The Point AOC Echoed About Having Kids and Climate Change Is Legit — But Politically Risky
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines once again when, in a recent Instagram live chat, she broached the topic of the ethics of having children given the implications of climate change. Two weeks later, it still has people talking.
“There’s scientific consensus that the lives of children are going to be very difficult,” said the progressive freshman representative from New York. “And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: Is it okay to still have children?”
Since then, some on the right have falsely claimed that AOC was hinting at draconian population control policies by addressing the issue with her followers. Fox News’ Steve Hilton went so far as to call it “fascistic,” and exaggeratedly claimed that Ocasio-Cortez was calling for a “no-child policy,” Vox reported.
It’s easy to see that these attacks are in bad faith. Republicans and others on the right belong to a political cohort that is actively taking away access to safe and affordable abortion and birth control, and that refuses to compromise on more-affordable health care. Though the tide is beginning to turn, the Republican party and many of its sympathizers have historically refused to act on (or even acknowledge) climate change. Both major parties have a record of throwing fuel on the proverbial (and, increasingly, literal) fire by enabling, and profiting from, oil companies and other major polluters that are driving climate change.
Progressive Democrats including AOC have offered the Green New Deal to partially combat some of the impacts of climate change, but Republicans have wholly rejected this plan; a small minority from within the party reportedly wants to address the matter through other means. But numerous Democrats have opposed the Green New Deal, too, including AOC’s boss in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
What to do about climate change is a heated political debate, and some criticisms of Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks have been clearly inflated to suit reactionary agendas. But that’s not to say that it’s totally irrational to feel uneasy when an elected official says the words, “Is it okay to still have children?” — even if they’re echoing the words of their constituents and not directly posing the question themselves.
There are few people who would argue that the decision to have children is a serious one, with various ethical concerns attached. It’s also more than fair for a person to wonder whether or not they might want to start a family themselves, given that climate change is rapidly destroying the planet and today’s children will have to deal with the consequences as they grow more dire. Whether or not it is fair to a child to be born at all is an age-old philosophical question that’s worth being asked. But because it’s not one that should be taken up by a government official, its mere mention can be read as taboo.
And to be perfectly clear: Ocasio-Cortez did not, as Fox’s Hilton suggested, promote any kind of population control policy. Such policies are in fact a major breach on human rights, and should be condemned where they actually surface. What Ocasio-Cortez said on her Instagram had to do with how the threat of climate change can affect young people’s family planning decisions, but she certainly has not explicitly advocated for population control measures.
Most progressives would likely agree that it is not the government’s place to interfere with matters of family planning and reproductive choice, and AOC almost certainly shares that view. But her position in the federal legislature does put her in shaky territory to discuss the ethics of other people having children. AOC’s reflection on the musings of “young people” would have been wholly unobjectionable coming from a layperson, but as a congresswoman, she risks having the statement misconstrued as a personal — and therefore, political — position.
Ocasio-Cortez tends to use her social media presence in a way that could make her supporters feel like she’s more of a peer than an authority figure. But because she does, in fact, have a position in government, she needs to be careful about tossing ethical questions out on the ‘gram — even if they aren’t explicitly her own. While extreme criticisms from the right are clearly in bad faith, merely repeating others’ ethical questions about procreation can evoke concerns about the implementation of population control policies.
However, it is well within AOC’s lane to advocate for rigorous environmental policies. While Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives are working hard for the Green New Deal, the resolution is simply not sufficient to address the causes of climate change in 12 years. As member of Congress, her job is to create and pass policy that ensures the young people of today who do decide to have kids can give those kids a safe life, and leave her constituents’ debates about their own reproduction to them alone.
(Photos by Rick Loomis + Win McNamee/Getty Images)