The bleak realisation of failure – parenthood in the face of a climate-disrupted future

Me with Carter, aged 11 months

[Originally posted on on 18 November 2022]

I have made a bleak realisation. I am a failure. I have failed at the single most important role in my life – to safeguard the future for my children.

This has been an awful realisation to make, and it crystallised when my 14-year old son, after listening to some climate-related report on the radio said, ‘We are doomed, aren’t we, Mum?’. Unusually for him, there was not even a hint of facetiousness or irony – he was quite sincere.

At that moment, a bit of my heart shattered into pieces.

Carter and Caitlyn with Rosie the chicken. What will their future hold?

We now face the growing certainty that we will breach the 1.5 degree warming threshold that may have enabled us to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change. We have been warned that accelerating climate breakdown will lead to more severe and frequent climate disasters, ecological collapse, economic and social breakdown and unimaginable human suffering, including starvation, illness, displacement and death.

Or as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres so starkly put is a few days ago, ‘we are on a highway to climate hell’ with the option to cooperate or, enter a collective suicide pact, and perish.

A girl carries a goat through floodwaters in Bangladesh. Climate Outreach.

Even if my children do not experience the worst of this ‘climate hell’ first-hand, they will see it unfold in parts of the world, including the ‘global south’, most vulnerable to climate disruption.

Carter playing his beloved uke, Pippa by his side, under the macadamia nut tree.

As parents, we have worked to equip our children with the skills and attributes they will need when their time comes to navigate the adult world, and hopefully help make it a better place: critical thinking skills, a basic understanding of democratic process, compassion and empathy, and self-belief, especially when they hold views different from others.

And as a parent, I can only hope that this will be enough to weather the climate storm ahead.

3 thoughts on “The bleak realisation of failure – parenthood in the face of a climate-disrupted future

  1. Justine Philip November 24, 2022 / 9:14 am

    NZ is an outlier in the field of ecological vandalism, trailing years behind countries to the north that already know the results of decades of intensive agrochemical farming at scale and the destruction left behind. The field of environmental history is of critical importance to document these trends and the impacts; you should be very proud of your work and no doubt your children admire your courage and it will help them in the battles ahead. Without the work of dedicated historians we would never know where we are headed or where we have come from. NZ currently uses 3 times the global average of pesticides, endorses the use of avicides, and ignores international regulations on banned chemicals while increasing the use of fertilisers by staggering levels etc. To remain silent would be the true sign of failure for our young people.

  2. Viv Aitken November 24, 2022 / 11:41 am

    I feel you, and your sense of despair as a parent. You haven’t failed any more than any other human. The ultimate irony is that collectively we have the awareness of what’s happening, and the skills to change it BUT individually we always seem to make decisions that prioritise our own immediate comforts / pleasures / appetites / wants / needs over those of the collective, or of future generations. It seems to be part of our hard wiring to do this. Not sure what the answer is other than to be present and cherish the beautiful moments while we have them (always the secret to a mortal existence). And to try and live a ‘one planet’ lifestyle (no flying, local and mostly plant based food, EV, not buying new stuff … all that). It’s not about being pious, it’s about being able to look our kids in the eye and say ‘if everyone did this starting now we would NOT be doomed.’ Thanks for your post. It’ll stay in my head today.

  3. notabilia November 25, 2022 / 7:13 am

    You are a parent, one among billions alive in the world. You could not have altered humanity’s trajectory towards and through collapse. Your children should not and will not hold you responsible for what is a collective destiny.
    Your son’s statement was to be respected and valued, and he will be on his way towards whatever good can come his way, no matter the Climatastrophe does to his surrounding world. If you’ve been a decent mother towards him, then he already is way ahead of the vast maJority of Western children – but he will still have to live in the outside world.

Do you have any thoughts about this post or image?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s