How backpacking in the Rockies made me rethink having kids

November 8, 2021
How backpacking in the Rockies made me rethink having kids

This First Person column is written by Hafsa Salihue who is studying environmental management at Simon Fraser University. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ

If you’ve ever had the chance to backpack the Berg Lake Trail in Mount Robson Provincial Park, consider yourself immensely lucky. It’s one of those iconic Canadian experiences with rugged mountains, alpine meadows, sweeping glaciers and cascading waterfalls.

As I was eating my well-earned dehydrated meal after a 20-kilometre hike with a glorious view of Berg, and Mist glaciers, I was hit by a sudden wave of sadness. I knew I wanted to come back here someday with my kids to show them these two glaciers, and the nearby Robson Glacier, but I also know the chances of that are slim. 

I’ve always wanted kids. My partner and I even talked about potential names before we got married. But the ongoing climate change crisis is making me rethink my desire to have children.

In 1911, the Alpine Club of Canada placed a sign at the terminus of the Robson Glacier which stated that the glacier was receding at a rate of of 15 metres per year. The same glacier was retreating at 30 metres per year in 2013 and is likely retreating even faster now. 

Hafsa Salihue snapped this photo of a sign leading to the Robson Glacier. It marks the foot of the glacier in 1911 and serves as a comparison of how far back the glacier has retreated. (Hafsa Salihue)

As I left the trail, I wondered how different those glaciers would look the next time I visited and if my children would even be able to see them in their lifetimes.

Just five days later, the record-breaking heat dome in Western Canada caused the glaciers in the park to melt so rapidly that campgrounds and trails flooded, resulting in an emergency evacuation of hikers from the park. The impact was so severe that the Berg Lake trail was closed for the remainder of the year.

A bridge near the Whitehorn Campground on Berg Lake Trail of Mount Robson Provincial Park in northern B.C. was covered by flood water on July 2 amid the heat wave. (Sean Allin)

I turned 30 this year, I am grappling with the questions such as what kind of future will my children have on this overheating planet.

Apparently, I am not alone in asking these questions. A 2020 Morning Consult poll of American adults without children showed that one in four said that climate change has influenced their reproductive decisions. It’s confusing because some climate scientists say it is still OK to have children if you’re really driven or feel the urge to have them, because as stronger policies — such as those pledged at COP26 — force us to decarbonize, our children’s emissions won’t be as bad as ours. 

  • Have questions about COP26 or climate science, policy or politics? Email us: [email protected]. Your input helps inform our coverage.

That’s why the release of the United Nations’ IPCC Report and Emissions Report on the irreversible climate impacts in August was yet another crushing report. 

The slow pace of decarbonization since the Paris Accords has me really worried, especially since our leaders agreed to the loftier Paris commitment to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees so as to “avoid catastrophic climate change.” So far, they’ve failed to put us on track to keep that promise. Glaciers seem to be melting quicker than the glacial pace of collective action. 

Mere days after this photo of Hafsa Salihue was taken at Berg Lake, Mount Robson provincial park was closed due to rapidly melting snow and ice during the B.C. ‘s record-breaking heat wave in June. (Hafsa Salihue)

My partner and I are both concerned about climate change but we are now on opposite sides about whether we should even have a single child. It’s next to impossible to talk about my fears with my parents, because in our South Asian culture, it is unacceptable for a couple to decide against having a child. 

When I raised the idea with my parents, the response was, “FORGET ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, you need to have a child!” I’ve heard arguments like we need someone to take care of us and keep us company when we get older, which seem rather odd to me. 

I get it. They just want some cute grandkids. I want them too, but I’m worried about their future. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to personal choice. My partner and I haven’t made a decision yet on if we should or should not have children. We have decided to wait at least until I am done with my Masters and get a job. Perhaps by then we will have a better idea of what global strategies will be in place to reduce emissions. In the meantime, we will continue to reduce our own carbon footprint and live our lives the best we can.

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