Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist whose work on the reef has illustrated the risks of climate change.
Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist whose work on the reef has illustrated the risks of climate change.

Would-be mum’s heartbreaking dilemma

Melissa Pappas has long imagined that she would start a family some day.

But over the past year or so, the 27-year-old has felt increasingly unsettled by the thought of bringing a child into the world.

That anxiety reached fever pitch over the past several weeks as ferocious bushfires ravaged large chunks of Australia and blanketed Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra in choking smoke.

"I really do want to be a mum," Ms Pappas, a Sydney-based marine biologist, told news.com.au.

"There's this really strong desire for me to have my own kids. But I'm just struggling with this concern about the quality of life my child would have on a planet facing the threat of climate change."

Climate scientists have described the Great Barrier Reef as a kind of canary in the coal mine when it comes to global warming.

Coral is extremely sensitive to ocean temperature increases and recent mass bleaching events of the natural wonder have prompted warnings that the reef is at threat.

 

Fish swim near a staghorn coral that has died from the effects of warm ocean temperatures and coral bleaching on Hastings Reef off Cairns. Picture: Brendan Radke
Fish swim near a staghorn coral that has died from the effects of warm ocean temperatures and coral bleaching on Hastings Reef off Cairns. Picture: Brendan Radke

 

Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist and currently completing her PhD on coral bleaching.
Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist and currently completing her PhD on coral bleaching.

 

Ms Pappas has seen it first-hand.

"I'm in the middle of my PhD, which specifically looks at coral bleaching and going out into the field near Heron Island in Queensland, it's pretty shocking," she said.

"The reef is our warning sign. The ocean protects the planet by absorbing carbon, but as emissions increase it gets hit the hardest, and so bleaching events are becoming more intense and more frequent.

"Mass bleaching events are now predicted to happen so often that there's not enough time for coral to recover in between. We're pushing the limit."

While working on a paper recently about what protecting the reef in a warmer world might look like, Ms Pappas found herself struggling to strike an optimistic tone.

"I was sitting in Sydney looking out the window as smoke blanketed the city, these huge fires raging not far away, and the climate change threat was literally in my face," she recalled.

"It really made me think about whether future generations will even be able to experience the reef."

It also brought to the fore her doubts about whether she wants to have a child while the planet faces such an uncertain future.

RELATED: Oceans at warmest recorded temperatures for fifth consecutive year

 

Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist whose work on the reef has illustrated the risks of climate change.
Melissa Pappas is a marine biologist whose work on the reef has illustrated the risks of climate change.

 

"My partner and I wanted to be parents one day but now I'm not so sure and whether we do or don't has become a serious conversation," she said.

"We know that the planet can't sustain a growing population. It's just not sustainable and I think my generation will have to seriously consider limiting how many kids we have.

"But the biggest part of it is what sort of planet my child would be coming into. Could they have a happy life? What would their life look like?

"I just don't know."

 

People take a selfie in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it is obscured in smoke haze from nearby bushfires in Sydney. Picture: AAP
People take a selfie in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it is obscured in smoke haze from nearby bushfires in Sydney. Picture: AAP

 

Ms Pappas comes from a large Catholic family where she says the expectation is that she'll provide plenty of grandchildren for her mum and dad to dote on.

She's also at a point in her life when friends, cousins and siblings are having children of their own, and so the inevitable questions about her own plans arise.

"In conversations with people, many are expressing similar sentiments about starting a family. They're nervous about the future planet for their children," she said.

"There's a new term called 'eco-anxiety' and I think it's something a lot of people are experiencing, particularly those studying or working in the environmental space."

RELATED: Amid a deadly and devastating bushfire season, experts warn Australia should get used to it

 

 

 

Ms Pappas is quick to point out that she's not judging anyone else for their decisions about having children, nor how many they have.

"Not at all - it's a very personal thing," she said.

"But it's something worth discussing, I think. It's no longer just about whether you can personally afford it, but whether the planet can afford it."


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