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Our Moral Duty To Prepare Children For Climate Change

11/09/2017 15:20

When I was a child there was an advert on television about global warming, made by a well-known environmental organisation. I was the eco-kid-warrior encouraging my parents to recycle paper, plastics and glass at the local recycling bank - as kerbside collections did not yet exist - and although my siblings made fun of me for it I remained dedicated to living a low carbon lifestyle. The adverts on TV showed environmentally-positive changes like turning off lights and faucets, and then at the end the narrator would say "it's not too late", but I recall my pessimistic older sister shaking her head at the TV and proclaiming "it is, it's too late" - merely a child voicing an opinion aloud, but I saw truth in it nevertheless, and it hit me in the pit of my stomach. I knew that she was right.

Watching the increasing consumerism around me, and the plastic beginning to suffocate our oceans - an issue that has only worsened in the following decades - I spent much of my childhood terrified of the looming reality of climate change, so now, when other people are finally awakening to that fear, I have mostly moved on to something else - the next stage, perhaps - one of acceptance and purpose. To some degree the fear and anxiety remain, but as I told Yale Climate Communications, my focus now is on the work we have to do in order to survive, to reduce further suffering and, where possible, death. We do not know whether climate change is reversible, which means that we can still try to make amends, even if the results of our labour may be a century away. We're not very good at thinking that far ahead, which is how we've ended up in this mess, but for our children's children we have to try - though ours will now feel the brunt of climate change either way, and older generations are witnessing the beginning of it.

We must face reality

How can we prepare our children for such an unstable future? Perhaps every parent who has lived through a war has wondered the same thing. In our home we have moved a step beyond recycling and cycling: the feel-good-green element has long gone. What we have instead is an ongoing dialogue, and action based on the results of that dialogue: this is happening, yes it's awful and no one is proud of it, but here is what we can - and must - do now. We focus on preparedness and resourcefulness: on what we can do to make things better, and on acknowledging and managing the negative emotions that inevitably arise from these discussions.

If we choose not to prepare our children for climate change, we are doing them a great disservice, as debilitating responses like grief and anxiety late in the game will only hold them back. The more mentally prepared they are now the better, and I have no doubt that therapy for those with climate anxiety will become commonplace within the next decade. No parent wants to prepare their child for war: and yet war is coming, and the enemy is faceless - and we created it.

Caring about the planet isn't about green living any more - something I've spent my life teaching people about - it's about survival. We must face the reality that we could become a 'zero carbon planet' overnight, but it would not, now, prevent the planet from warming. In any case, positive lifestyle changes are already afoot: we're using less oil, and committing to electric car use, but these changes needed to be made three decades ago yesterday to make a real difference. This doesn't mean that we should become complacent, but that the focus of the conversation needs to shift, as well as the focus of our actions. We need to start talking about adapting to this changing world, to put pressure on governments worldwide to foster effective mitigation and adaptation at national and global levels. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are only the beginning. My advice is, if you live in an area that is prone to flooding, or on a coastline, move to an area that isn't. This may sound like a harsh reality but if you're not having to flee the country you call home I say you got off lightly. No one wants to hear this but avoiding talking about it is no different to the mistake we made decades ago when we ignored the scientists who were warning us about global warming: if we truly understand and accept the realities of climate change, these are the discussions we must have now.

We must offer refuge - and humility

Experts have been telling us for years that extreme weather conditions, e.g. worsening droughts, will lead to increased forced migration - and the era of climate refugees has now begun. We must learn to welcome these displaced peoples, to share our resources with them, and to ultimately be less selfish and learn to accommodate and compromise where necessary. Here in the west, we are not used to having to share small spaces with others, but in many countries around the world entire families are crammed into single rooms, where they both live and sleep. It's time for us to start sharing what we have always been privileged to have, and to ensure that our children know how to share too. We created the vast mess that has suffocated our planet, and it's up to us to make amends for it. We must offer our spaces and resources to those who are losing their homes to extreme weather conditions even as you read this. We have a moral duty to do so.

We must become more self-sufficient

If you have Scouts training, now's the time to pass that knowledge on to your children. I've spent years learning these skills out of dedication to an eco-friendly lifestyle, and also because it's fun. Now I'm teaching my own children them, and it's fun for them too - although the future may be grim, not every waking moment in the climate change era has to be. Negative emotions will come and go, but now is the time to ensure that children have an all-round education to help them be self-sufficient and resourceful in a changing and uncertain world.

Other animal species are rapidly on the decline and those that cannot adapt will disappear altogether. We can't stop climate change but we can help other species to adapt to it and survive. Plant flowers and trees wherever you can - in your garden, in patches of soil by roadsides, anywhere and everywhere. Create hedgehog homes, bird boxes, dig a pond in your garden together - children can't help to save what they don't appreciate and understand. The more they experience and learn about the natural world, the more resourcefulness and determination they will have to help protect it. And the more they understand about the science of climate change, the better.

We must move forward

The reality of climate change is devastating and terrible - there are no words to adequately express our guilt, sadness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, anger and our desperate wish that we could go back in time and do things differently. But the warnings were there and we ignored them. It's time to face up to that, and move forward. We must help to give our children and grandchildren the tools they'll need to live within this changing climate, instead of with the dread that consumed my childhood, because dread is debilitating and takes the beauty out of life. By focusing instead on making positive changes, not just for ourselves but for all the life on this precious planet, we can do our bit to help other people and species to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. My sister was right - it is too late to prevent what's coming - but it's never too late to face change head-on, and to lend a hand where it's sorely needed. Indeed, we created this mess, and we have a moral obligation to help clean it up.

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