PARENTING THROUGH CLIMATE CHANGE - BY CAMILLE KHOURI
Climate change keeps me awake at night. The threat of it lingers during daylight hours, but it isn’t until sleep time that my brain finally admits defeat, lets down its defenses and allows an all-out thought-war to take place. Battle plans are prepped earlier in the day when my kids talk about the future – what they’re going to do when they’re adults, for instance – and then they look at me and I feel they can sense that I am not totally sure their dreams will be possible.
I mean, it will probably be fine, right? Not in our lifetime? But then why do I feel like it’s already happening, faster than expected? Why do I look around my neighborhood and get this sinking feeling that the birds aren’t chirping as much as they should be, that everything is a little too still, or the wind is blowing in a way that feels unnatural, almost angry?
Maybe I need to stop reading. My sister, who lives in the States, was having trouble sleeping a few weeks ago. I asked her why and she said: ‘sunflower starfish – don’t google it’. So naturally I googled it. Turns out this species of giant starfish is dying all over the coast of Mexico and California from a wasting disease that is exacerbated by warmer waters. They’re basically melting. So, you know, that means no sunflower starfish to prey on the sea urchins, which are now munching up all the kelp forests, which are like the lungs of the sea, leaving these stark seabeds covered in nothing but urchins. And it’s happening here too, according to my diver friend. They call them kina barrens. Sorry. I understand if you closed the browser window. I wish I had.
I live in Queenstown. It’s an undoubtedly beautiful place that I appreciate daily. As I walk my youngest to school, I look at the mountains and they revive me. I love the cool, fresh, dry air, the golden Otago grasses, and the electric blue, icy water in the rivers and lakes. I look out the windows when I’m at home, working from the kitchen island, and I sigh because the mountains sit there waiting for me. They never disappoint. There is one from my backyard that looks like the profile of a baby sleeping, and I love it so much, I asked an artist to draw it for me.
The clouds are beautiful here; they sit low over the river in the morning and create UFO shapes as the sun goes down. Sometimes we wake to a sprinkling of snow on the peaks, even in summer, and sometimes in the winter, my kids’ school closes for a snow day. The best thing ever.
And I know we are in less danger here than, say, small islands in the Pacific, when it comes to climate change. But then I see the traffic piling up in our neighbourhood, which is a just a few years’ old and filled with young families. The cars are backed up around the school with parents trying to get to work in town, a 15-minute journey that takes an hour in the mornings because the area is growing faster than the infrastructure.
I see this town turning into a city just as Auckland, where we used to live, expanded into a ‘Supercity’, an ever-creeping, gridlocked metropolis. And I notice the helicopters flying over The Remarkables, burning fossil fuels for pleasure rides. The small planes heading over to Milford – one, two, three, four, five… – every morning and every evening. The jets landing every half an hour. The lake we live next to is sick and often closed for swimming due to bacteria levels.
It may all look nice from the air, but get close to the ground and anyone can see we are messing up as badly as the next town. And this is New Zealand. I don’t think I could handle knowing what’s going on in places like India or China.
Why didn’t someone tell me this – or yell it louder – before I had children? How am I supposed to navigate them through their teen years, when they realise what is ahead? It was bad enough being a teenager in my day, dealing with hormones and douche-bags at school with hormones, let alone having to worry that the world is dying.
I love my children more than anything and they bring me so much joy, but I honestly wish I had known how serious it was, because I feel like I wouldn’t have landed them in it like this. It would help with the thought-wars if it ended with me. I know that’s selfish, but it’s a fact.
This morning I mentioned my sleepless nights to my husband and he said: every generation has had some form of doubt about the future. For our grandparents there were wars that stunted childhoods. For many children overseas, the world is chaos already. We have had it pretty good.
So maybe this creeping feeling is actually what it is to be an adult, to be a parent. And perhaps people like Greta Thunberg – the next generation – will be able to solve this. The problem is that I don’t know. I’m writing this today so I don’t have to write it in my head tonight. I hope that for some of you, it helps to read that other people feel the same.
I guess all we can do is our part, if that means reducing dairy and meat, composting our scraps, avoiding plastics, walking to school instead of driving, planting trees, picking up rubbish, then at least we’re trying. I do feel there is hope in our children’s generation because they have been given this knowledge from the beginning.
Hopefully, my sons can still become happy adults who enjoy the outdoors and can buy themselves those Nintendo Switches they so desire, from their wages as a teacher and a video-game-designer-or-maybe-scientist, and everything will be peachy. I know hope isn’t enough, but it’s all I have right now.