08/08/2017 6:18 PM AEST | Updated 08/08/2017 6:32 PM AEST

Climate Scientist Who Questioned The Ethics Of Children Is About To Go On Maternity Leave

'I have no regrets and we’re ecstatic to be having a child.'


Climate scientist Sophie Lewis is about to go on maternity leave. This would be a totally unremarkable piece of information, except for one thing.

In March this year Lewis wrote a column expressing the serious ethical dilemma she and her partner faced at the prospect of bringing a child into a warming world. As she said:

Should we have children? And if we do, how do we raise them in a world of change and inequity? Can I reconcile my care and concern for the future with such an active and deliberate pursuit of a child?

Put simply, I can't. Nowadays, the pitter-patter of tiny feet is inevitably the pitter-patter of giant carbon footprints.

Reusable nappies, a bike trailer and secondhand jumpsuits might make me feel like I'm taking individual action but they will achieve little. A child born today is inevitably a consumer and, most significantly, is a consumer of greenhouse gases.

Some people got a little offended by that. They read it (wrongly) as an edict not to have children -- and who the hell was Sophie Lewis to say that?

"I certainly got a lot of hateful responses," Lewis told HuffPost Australia spoke this week, a month before she's due to take a maternity leave break from herwork at the Australian National University.

"But I also got a lot of nice responses. I wasn't suggesting that people don't have the families that they desire, but rather that having big carbon lives and big population growth is kind of incompatible with the changes that we need to make in terms of mitigating the worst of climate change.

"So I think a lot of people were hateful, but a lot of people did understand that complexity."

Lewis spoke to HuffPost Australia for Breaking The Ice, our second series of podcasts with the people on the front lines of climate science. You can listen to it below, or at all the usual podcast haunts. (And if you want to see the hilarious panda video we talk about, it's here!)

Many people who read Lewis' column had the increasingly common affliction which in medical circles may well be known as internetus shortus attentionspanus. Right after the bit where she outlined her concerns around having children, she then 'fessed up.

Yep, she and her partner are going to have a baby. As she wrote:

"Our much longed for child will both exacerbate climate change and will have to fix the problems set in motion by its parents and grandparents. In essence, this burden is the choice I have made for my child.

Having made the decision to multiple my own carbon footprint in perpetuity and to inflict an extreme climate future on my daughter, the question becomes -- what now?"

What now indeed?

"I have no regrets and we're ecstatic to be having a child," Lewis told us in the podcast.

For Sophie Lewis, this was never about being preachy. It was, and is, about encouraging people to consider their choices.

"There's no real value in telling people not to have children, or that they should feel guilty for having children. But there is value in being aware of the consequences of decisions."

James Wright

As for climate science, Lewis is one of Australia's foremost researchers into the increasing frequency of extreme heat events. July 2017 was the hottest on record in many parts of Australia -- north, south, east and west.

"We've already run the numbers on July and that record month we had is about 10 times more likely because of climate change. When we look into the future, it's going to be more likely again," Lewis said.

"At first it doesn't seem that bad. We're going to have more warm Julys and a lot of people like warm weather, but there is a nasty side to that. Those extreme temperatures are not only going to become more frequent but more severe.

"So that's when we're going to see things like excess heat deaths in heatwaves, increasing catastrophic bushfires, young and old people not able to cope with the heat, and significant impacts on the ability of industry to work through heat waves.

"So it's not just a matter of having more beach weather. It actually has quite real consequences on our lives and our natural ecosystems. If we ignore the fact that these records are getting worse and will be more severe because of climate change, that means we are failing vulnerable people."

Want more Sophie Lewis? Good news! She's got a great book out called A Changing Climate For Science, and you can grab a copy here.