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Angelica Chavez Duckworth was raised wanting to be a mother. As a child with a little baby doll always in hand, she says her early maternal instincts earned her the nickname “Little Mommy.”

Now 26, and keenly aware of a worsening climate crisis around her, Chavez-Duckworth isn’t sure she’ll ever become a mother.

“As a kid, I thought, ‘This is something I’m going to do, something I’m going to be,’” Chaves-Duckworth says. “Fast forward to now — having to be in the space of contemplation because I don’t even know if I can protect my [younger] brother.”

Chavez-Duckworth is founder and principal of LivZero — a climate equity firm focused on developing intersectional climate solutions.

“I can’t lie … I still want to have kids of my own,” she says. “But it becomes more philosophical at this point.”

 A woman wearing glasses poses in front of a brightly colored background, looking to the side.

Channa Steinmetz

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Startland News

Angelica Chavez Duckworth grew up wanting a mother, but environmental concerns have led her to question her decision to bring children into the world.

Chavez-Duckworth’s concern about climate and reproductive anxiety is not unique. An 2018 survey was conducted by the New York Times found that out of 1,858 Americans between the ages of 20 and 45, a quarter said they had or expected to have less children than they wanted; a third of respondents who wanted more kids listed climate change as a reason they weren’t having them.

2020 Study published in “Climatic Change” found that 80% of survey respondents were extremely concerned about the impacts of the climate change that kids will experience.

As global warming continues to threaten the health of the planet, young people across the globe are experiencing anxiety and stress due to climate change. Kansas Cityans in their 20s, 30s, and beyond have to think about the future of the planet when deciding whether or not they want to have children.

Is it selfish

Amber Abram, 35, says she’s felt judged over her and her husband’s decision to not increase the size of their family.

“I am one of the few people that I grew up with who don’t have children,” Abram says. “I think there are a lot of questions around it as far as, ‘What’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she want kids?”

Abram, a Kansas City native, has witnessed extreme weather phenomena both in the Midwest as well as on the coasts. The changing climate factored into her decision to take an environmentally friendly job at Kanbe’s Markets. It was also a factor in her decision to not have children.

“It’s a really personal decision that no one needs to know about, but it is definitely in the back of my mind of, ‘What will the world look like for the future generation?’”

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Catherine Hoffman

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Flatland

Amber Abram (35), says that her concern about the future is one of the reasons she and her husband aren’t having children.

Britt Wray, a Stanford University postdoctoral fellow, was plagued by existential fears about having a child. It led her to write. “Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis,”This article examines the generational perspective on how to keep sane during climate disruption.

In her work, Wray explores how child-free people have often been stigmatized as “selfish” for deciding to live a life without kids.

But over time, that “selfish” label has evolved, and is alternately used to describe people who intentionally reproduce during the climate crisis.

“Those are these interesting shifts that are harmful on either side of where that language is being targeted,” Wray said, “but I think understandable in terms of aligning with people’s concerns about children’s wellbeing — especially when the [World Health Organization] Publication of a report saying … no single country on the planet is doing what must be done to protect children’s well-being at this time.”

Abram states that in the Midwest, young people are expected to get married and have children. Some of her friends have had children. But some of them haven’t. Climate change is an important part of that conversation.

“Lots of people want families, and I think that’s great,” she noted. “[My partner and I] have always been on the same page about it … and we feel really comfortable with our decision.”

Intersectional climate justice 

Wray found that many people choose not to have children for climate-related reasons. However, Wray also found many who felt the opposite.

Wray believes that for Native American communities and Black communities, having children is an act of defiance or resilience.

Procreation can be a way for people who have experienced historical oppression (e.g. slavery and colonization) to overcome those pressures, she states.

“Communities that have been marginalized have long known how unsafe and difficult the world can be,” Wray says. “Yet, there’s resilience all around us from marginalized communities. [Their] kids are also an emblem of continuance and saying, ‘The future has us in it too,’ despite oppressive forces that might be raining down on them.”

In “Generation Dread,” Wray references Waubgeshig Rice, an Anishinaabe author from Wasauksing First Nation in Ontario. Despite the Anishinaabe people’s utmost respect for the natural environment, Rice shared that he has not heard of anyone from his nation choosing to not have children as a way to deal with climate change.

Sarah Mayerhofer, 26, is the sustainability coordinator for Kanbe’s. She says that her climate anxiety started to sink in after she began graduate school for sustainability leadership.

“I feel helpless sometimes,” she admitted. “Six years ago, I felt like, ‘I can do something to impact the world’ — and then you learn more, you read more and you have a better understanding of what’s going on.”

A woman with long brown hair looks straight into the camera, smiling. She stands in front of a chalkboard sign that reads "Kanbe's markets."

Channa Steinmetz

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Startland News

Sarah Mayerhofer, 26, is the sustainability coordinator for Kanbe’s. She says that her climate anxiety started to sink in after she began graduate school for sustainability leadership.

Mayerhofer admits that anxiety can sometimes feel debilitating. However, she says that she finds solace in sharing her passions. Social media. She doesn’t want her climate anxiety nor climate change to prevent her from having children.

“From a young age, I always wanted to adopt kids; I always wanted to be a mom, and that only gets stronger the older I get,” Mayerhofer said. “I feel like climate change has already robbed so much from us … I don’t want it to rob my experience of being a parent.”

For some young people in Kansas City, having kids is about raising the next generation environmentalists.

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A generation of climate activists to be raised 

Armando Alvarez (22), member of the Heartland Conservation Alliance, and Justine Dae Gelbolinga (20), intern supervisor at North Kansas City YMCAA leadership advisor The DeBruce Foundation, envision their future with a big family — despite their climate anxiety.

“We’re very goal-oriented, and one of them is that we have to have some kind of career where we can make a difference in the world,” Alvarez says, noting that they want to teach their children with the same mentality. “We feel like it’s almost a necessity to have kids and raise them in a good, positive way so that they can make the world a better place.”

The couple worries about the future world of their children.

A 2021 study of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 and 25 in 10 countries — including the U.S. — found that more than half of respondents felt that climate change threatened their families’ security. Alvarez and Dale Gelbolinga believe that there is hope for sustainable progress.

“For us and our kids — future kids I should say — one of the biggest goals for us [is] to give them that freedom of choosing what they want their life to be, but guiding them up until their adulthood,” Dale Gelbolinga added.

Alvarez agrees.

“For our kids, I think what makes me optimistic is that humans have always found a way, and with advancing technology, who knows what could happen in the next 50 or 100 years?”

What they hope to pass on isn’t fear and anxiety — it’s their love of nature and their desire to make the world a better place.

You can read the full story at Startland News.

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Crysta Henthorne

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KCUR 89.3

This story is part a series about climate change in Kansas City, produced by the KC Media CollectiveThe KC Media Collective is an initiative that supports and enhances local journalism. The KC Media Collective includes KCUR 89.3, American Public Square and Kansas City PBS/Flatland. Missouri Business Alert, Startland News, The Kansas City Beacon, and Missouri PBS/Flatland.

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