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Climate Change Making Parents Feel Guilty For Having Kids

Parents are developing distress, anxiety and depression as they worry about their kids being affected by climate change, with some people simply choosing not to bring children into an uncertain world.

Emma Duncan said she simply cries some days, thinking about how her four-year-old son will navigate a world tinged by climate change.

"I do feel guilty. I had some pretty strong beliefs about population and sustainability, but I feel guilty that I gave in to my own desires to have a child," the Adelaide mum told 10 daily.

"He’s my son and I love him and he's amazing. I'm thrilled he exists, so not guilty on that front. But I don't have any idea what I've brought him into. I have no idea what to teach him."

"Sometimes I just cry and think how sorry I am."

Photo: Getty

Duncan is one of a small but growing number of parents who are reporting feelings of deep distress, anxiety and even depression, as they imagine how the world will look like for their children, or grand-children, as the spectre of climate change more fully bears down on the planet.

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From drought to rising seas or fire, through to food insecurity and even fears of future conflict over essential dwindling resources, parents are worrying about their kids -- and some are simply choosing not to bring children into the world. Some call it eco-anxiety.

"We prefer to call it climate distress," Ros Knight, chair of the Australian Psychological Society, told 10 daily.

"We see it generally adding to a sense of grief, like people are undergoing a loss, or anxiety in parents about how to manage their kids. We see it popping up as part of a range."

Drought, fire, floods, storms and more might be more common in future, thanks to climate change. Photo: supplied

Knight said mental health professionals were seeing a range of climate-related concerns among patients. This can include a general sense of 'burnout', as people are left feeling drained and defeated from trying to do their bit, or keeping abreast of the latest news, which can lead to stress and a feeling of hopelessness.

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"People are looking at storms or bushfires, and saying 'it's too late, there's nothing I can do, how can I save the kids in this world?' We want to avoid these extremes, because if we join together and do our bit, we can be hopeful things can change," Knight said.

Climate protesters welcome Greta Thunberg to New York City. Photo: Getty

It's part of a trend seen worldwide. American group Conceivable Future raises awareness of "the threat climate change poses to reproductive justice"; a movement of women titled 'BirthStrike' is refusing to procreate in the face of climate change; left-wing American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said it was a "legitimate question" for people to ask "is it OK still to have children?" as the future of the planet faces a dire threat.

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Emily Mulligan,  mum of a one-year-old boy, said worry about climate was a constant in her life.

"It really informs all longer-term decisions... all those thoughts are really tinted by fear, more than anything," she said of when she pictures her son growing up.

"Any time I do think what school my baby will go to, how cute will he be in a suit and tie, all those things I should be looking forward to, there's this spectre of fear hanging over them. I don't know what the world will look like then."

Parents are reporting worry, anxiety and depression as a result of climate change. Photo: Getty

Mulligan, who works as head of campaigns at activist organisation GetUp, has been concerned about climate for a long time.

"I‘m feeling a bit defeated, it might be a bit too late now to fix things, but I’m not one of those people who are defeatist about the human race, and not having babies. We’ve got to survive, we owe it to ourselves," she said.

"The world will be a vastly different place for him. There will be things he’ll never know plants and animals and landscape that might not exist. There might be more war and conflict."

Luke, from Sydney, is one of those who have simply decided not to have children. He and his wife have long debated if and when they would expand their family, but have recently decided not to -- and climate change, and the lack of political leadership on the issue, is a big factor.

Climate change is affecting oceans, ice, weather, seasons and natural life. Photo: Getty

"It's the state of the world in general, leadership in the UK and the US, and what a binfire this place is," Luke told 10 daily.

"Do we want to bring a child into this whole shitfight that is the world now? What the hell is going to be happening in 30 years if nobody does anything about it now?"

He said that, while things in his lifetime may still be "shit" on the climate front, that people of future generations will bear more of the brunt of changing weather conditions.

"It’s not so much about us, because we think within our lifetime, we’ll scrape through and be OK. But 50 years from now, who knows?" Luke said.

Parents are calling for industry and government to do more to address climate change, for the sake of their kids. Photo: Getty

Suzie Brown is the founder of Australian Parents For Climate Action (AP4CA), a national group lobbying on behalf of parents and young children. She said very young children needed to be considered in the discussion, as the people currently making decisions in government and industry will likely not live long enough to see the full effects of climate change unwind.

"Parents are one of the most concerned groups in the population. We’ve got young children who are having their survival threatened," she told 10 daily.

"If leaders don't act urgently, it's looking very bleak for our kids."

AP4CA also runs a Facebook group, several thousands of supporters strong, where parents can discuss their feelings and support one another through worries and anxiety.

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AP4CA writes letters to politicians, supports rallies, and shares resources with parents about how they can discuss climate with their kids. Group members support each other online, talking through issues and being a place to share feelings.

"We want to bring parents together to take action. It makes us feel better to do something to fight for our children's future," Brown said.