Is going on a ‘BirthStrike’ the radical, but ethical way to control the population in the name of Planet Earth? And do our current contraception methods allow us to do that? Learn about the important link between birth control and climate change.

By Sarah Cottrell
photo illustration of baby and deforestation
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

My parents and grandparents hounded me for years about when I would settle down, get married, and have babies. They were so intent that they had names picked out. My mother was even stocking a hope chest full of baby loot and family heirlooms.

But not only was I not in any rush to have kids, I actually thought it was irresponsible given the ballooning world population and limited natural resources. Before there was even a term for it, I was on a ‘BirthStrike.’ And I wasn't alone. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, U.S. Representative in New York, speaking recently at the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, called herself "a woman whose dreams of motherhood now taste bittersweet because of what we now know about our children's future."

And it appears that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may also be on a BirthStrike.

Prince Harry sat down to interview world-renowned ethnologist, Dr. Jane Goodall for the September issue of Vogue UK. During their fascinating conversation that spanned topics around Goodall’s work with animals and conservation efforts, Prince Harry said that it was work like hers and the state of climate change that has cemented his feelings on not having more than two children.

“But I’ve always thought: This place is borrowed,” Prince Harry told Goodall. “And, surely, being as intelligent as we all are, or as evolved as we all are supposed to be, we should be able to leave something better behind for the next generation.”

I have always thought the same thing: Our earth is borrowed and it is my personal responsibility to be a good steward of the environment. Eventually, though, despite my deeply held sense of ethics and morals, my body began to send off intense biological clock ticks and my husband and I decided to start a family after all. That doesn’t mean that we don’t worry or even dread the future of climate change. Prince Harry knows what I am talking about.

“What we need to remind everybody is: These are things that are happening now,” Prince Harry said. “We are already living in it. We are the frog in the water and it’s already been brought to the boil. Which is terrifying.”

While Prince Harry is publicly talking about capping how many children he and his wife have there are others who want to do even more to curb climate change; they want to control the population in a radical but ethical way.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a provocative think piece in which researcher, Deborah Anderson called for a “contraceptive revolution.” With Americans viewing three as the ideal number of children to raise there is new evidence that by having one less child in a family, we could potentially reduce the world carbon footprint by upwards of 30%.

So, does Dr. Anderson think that women should go on a BirthStrike and not have children? Not exactly.

“I’m a mom, so I’m in favor of having small families,” Dr. Anderson told STAT. “I don’t think people should necessarily have to make a choice not to have a family. If we could keep the family size to two children, we would have a big impact. And we should give women the tools to do so if they should so decide.”

She goes on to explain the pitfall of current contraceptive methods, which rely too heavily on women to bear the burden of responsibility. She suggests that researchers and contraception manufacturers begin working with gels and films for vaginal use but more than that to start seriously creating effective birth control methods for men. Furthermore, Anderson points out, contraception also needs to be accessible to all areas of the population.

As a mother who worries about the future of our planet, I am glad to see that there are researchers staking their careers on finding science-based solutions that can help slow or even (fingers crossed) reverse climate change. Because as I look forward, I want to see a future of clean air and fresh water in plentiful supply for my children. If that means choosing to have smaller families or upend how we think about birth control methods then I am all for it.

As Prince eloquently pointed out to Jane Goodall, “I always think to myself, whenever there’s another natural disaster, a huge increase in volcano eruptions or earthquakes or flooding, how many clues does nature have to give us before we actually learn, or wake ourselves up to the damage and the destruction that we’re causing?”

And honestly, when put in that perspective a “BirthStrike” doesn’t sound so extreme.

The Bottom Line

To sum up: If you want to weave the environment into your family planning, you don't have to give up the idea of having kids altogether, but perhaps consider a family of two kids or less. And if birth control is your worry, talk to your doctor about more longer-lasting options.