears, anger, and passionate attempts at persuasion. For now, my decision not to have a biological child is pretty final. Adoption seems like a pretty good alternative — after all, the ultimate cruelty would be to deprive anyone of my grandma’s homemade watermelon rind jam.
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