From the ARCADE Issue 35.1 feature, “Generation Anthropocene: Climate Change and Life After the End of a World.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks.  Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Children of Men still

A still from the post-apocalyptic 2006 film Children of Men. Credit: Universal Pictures

It was a cold, rainy day in my environmental geology class, the sky already dimming outside the foggy windows. I was 18 and taking the course for my AA degree at a community college, and our classroom housed rocks of all shapes and sizes. That day, the students were as silent and still as the stones around us as our professor spoke about the grave possible futures we faced with inevitable climate change.

Perhaps he included this because he knew it was vital for us, as young people, to see: A graph that showed three paths moving forward in time based on what the world decides to do about fossil fuel emissions. The path we were on showed most of our energy relying on fossil fuels. That path, colored red, ran upwards in a slope that signaled an alarming amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The world at the end of that line was one that could no longer sustain crops, and people would most likely have to fight and scavenge for food. And those people would be the coming generations who can do nothing to prevent such a world.

As I sat there listening to my professor describe this horrifying future, my mind was focused on a dilemma that I had not really considered before.

I can’t say that I have always wanted children. I spent a big chunk of my childhood taking care of my two younger brothers, and that seemed to act more as permanent birth control than anything. It wasn’t until I started high school and was away from home for the first time that I really came to appreciate the innocence and kindness in the hearts of children. Despite the snide comments about my appearance, t-shirts that tried to dehumanize my heritage–Hunkpapa Lakota–and cold, shunning silence from my classmates, I always came home to two little boys who cherished me as their sister. This love was what really sparked my admiration of children. But it’s also exactly what made me think twice about having kids at all.

I had always thought that if I had my own children, I would raise them to be strong in their ancestral ways and teach them to respect the Earth like they would their own mother. I believed that the only way to keep our future generations from perishing was to give life to leaders who knew how important it was to turn away from our current dependence on raping the Earth.

During my darkest days and loneliest hours, when I lost hope, I put my faith in the future—the children who did not yet exist. But when I began to learn about how my future children might be forced to fight for survival in a world changed by the climate, my feelings began to shift. Was having kids a selfish decision that would cause innocent lives to suffer? Even though I believed in my children’s power to change this unknown future, I became unsure if this would be a world that a child would want to be brought into. It seemed unfair that these bright beings would have to be placed into such an utterly dark world by my own creation.

We are all creating the future now. We are passing a planet with depleted resources down to our families like a haunted heirloom. We will have to tell future generations that many of our so-called leaders did nothing to stop their awaiting suffering. I can already feel my heart breaking when I think about those big eyes, looking back at us, so confused and hurt.

Yet I find hope in the knowledge that those same eyes will hold—the knowledge that has been passed down from their ancestors and keeps them rooted in who they are as Indigenous children. This is the same knowledge my father gave me and his family taught him. And when my future children have to face the consequences we have created, I can at least equip them with the culture and love they need to keep going. I can tell them that I fought for their future and thought of them every step of my journey.

As I watch the world around me constantly change, I still think about whether I want to have kids. But no matter what I choose to do, I have a responsibility to those in the future as someone living in the present. We all do. Because what we do now is causing the people who will come after us great suffering.