Monday, July 26, 2010

Children And Climate Change

I didn't want children.

I love my kids very much, and I'm glad they're here, but I've always felt that being a parent is a total commitment with tremendous responsibility. One chooses very carefully how and when one brings a child into the world.

Suppose we had our imaginary Zombie plague, and day-to-day survival became an unpredictable horrorshow. Would you start a family under those circumstances?

Of course not. At the very least, you'd try to organise some sort of real security before you brought babies into the world. After all, there's no point in raising 'em if they're only zombie-fodder, right?

But -- what if the Zombies hadn't arrived yet? What if you knew they were coming, and nobody was really preparing, and they were certainly going to arrive within a couple decades, at most? Maybe even less than a decade? Would you decide to raise children, knowing their adulthood was extremely uncertain, knowing the world they would inherit would be a fearsome, poisoned place?

I know some people would still do it. My wife, for example. On my own, I would choose otherwise.

Now. Here's the real thinking:

The braindead cretins who insist there is no such thing as global warming/climate change can safely be ignored. If you look at the state of the world, you can very easily, very clearly see a huge range of rapidly developing crises. All of them, more or less, relate to global human overpopulation, and the effects of fossil-fuel driven industries and agriculture. The list touches virtually every aspect of the existence of life on earth. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Desertification
  • global warming
  • oceanic acidification
  • deforestation and environmental degradation
  • the end of oil
  • the end of readily available phosphorous
  • limits to available fresh water
  • limits to available arable land
  • the end of vital techno-minerals (indium, gallium, etc)
  • pesticide resistance
  • antibiotic resistance
  • rapid, global loss of biodiversity

There are plenty more. That is just a nice list to go on with. Some of 'em you probably won't even have heard about yet. You can either trust me when I say they are real, and serious, or you can go and do your own research. I don't mind either way. It won't change the facts. What's important is the interpretation you place on them.

Now, I regard myself as a reasonably informed, rational thinker. And as such, I cannot look at this list without concluding that the way of life we've enjoyed as a result of our use of fossil fuels and our technology is about to come to a grinding halt. Without a game-changing breakthrough such as cheap, reliable nuclear fusion energy, there is no way we can go on as we are.

I was aware of these problems ten years ago when my wife declared that children were a non-negotiable part of our relationship. At that time, I licked my finger, held it to the wind, and figured we probably had twenty years, maybe, before things really got difficult.

And then, because I love her, I agreed.

In agreeing, I brought three new human lives into a world which, I believe, will not sustain them as it has sustained me. I don't know how that's going to turn out. I'm very much a generalist, not a specialist: don't ask me for precise predictions in any one area, because I can't do it. (Not, I note, that the specialists are doing much better.) But short of a true technological miracle, I cannot imagine a way for it to end well.

The best I could do, ten years ago, was to convince Natalie to come to Tasmania.

Having children changed my personal outlook in terms of politics and activism. Birmo's latest online column talks about 'climategate', and in the comments, someone raises the idea that the world's political leaders have quietly decided that preventing climate change is no longer possible, so they're working towards living with it, and mitigating it.

That's how I feel about things. If I was to work politically towards conservation and towards decent stewardship of the earth, it would take all my time and energy. I'd probably wind up right out on the fringes, heading up various government agencies' list of 'potentially dangerous individuals'. But I can't do that and be a good father. Quite simply, the level of commitment necessary to even start to spark change or make a difference would require me to be unattached in virtually every way.

It's probably a good thing, really. Because underneath the sadness and the frustration, I really am very deeply angry about the way the governments and corporations of the world have bent us all over and fucked us on this matter. Angry enough that if I wasn't needed as a parent, I might well have decided to turn around and push back in the most direct and effective ways I can imagine. And I have quite a good imagination.

Never mind. It's coming, whether I like it or not. And I agreed to have children, and I have to make the best of that decision and do the very best for them that I can. So to everyone else, out there in the rest of the world: good luck. We're all going to need it.


  1. Yep, I totally agree with your thoughts, especially with the actions of Govt. and Big Business. I've brought four people into this world - eldest turns 15 on Friday, the next turns 14 the following Saturday. Heaven only knows what trials their predecessors will have wrought upon them, and their children.

  2. True enough. I remember a chat I had with the old man several years ago, when he admitted his generation had been brought up with the understanding that there was no future for us (ie their children) because of the inevitable nuclear holocaust which would mark the end of the cold war. It was just a given. The balloon would go up, and that would be that. Admittedly, we're not going to get a solution to AGW as simple as a half-cut Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank in Moscow and mooning the Kremlin, but we will survive this, because it's what we do. Christ knows what that civilization will look like, but human nature being what it is, I personally don't think it'll look too different from what it looks like right now. Just as venal, ignorant and profit-driven as what got us into this in the first place, probably.

  3. The earth will survive, that's a given
    Humanity will likely survive.
    But not in the numbers or the way we do now.
    Summed up how I feel about things pretty much though I would have definitely added the destruction of fish stocks to a level where it's going to hit the fan soon.

  4. Oh, absolutely. I did say the list is incomplete, but I have to admit, I was irritated when I realised I'd left that one off.

  5. You did what you were biologically engineered to do. You reproduced. I don't think you should bare guilt for doing what nature intended. The decision was out of my hands or I would have done the same thing. All I know is that if smart people like you decided to stop having kids because they are certain of a doomed future then we definitely get "Idiocracy". I'll take zombies over that any day!

  6. I have no doubt things are going to get worse, but I also believe that the generation we have spawned have a good chance of coming up with the solutions to these nighmare that will not only defeat the mistakes we made but usher in a future brighter than I can imagine.

    I think this generation may even give us back the stars.

    I really do believe that and I am trying to raise my son to believe that too, for if he and the others of his generation give up then truly this civilization of ours ends in chaos and madness.

  7. I'm new to the looking after young people game, but I'm just trying to get their analytical thinking skills primed and ready. Everything flows from that.

  8. You're looking after a youngling, Bartski? Best of luck to you.

    And Mr Barnes: more power to you. To the best of my abilities, my children will be ready to help.

    Heidi -- thank you for the kind thoughts. Nevertheless, I'm smarter than my biology, and having children was a conscious decision. It's my responsibility, and I'll deal with it. I'm glad it happened, but at times I can't help but feel I didn't really make the best choice for everyone.

  9. You just articulated one of those deep down feelings i had when i wanted to move to Lantanaland. I wanted a place that my kids, when i had them could roam and learn about the physical world, but also know where food came from. In the future we might be classed as rich because we have those simple tasty foods. I hope you are wrong and some catalyst pushes us in a different direction, but considering the climate at the moment, it seems unlikely.

  10. I agree with most of what you say Dirk,

    It's damn depressing even more so than growing up in europe during the early 80's. All the hope that seeped into our exisitance in the early 90's has evaporated away.

    As an evovled species we still have a chance but the cost will be large and to be honest will pay a price but it will be the third and second worlds who'll pay the biggest price