Scaring our children with the future

21 01 2013

frightened childI’ve written before about how we should all be substantially more concerned about the future than what we as a society appear to be. Climate disruption is society’s enemy number one, especially considering that:

  1. all this unprecedented warming is happening on a template of highly degraded land- and seascapes. Extinction synergies (more extinctions than would otherwise be predicted by the simple sum of the different pressures) mean that climate change exacerbates the extinctions to which we are already committed;
  2. we show no sign of slowing emissions rates, partly because of the world’s ridiculous refusal to embrace the only known energy technology that can safely meet emissions-reduction requirements: nuclear power;
  3. there are 7 billion hungry, greedy humans on planet Earth, and that number is growing;
  4. scientific evidence denial, plutocracy and theocracy are all on the rise, meaning that logical, evidence-based decision making is being progressively tossed out the window.

That’s probably the most succinct way that I know of describing the mess we are in, which is why I tend to be more of a pragmatic pessimist when it comes to the future. I’ve discussed before how this outlook makes getting on with my job even more important – if I can’t reduce the rate of destruction and give my family a slightly better future in spite of this reality, at least I will damn well die trying.

Now, to do this depressing job of mine (informing the world about our plight, and hopefully giving us a few ways to improve some of the larger problems), there is some day-to-day complacency required. I suppose it’s like the trauma surgeon dealing with extensive blood and gore every day, or the police who are regularly exposed to the worst aspects of human nature; like them I must put aside the most depressing aspects of my work and get on with the task at hand.

This is perhaps why it came as something of a shock the other day as I (almost too casually) broached the subject of global warming with my 5 year-old daughter. The discussion started when she asked me why it was so hot (indeed, if you are not in Australia or haven’t listened to any news lately, you might not know that we are in the midst of the country’s most intense, continent-wide heat wave in recorded history). Of course, I told her that it happens sometimes, but that the incidence of these heat waves will increase over time, and that by the time she is an adult, they will occur regularly and be of an intensity that makes a few days above 40 degrees seem like a cool summer’s day (no – I didn’t quite use those words, but that was the gist of the conversation).

Well, I probably should have known, but I was slightly surprised when the battery of questions was fired: Why is this happening? Why are people not doing anything about it? Why are there so many stupid people in the world continuing to emit greenhouse gases without considering my future (again, highly paraphrased from 5-year old syntax)?

You know, I couldn’t honestly answer, because these are the same questions I’ve been asking myself for years. Do you know what a 5-year old does when contemplating an uncertain and dangerous future that seems to have no solution? She cries. She has nightmares, and her naïve mind can’t comprehend why anyone would let this happen to her, or why her parents can’t spare her that fate. Her worst episodes lasted about 2 weeks, but the subject is brought up now again and again. I can only comfort her by saying that, “I’m trying”.

Some parents might think I was too forthright and that I should have protected her innocence until she was at least a little older. Bullshit, I say. This is bloody scary stuff and if the youngest generation doesn’t understand this, then we have no hope at all. We need to inundate schools – from primary to university – with the mind-blowing reality of what we’re doing to our only home.

CJA Bradshaw



22 responses

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27 01 2013
Mark Bolton

Hi Corey,

Good Call on a few topics here !

” ……protected her innocence until she was at least a little older. Bullshit, I say…. ” Absolutely! If you lie to a child you lose their trust for ever ..if you forthrightly beg their indulgence on a topic it would be impossible run by them, in it’s full manifestation due it complexity, that nurtures trust.


When I was a little kid all manner of my rellys were acting out PTSS from the war in the Pacific. My Dad said to me “What happened to these people was more horrible than you can imagine and you mustn’t try. As you get older we will help you understand bit by bit. I wont lie to you Son, I don’t completely understand what happened myself, but , soon, when you are old enough I will explain as much as any one knows.” I got it all, but at the right time and no punches pulled.

Indeed! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

What we forgot from those decades was the help we could get from the atom because they were already times of plenty.

It was the Ace that slipped from our sleeve.

Kind Regards

Mark Bolton

25 01 2013
Marney Walker

What are we wanting our children to do – live well now and into the future or throw in the towel and dissolve into despair? Any situation (whether it be in a family or on a global level) can be catastrophic, but there has to be balance in how it is discussed and hope given for the future. Communication is essential for children but it must be at a level they can comprehend and hearing about what IS being done; people who ARE making a difference and giving them (the children) small, achievable ways of contributing to their present environment will, in my opinion, have a more beneficial affect on their future than a doom and gloom depiction. My mother told me that she couldn’t imagine how we would survive in the world that I would have when I grew up – it is certainly different from what she had, and the future will be different from what we have, but if we teach our children to be creative and have belief in the environment and the species, they will be equipped to do a better job than we are at the moment. They must have hope and believe in a possible future and it is our responsibility as parents to foster that in them, through our example of living with each other and the environment.
As for nuclear power, the indigenous people in the NT grew up with knowledge about the “sickness country” and that they had a responsibility to ensure it was not disturbed. We would do well to listen to them.

25 01 2013
Geoff Russell

No Marney, we shouldn’t listen to indigenous people about scientific issues anymore than we should listen to Church leaders (or followers). There are thousands of natural things in the environment that make people sick … like cooking smoke from wood fires … millions of premature carbon-neutral natural deaths every year

In the three weeks that the media staked out the hospitals of Fukushima to be finally rewarded with 3 workers with mild radiation burns, almost 30,000 children died from diseases inflicted by cooking smoke. Greenpeace is trying to stop a huge nuclear plant in Jaitapur with scare stories about radiation while local Indian children die from wood smoke. The idea that natural is always good and artificial always bad is not just wrong but deadly.

25 01 2013

Thanks, Marney. I appreciate your initial comments, but your supposition about nuclear is completely wrong. First, it appears you don’t understand much about radiation (I recommend reading this: Coal-fired power plants put out a hell of a lot more radiation than any nuclear plant. Second, if we are serious about climate-change mitigation, the ONLY technology available to us is nuclear. Renewables will never meet demand, and the fall-back is coal. So what are our options? My mantra is that perhaps some people might die if the world fully embraced nuclear, but orders of magnitude more will if we don’t. Not to mention, biodiversity.

23 01 2013

The sad thing is that I remember being taught about climate change in primary school and having the exact same reaction – why isn’t anyone doing anything about this now? Why is it my generation that will have to deal with this? That was more than 20 years ago and we’ve barely even begun.

23 01 2013

My 7 year old has been exposed to and involved in our family discussions on climate change, extinction, human population growth, poverty, limits to growth, organics, vegetarianism and sustainability in general from the beginning. I hope this knowledge we share with her will continue to influence her conscious decisions in a positive way despite the constant onslaught of environmental thoughtlessness we see around us daily. Like Corey’s daughter, she doesn’t understand how we got to this point and why people don’t act in the best interests of their children. Sustainability needs to be part of the education curriculum to help our children prepare for the future and to introduce its concept to families. Financially and time challenged people (ie those with young families) seem to have the best intentions with the least ability to achieve a sustainable lifestyle.
Try as we do, our family still has a long way to go too.

23 01 2013
Mary Ellen Ryall

Corey, I can relate to your telling your daughter about eminent Climate Change and rising temperatures. I think more environmental authors need to write Children’s books on species die off because of Climate Change. There should be more books on subject with suggestions of how to help species including plants, animals, insects. The children’s book I read was A Warmer Life by Carolyn Arnold. Great illustrations. As an adult, it even made me cry. I can imagine a child reacting also. Please know that many of us out here on the Planet know you are right. Thank you for being a beacon in a head in the sand society and politics. .

23 01 2013
Albert Rogers

Peter, we actually have, in the USA, a nuclear power plant design that is immune to what crippled Fukushima and TMI, and disgraced the authorities at Chernobyl. It uses a renewable resource, the class of all fissile nuclides, and unlike the official “renewables” it is sustainable at present energy consumption rates even in the gluttonous USA.
The most important “real question” raised by Fukushima is whether the nuclear technology can be trusted to private corporations. We know from Chernobyl that it cannot be trusted to undemocratic governments. It has been working quite well for the French, but I have some fears stemming from the fact that, because it did undercut the price charged by Germany’s coal and gas fired utilities, the EU government forced France to sell it into private hands.

Tell the Australian government, if you can, that if Australia doesn’t adopt renewable nuclear energy, or even the madly inefficient PWR technology (preferably with post-processing to separate the fission products from the weakly radioactive plutonium and uranium), the Chinese are already working on it.

28 01 2013
Peter Hanley

Hello Albert
You say that the lesson we learn from Fukushima and other nuclear catastrophes is that nuclear technology cannot be trusted to undemocratic governments and probably not to private to corporations.

However most of the users of nuclear technology are either undemocratic governments eg China or private corporations eg in the EU and the US.

This to me illustrates why there are still huge question marks around the safety of nuclear technology. .

7 02 2013

They are 2 companies building a nuclear plant in the US currently.

They have in common that they are state owned and so can afford to think much longer term than any private company, therefore calculate that over 60 years nuclear will come out cheaper than even cheap shale gas, and take a decision, build nuclear, that no private corporation will.

22 01 2013
Peter Hanley

Corey’s blog was very timely for me. On Sunday morning I listened to a lecture by Guy McPherson (“Nature bats last” is his blog) in which he cites some studies that suggest temperatures could increase by as much as 16 C by 2100. That definitely would mean goodbye world.

My daughter is 34 and I had been thinking could I encourage her or any other young person to have children. Like Geoff Russell I too remember having nightmares about nuclear war in the early 60s and in the early 70s was strongly influenced by Limits to Growth.

On Monday I read Corey’s blog and I really appreciated both the blog and the perspectives of previous contributors. But I am surprised by one thing – the enthusiasm for nuclear power.

Fukushima raises real questions about the safety of nuclear power but I think there is an even greater problem with nuclear power. To me nuclear power symbolises the thinking that has got us into the mess we find ourselves in.

The idea that big is better – all we need to do is build a few more thousand nuclear power stations and everything will be rosy. We can keep consuming energy and continue in our wasteful lifestyles. Even if that were true it only works for a billion or so of us in the developed world.

It certainly is not going to help the two billion or so people who somehow exist on a handful of dollars a day.

I truly believe the solution if it exists has to be in the other direction – small is beautiful. We have to devise systems that better share the world’s resources not prop up a system based on excessive consumption that has clearly failed.

I look forward to this discussion continuing…

22 01 2013

Well, I just can’t approve by far.
I feel you are playing here a dangerous game with scare, the *exact* same weapon the other camp is using to fuel the recourse to scientific evidence denial, plutocracy and theocracy. Scare is very dangerous, it talks to our emotions, it sweeps our rationality away, it doesn’t help one bit to take the right decisions.

I don’t want a world governed by fear, but one that has hope. A hope that comes from rationality, the resolve to solve the difficulties by identifying the proper solutions without giving to panic. And only confidence and trust in one’s ability to overcome those hurdle can fuel that (here “one’s” includes the group and abilities of similarly inclined people as opposed to God, or a Great Leader with simple, “obvious” solution that you just blindly trust).

So in my personal opinion, you should try to convey this trust and confidence to your daughter, because the fear instead leads to anger, and fear and anger together always lead to terribly bad decisions.

21 01 2013
Jon Moen

Corey, I have had much the same experiences with my own family. To make things worse, about a year ago or so I read the most scary book I have ever read, called “Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer. It gave me nightmares….

Having said that, I think we not only need to educate people of the situation, we also need to focus a bit more on the few positive things we can find. With only despair, we could get totally paralyzed (assuming of course that it is possible to do less than we already are as a society). Personally, I see some hope in grass roots movements (gardening the cities, occupy Wall street, etc), but it is going real slow.

21 01 2013
Jennie Fluin

Not all kids are scared. My husband teaches climate change courses to undergrads, often writing lectures at the kitchen table. We never shield them from life – they may be young but they watch the news and read the newspaper (albeit with us alongside to support). Our three youngish sons take an avid interest and are excited, not scared, about the opportunity for change. They are all determined, in their own ways, to help change behaviours and /or develop innovative ways to live more sustainably. I am amazed by the number of parents who do protect their kids and censor them from life. They are resilient little buggers and given the right support, can handle the truth.

21 01 2013
Geoff Russell

If it’s any consolation Corey, I was a bit older than 5 but I can remember being seriously traumatised by what I perceived was the near certainty of a nuclear weapons winter when I was about 10. I’ve passed from traumatised over something rather unlikely to seriously worried and very pro-nuclear energy and doing my best over something far more serious. I trust your daughter’s nightmares will pass with love and support.

For anybody still overly worried about nuclear weapons and such, a really, really good book is John Mueller’s “Atomic Obsession” … I wish he’d written it and I’d read it a few decades ago!

23 01 2013
Albert Rogers

It is very probable that in 1962, one man in a Russian submarine held in his hands the decision whether to launch the torpedo that would plunge the world into nuclear holocaust, winter and all. The good news is that Vasili Arkhipov decided against it, in spite of his two comrades who thought it their duty to launch. So, Geoff, your boyhood fears were justified. It is my suspicion that the unreasoning horror of nuclear power is an inability to distinguish it from the abominable nuclear weapons plans that governments had 50 years ago.

23 01 2013
Geoff Russell

Maybe Albert, but I’m not at all convinced that anything worse than WWII or WWI would have occurred, even if Arkhipov hadn’t stopped that torpedo. Not that such an event wouldn’t have been catastrophic, but I’m not convinced it would have been worse than non-nuclear catastrophes. And that’s the thing. Convention war takes some beating as horrors go. So I simply no longer believe that one (or 10) nuclear missile launches would have resulted in a house-of-cards-all-in-destroy-the-planet response. I just don’t buy it. Read Mueller’s book and see what you think afterwards. And now? As opposed to the cold war? Think of all the bluster over North Korea. NK now has a bomb. What the hell will she do with it? What could she possibly do with a bomb or two and a rather dodgy rocket that would result in anything worse than the Rwandan genocide? … nuclear weapons aren’t actually any worse than conventional weapons. They are scarier without being more dangerous. Think about Iraq … the ostensible reason for the war was Saddam’s WMD, but far more people were killed in the war than those WMD would have ever killed … if he had had them. The cure was worse than the disease.

21 01 2013
Decarbonise SA

Reblogged this on Decarbonise SA and commented:
Corey, thank you. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you have said. I’m glad I can share this very moving piece with my own audience.

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