From the Toronto Star, January 2, 2020.
By Matt Price, Contributor
When we had our son, friends gave us a funny parenting book written in the style of a computer operating manual. The book’s existence was a kind of jokey reply to the truism that there is no guide to parenting: “Sure there is. Here’s a copy!”
My partner and I debated whether to have a child at all. Even then the evidence said our planet was in trouble. Ultimately, we came down on the side of hope, realizing that if we didn’t, we would be giving up.
That debate changed what parenting means to us. If we assume the world our kids will live in will be roughly the same as ours now, the stakes are lower — they’ll be fine. If we know their world will become a dangerous place, however, parenthood is loaded with more responsibility.
As parents we wouldn’t think twice about rushing into a burning building to save our kids. But what if we are consciously putting them into that building, and even playing a part in setting the fire? That’s the reality of global warming.
In my neighbourhood, climate impacts are being felt primarily through water. This summer our local dairy farmers’ irrigation was cut off because our river ran almost dry. Two summers ago, a single spark would have set our whole area on fire. Elsewhere in B.C., it did.
Things are set to get much worse. As a society we lack the vocabulary to grasp what’s coming, the vast disruption already baked into our atmosphere. Climate scientists now openly talk about their emotional distress as they repeatedly warn of impending disaster to a largely unresponsive public.
My partner and I wallow as much as we can in the joy of our son’s childhood but lying beneath is a pervasive sadness. Like everyone we enjoyed teaching our son animal sounds while reading picture books. But no other generation has grown up knowing many of those animals will become extinct in their lifetime.
We also know we are the lucky ones, living in a rich country that can afford — for now — to buffer its citizens against the worst climate impacts. How many of us would switch places with a mom in Bangladesh whose kids face a lifetime of displacement from rising seas?
Some of us have teenagers who are wising up to the poisoned chalice we are handing them. Greta Thunberg sparked a global movement of youth striking from school to try to convince us adults to shake off our selfishness and do what the science demands. Our teens arrive home and rightly ask us why we are still on the couch instead of joining them in the streets.
As parents we need to understand that “somebody else” does not have this covered; there’s no quick technology fix on the horizon, nor any one politician or party with the wherewithal to shift the status quo quickly enough to matter. If we are to give our kids a livable future, it’s up to all of us to make it happen.
What does this mean practically? We usually get a list of things we can do to change our lifestyle, from flying less, to switching to a plant-based diet. These are worthwhile but won’t by themselves get us where we need to go. The deep emissions cuts we need will only come from bold collective action.
We are most familiar with such action in the form of voting, and indeed a key thing we can do is to elect climate champions at all levels of government, from the school board right up to the federal level. But again, this is not enough. Governments everywhere face strong pushback from those profiting from our fossil fuel society, so we in turn need to keep up the pressure by acting in between elections.
This happens best when we join together. The good news is that more parents are now stepping up and we are more powerful when we form teams to take action locally while also linking up to build a movement right across the country.
Now is not the time to sit this out. Our kids’ house is on fire and as parents we are called on to do everything we can to put it out.