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Yesterday a rather strange article appeared in my Twitter feed (what’s new?). BBC Scotland reported that “Gas and air is the most popular pain relief in childbirth, but many don’t realise its climate impact.”
The piece told the story of Sinead Lavery, a “climate conscious” woman who had recently given birth using gas and air, a method which typically harms the planet. As the article warned: “The Entonox she was breathing in contains nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas which lasts around 100 years in the atmosphere”. Shock, horror!
Luckily for Sinead, midwives were able to use a new machine, which destroys the nitrous oxide and converts it into harmless gases. But what about those who do not have access to this technology? That is the question you are left with from this piece, which inadvertently shames women for needing or wanting pain relief. Are they supposed to grin and bear childbirth to save the planet?
The idea of an eco-friendly birth, however, has not come out of nowhere. Nowadays women – and indeed men – receive many societal messages about the dangers of procreation, apparently now up there with plastic for its detrimental effect on the planet. There is, for instance, the growth of “Birthstrikers” – women who refuse to have children until more is done to end climate change. “I’m just so terrified of what my child will be facing when they are my age”, said one in an interview with The Guardian.
Even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle famously told British Vogue that they would only have two children to be eco conscious. When environmentalism has become as much of a fashion as a necessity, it’s easy to see how others could follow this trend; that someone might feel guilty, even, should they want a third child.
With the growing “eco guilt” around childbirth, we seem to be forgetting something rather important. Something so staggering as to make the BirthStriker movement look utterly redundant. Last month it was reported that the fertility rate in England and Wales had fallen to its lowest level since records first began in 1938(!) – to 1.58 children per woman in 2020. The average age of new mothers is 30.7 years.
This surely should make everyone panic, not least the Government. It has embarked on a huge spending programme, but where are all these future taxpayers it’s counting on? That the UK has an ageing population seems neither here nor there to the Treasury.
In general, there’s real complacency around our birth rate. Numerous articles have been written about why it has decreased, but often they treat women like Sex and the City characters – too busy sipping cocktails and thinking about their careers to have babies. That or women don’t understand their biological clock. Maybe these explanations are easier to deal with than the real ones.
Look around and it’s not hard to spot why people aren’t having as many children. Take last year’s finding that people in their mid-30s and mid-40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago, and one in three of the millennial generation never expected to own their own home. With tenants in London spending 40 per cent of their income on rent, how is having kids in any way feasible?
The truth is that “eco guilt” has merely become a distraction from these matters. Politicians should be focused on making conditions easier for people to have families. But why bother when we can debate the merits of nitrous oxide instead?