Yesterday a rather strange article appeared in my Twitter feed (what’s new?). BBC Scotland reported that “Gas and air are the most popular pain reliever during childbirth, but many don’t realize its impact on the climate. “
The piece told the story of Sinead Lavery, a “climate conscious” woman who had recently given birth using gas and air, a method that typically harms the planet. As the article warned: “The Entonox he was breathing contains nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that lasts about 100 years in the atmosphere.” Shock, horror!
Fortunately for Sinead, the midwives were able to use a new machine, which destroys the nitrous oxide and converts it into harmless gas. But what about those who don’t have access to this technology? That’s the question that remains for you from this piece, which inadvertently puts women to shame for needing or wanting pain relief. Should they smile and give birth to save the planet?
The idea of an eco-sustainable childbirth, however, did not come out of nowhere. Today women – and indeed men – are receiving many social messages about the dangers of procreation, apparently now up there with plastic for its damaging effect on the planet. There is, for example, the rise of “Birthstrikers” – women who refuse to have children until more is done to end climate change. “I am so terrified of what my son will face when he is my age,” one said in an interview with The Guardian.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle also famously said British Vogue that they would only have two children to be eco-conscious. When environmentalism has become as much a trend as it is a necessity, it is easy to see how others might follow this trend; that someone might feel guilty, too, if they wanted a third child.
With the growing “guilt echo” around childbirth, we seem to be forgetting something rather important. Something so stunning it makes the Birth Striker movement seem completely redundant. Last month it was reported that the fertility rate in England and Wales had dropped to the lowest level since registrations began in 1938(!) – to 1.58 children per woman in 2020. The average age of new mothers is 30.7 years.
This should surely panic everyone, not least the government. He has embarked on a huge spending program, but where are all these future taxpayers he is counting on? That the UK has an aging population seems neither here nor there at the Treasury.
In general, there is real conformity to our birth rate. Numerous articles have been written about why it has declined, but they often treat women like Sex and city characters – too busy sipping cocktails and thinking about their careers to have kids. That or women don’t understand their biological clock. Perhaps these explanations are easier to deal with than the true ones.
Look around and it’s not hard to see why people don’t have so many children. Take last year’s finding that people between the ages of 30 and 40 are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago, and one three of the millennial generation would never have expected to own a house of their own. With tenants in London spending 40% of their income on rent, how is it possible to have children somehow?
The truth is that “ecological guilt” has simply become a distraction from these issues. Politicians should focus on making conditions easier for people with families. But why bother when we can instead discuss the merits of nitrous oxide?