The French nationals going 'childfree' to save the planet

A nurse holds a newborn at the maternity of the Diaconesses hospital in Paris, on November 17, 2020.
A nurse holds a newborn at the maternity of the Diaconesses hospital in Paris, on November 17, 2020. © Martin Bureau, AFP

As the global population exceeds 7.8 billion people, some French people have made the decision not to have children – a radical choice born out of a desire to help the planet and do their part to reverse global warming.


"Having a child would be totally against my principles. I’ve never wanted children and am more certain of this decision the older I get,” says Manon, 26. “I don’t see why I would impose another consumer on this world. In the Western world, we consume more than the resources available,” she adds.

Like Manon, more and more young adults are deciding not to have children for environmental reasons. Online they call themselves "childfree" or even "ginks" – short for "green inclinations, no kids" – and they staunchly defend their decision not to have children. World Population Day, which falls on July 11, serves as another reminder of the world’s ballooning population. It comes from the Day of Five Billion – July 11, 1987 – chosen by the United Nations as the approximate day on which the world population reached 5 billion.  

"I have absolutely no desire to leave this planet to a child,” YouTuber Anna Bogen tells her more than 15,000 subscribers in a video on her channel. “When the planet has no resources left, I’ll be six feet under. But if I have a child, they and their children will have to live with it. I don’t want to inflict that on anybody.”

Denis Garnier, the president of Démographie Responsable (Responsible Demographics), an organisation founded in 2009 to promote a lower birth rate, says that over the past 10 years, talking about not having children has become a lot more common. “Young people are a lot more aware, thanks to the publication of studies about global warming and more public questioning about the destruction of biodiversity,” he explains.

A graphic on the organisation’s website counts in real time the number of people alive on earth. The counter steadily ticks upwards. “We’re already at 7.8 billion. It’s already too much. We should hit 8 billion by 2022 or 2023,” says Garnier. 

'One less child, that’s 40 tonnes of carbon saved a year'

"Overpopulation has major environmental consequences. The calculation is simple: the more of us there are, the more CO2 we emit, and the worse climate change is,” says Jean-Loup Bertaux, a director of studies at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and the author of "Demographics, climate, migration: the state of emergency". “In France, one less child represents 40 tonnes of carbon saved per year. In comparison, choosing to use an electric car only represents two tonnes saved.”

Every year, the American NGO Global Footprint Network calculates Earth Overshoot Day, the day when the earth consumes more resources than it can regenerate that year. In 2020, that threshold was reached on August 22.

Those who have chosen to be childfree express anxiety about the future in online videos and comments, but also show a certain kind of defiance towards the previous generation. “I have never known an adult without children. For me, having kids was something mandatory, like getting up to go to school in the morning […] But we have to ask, what kind of world are we leaving to our kids? I don’t know if I want to leave them a world like this,” admits Clémence, a 27-year-old YouTuber.

'We’re lucky to be able to control pregnancy'

Manon finds the topic is difficult to raise with her parents, even if she was raised in a family where they were taught to “look after the planet”. “When we talk about it, they don’t really understand. For them, having a job, getting married, having kids is all part of the point of life. My position is beyond comprehension for them so we just avoid the subject.”

Her position is even harder for them to accept because she’s a woman, Manon says. “‘You’ll change your mind, you’re still young’, ‘You’ll see when you get a maternal instinct’… I don’t know if men receive the same comments as I do,” Manon says. “We’re lucky to be able to control pregnancy in France. That's not the case for women everywhere in the world. For some women, having a child or not isn’t a choice.”  

This article was translated from the original in French.

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