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'I'm not anti-natal, selfish or self-centred': Why 30-year-old Emma won't be having children.

Emma Olliff is a 30-year-old UK kitchen gardener and chef who has decided never to have biological children. Her reason, like a growing number of women (and men) throughout the world is based around the “environmental crisis our planet is facing.”

“None of the challenges we need to overcome are made easier with a larger human population,” Emma told Mamamia. 

“It is my opinion that encouraging people to have smaller families and embracing those who decide to be child free without prejudice is an important part of solving some of the global issues that ours and future generations will be facing.”

The extent in which population has grown over the past century is quite significant.

According to Population Matters, “until the time of Napoleon, there were less than one billion people on Earth at any one time. Since the Second World War, we have been adding a billion people to the global population every 12-15 years. Our population is more than double today what it was in 1970.”

With this growth in population also comes substantial impacts on the environment we live in. Emma believes the larger family size, the more significant the impact. The smaller the family size, the more we can help our environment.

millenials not having kids
“None of the challenges we need to overcome are made easier with a larger human population." Image: Lee Moreton.

“The importance is demonstrated very clearly in figures presented in the piece of work conducted by scientists at Lund University in Sweden," Emma said.

"Their study identified the four actions that would have the greatest impact on an individual’s greenhouse gas emissions: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car free, and having fewer children.

"Their findings show that choosing to have one less child will reduce your carbon footprint by 58.6 tonnes of carbon per year – 12 times more than the other three decisions combined."

For Emma, the decision to be child-free hasn’t been particularly difficult.

“I made this decision fairly early in my twenties, though without the firmness I hold today.”

But she does concede that the stigma attached to her decision can be challenging at times.

“I am often told that I will change my mind, that I am too young to know, that when a child comes along I will suddenly have a change of heart.

"My answer in many of these situations is: if you are old enough to make the decision to have a child, you are old enough to make the decision not to."


And Emma is not alone in her view. Emma has witnessed first-hand a trend in people deciding to have fewer children based on concern for the environment and climate change.

millenials not having kids
Emma planting salad at Village Farm Organics in Devon. Image: Rebecca Hosking.

“Both men and women I have spoken to have been encouraged by the work that charities such as Population Matters have been doing to empower both women and men to make the reproductive decisions that suit them and their situations with more freedom."

Although Emma and others have made this personal decision, she doesn’t believe that it is the right one for everyone and that is absolutely their choice.

“Fundamentally, it is about giving people the right to choose and equipping them with the knowledge and freedom to act.


"By empowering people, by educating women, by driving economic equality and improving access to healthcare, we can do a lot to transform the lives of those that don’t currently experience the freedom to make their own decision about their reproductive future with impunity."

Emma also believes that in countries such as the UK where women have reproductive freedom it is about “reducing the stigma attached to deciding not to have your own children so that people don’t feel pressured to conform to a ‘norm’ that they don’t feel happy with."

"Choosing to have less or no children is by no means anti-natal, selfish, self-centred or any of the other derogatory terms often associated with those that decide to be child free by choice. It is in fact an act of consideration for the future of those generations that will continue on – human and otherwise.

“Once you know the facts, you can’t not know. And those facts are powerful and life changing in so many ways. A growing human population is unsustainable; we do not have the resources to continue growing at the rate we are and the global devastation we are on the brink of is potentially irreversible.

"As the world-renowned wildlife broadcaster, and patron of Population Matters, David Attenborough said, 'All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.'"

Do you think having children is bad for the environment? Tell us in a comment below. 

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer from Victoria. Shona is usually busy writing and raising her children: three goats, two cats and two humans. You can follow her on Instagram @shonamarion.