Do we love our children?

Richard Parncutt

3 June 2014

We are causing climate change with our greenhouse gases. As a very rough estimate, climate change will probably kill a billion future people over the next century or two (more). Those future people will die of hunger or disease, or in conflicts over diminishing resources, or in conflicts involving enormous numbers of climate refugees, or in extreme weather events.

Many of the people who will die in this way are already with us today. They are children in developing countries. Children in industrial countries are unlikely to die as a result of climate change, but their quality of life will be severely affected. They will be preoccupied for most of their lives with the omnipresent consequences of climate change.

That raises the question of whether we love our children. That may seem like an outrageous thing to ask, but it follows logically from the previous paragraphs. How can we claim to love our children and simultaneously participate in the gradual destruction of their future?

Parents who love their children want them to be happy and healthy, both now and in the future. It has always been so. Parents want their kids to grow up and have successful careers and relationships, to do great things, to have families of their own.

What does it mean to love our children?

According to a slightly kitschy song, "Love is many-splendored thing". Love is really about many things. It is not only about positive feelings toward others, and it is not only about doing good things for others. It is not only about respect for the other person, knowledge about the other person, genuine interest in the concerns of the other person, taking responsibility for the other person. It is not only about caring for another person as much as one cares about oneself.

Love is also about telling the truth, even if it hurts. Beyond that, love is about acting in accordance with the truth - as far as it is possible to establish the truth.

A dysfunctional relationship is one in which the truth is not respected. Things happen repeatedly that are definitely not ok, and they continue to happen because the participants in the relationship fail to talk openly and honestly about them. They are in denial. The solution is for the participants to look for the truth, often in a therapeutic session, and to find ways of saying the truth that allow the problem to be solved. This is often a long, slow process, but the rewards are great. In short, it is the best way to get the love back into the relationship.

Many songs are about how love never stops. We love each other day and night, in the springtime, summer, fall and winter (more). But most of all, love songs are about loving someone forever. Never mind that romantic love seldom lasts forever - we really love to claim that it will do so. Love for children is different. In most cases, it really does last forever. Parents love their children as long as they (the parents) are alive. Children often turn their back on their parents for a while but then come back. But that is a normal part of development, and it is also normal for parents to wait. Love between parents and children does not have a use-by date.

That being so, it is really very remarkable that most parents are ignoring climate change. Well - "remarkable" is a bit of an understatement. It is truly shocking.

At this point many parents will explain why they are ignoring climate change. They are not sure if it is happening, and if it is happening they are not sure what is causing it. There are so many conflicting opinions in the media.

These are good questions, but they are also lame excuses, because good answers to these questions are easy to find. And it is worth spending a few minutes (!) looking for answers to these questions in the internet, because this may be the most important question we could possibly ask about anything. Even if we are not sure what is happening, one thing is clear: the future of our children is at risk. Their whole world is at risk. We have to find out what it going on, and urgently. Moreover, this is about truth, truth is about love. If we love our children, we have to find out the truth, and act accordingly. This principle applies to just about any aspect of a loving relationship. If we ignore it, we are dysfunctional.

Climate science for parents

The best authority on climate change is the global community of climate scientists. For those who are unsure if that is true, perhaps because of all the nonsense that climate deniers are spreading about this topic, let me explain the broader context.

Today, most academic disciplines are represented by global communities of researchers or scholars. As a rule, those researchers or scholars have similar expertise, are asking similar questions, and are constantly checking the quality of each others' work in peer-review procedures. For that reason, each academic discipline is the most reliable source of information about the topic of their research. In this regard, climate science is no different from any other academic discipline.

For practical reasons, it is generally not realistically possible to challenge the mainstream knowledge as established by an established academic discipline. Occasionally, someone from outside a discipline has a brilliant idea that is later shown to be true by people within the discipline. But in a discipline as complex as climate science, this is unlikely to happen, and I know of no such case. There is a lot of climate denial going on, but from the point of view of the experts, who are constantly criticizing and challenging the details of their own discipline, the opinions of the deniers are mainly nonsense and not even worth reading.

The first truth about climate that we need to acknowledge as parents is that mainstream climate science, as represented by reputable global organisations such as the IPCC, is the best source of information that we have about climate. If we are not prepared to believe that, then we might as well close the universities. We might as well go back to the Middle Ages, before the scientific revolution and enlightenment. Moreover, I want to make the point that we have a responsibility as parents to recognize that. If we don't do so, we are betraying our children.

The next truth that loving parents should recognize is that the future of our children is in grave danger, because that is what the best climate scientists are predicting. We have to be honest about that, too. Anything else would be dysfunctional.

Having acknowledged that truth, the next step is to act on it, as we would act on any other truth in a relationship. Ignoring a truth that has important implications for participants in a relationship is classic dysfunctionality.

In this regard, most families today are evidently dysfunctional. Of all parents with a good education - by which I mean something like high school leaving or university entrance - most know that our greenhouse gases are changing the climate and that the consequences for our children will be nothing short of disastrous. But most of those well-informed parents are proceeding as if there is no such problem - as if there will be no such consequences for children in general, and for their own children in particular. As if climate change is all a big lie.

Can I protect the rights of our children without offending you?

Writing this text is very difficult, because I don't know how to express how bad this situation is without offending people. If I offend people, this test could have the opposite effect of the effect from what I am intending. So let me try to be as objective as possible about the situation.

One way to be objective is to imagine how a third party would view the situation from afar. Imagine you are a visitor from another planet and you have come to earth to study its inhabitants. You see that those inhabitants have a very advanced scientific culture, and that includes advanced climate science. Those humans have enormous amounts of data about the climate of the earth, and they know just about as well as one could know how their greenhouse emissions are affecting the climate and how that will change their climate in the future. They know that they are effectively destroying the climate for their children, but they are somehow incapable of solving the problem. You, that visitor from another planet, are delighted to have found another form of intelligence in the universe, but you are also puzzled. What kind of intelligence is this? How can these people be so smart in some ways and so dumb in other ways?

The plain truth is that we are extremely hypocritical. We think and claim that we are good parents, because we care for our children every day, send them to good schools, make sure they are eating the right food, do our best to keep them out of harm's way, listen to their concerns. We even make regular donations to UNICEF and similar charities in the hope that life will improve for children in developing countries. But at the same time we drive cars and fly in aeroplanes, in the sure knowledge that this behavior is destroying the future of our children. We vote for political parties that don't care at all about climate change, or for parties who say they care but when it comes to making important decisions they just give in to big business, and the result is little more than hot air.

The bottom line

We are being very quiet about climate change. We should be out on the streets demonstrating. We should be asking all of our friends what we are going to do about it, making it clear that it is the future of OUR CHILDREN that we are talking about. We should be starting new initiatives, lobbying politicians, supporting alternative energy projects, planting trees.

Logically speaking, anyone with a reasonable education who reads newspapers and is NOT doing  things of this kind cannot honestly claim to love their children. If you are reading this and disagree with me, please send me an email and we can discuss it. You might help me to improve this text. But that is surely not the main point. The main point is that we should be acting in the interests of our children right now, if we really want to claim that we are caring, loving parents. As the children's organisation "Plant for the Planet" says, we should stop talking and start planting.

The only alternative to action of this kind, as I see it, is to admit openly that we do not love our children. Tell them the truth that we are destroying their world, and wish them luck after we die. They will need it.

I write this knowing full well that most people who read it will ignore it. That includes some of my best friends.

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