Who Wants to Have Children in a Warming World?

How does race play a factor in how we all process those emotions?

What I found in a survey that I conducted is that the most distressing emotions were reported by people of color, who in a statistically significant way, most identified feeling traumatized by the impact of climate change. They also reported feeling fear more so than white respondents.

And they also reported feeling overwhelmed. And that came out a lot in interviews too. What I was not anticipating—but this is also significant—is that when it came to parenting in the midst of climate change, people of color in my study were most likely to report positive or action-oriented emotions, including feeling motivated, feeling determined, feeling a sense of happiness or optimism. Because that was a quantitative survey, I wasn’t able to ask questions about why those positive emotions were there.

But I can only imagine that it’s because people of color really have long histories of facing existential threat. Black and Indigenous people, in particular, have had to develop tools to become resilient, to become resilient within community, within family, and within social movements. And so I can only imagine that those responses of motivation, joy, determination, and happiness come from a sense of “We will survive, we will endure, and whatever future is ahead, we will find a way to thrive.”

So, does your work really underscore the importance of African Americans and communities of color—in the face of these threats—drawing strength from family?

Not just family. We can trace a long history in the United States of Black people, literally, facing threats to our existence, from literally the earliest days of being in this country through slavery. And so one of the things that has always been a really important institution to protect us from the harms of the outside world is family, and not just family, but multigenerational family. And for us, that often includes chosen family.

We all have “play cousins,” “play aunties,” “play uncles”—people who are not biological kin. But the lack of biological relationship does not matter at all. They are members of the family. Building and sustaining those multigenerational ties has always been important to strengthen us, not just against big existential threats, but to strengthen us in a society in which we often don’t have the necessary resources and social supports that we need.

We often have the absence of a social safety net to provide for us in the ways that we need to be provided for. Other institutions provide those supports, as well. The church, for example. Say what you want about the Black church—there are challenges, there have always been challenges, but the Black church has been a really important institution in the lives of African Americans, not just for religious reasons, but for social reasons. It was a very important institution throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

And it provides a space of safety, solace, and community as a buffer against a lot of the challenges of the outside world. How does all of this come back to climate anxiety and the kid question? Well, when you don’t have research that includes African Americans, for example, then you tend to assume that we don’t experience climate anxiety, or that, if we do, it doesn’t have any impact on kid questions for us. And that’s not true.

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