I’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:
- 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;
- 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;
- there are 7 billion hungry, greedy humans on planet Earth, and that number is growing;
- 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.