Noah's Rainbow - Raising children in an age of climate crisis

James S Murray
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Noah's Rainbow - Raising children in an age of climate crisis

On crying at the climate crisis, the start of a decade of consequences, and the stark difference between ghosts and ancestors

And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah's great rainbow

She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row.

Desolation Row - Bob Dylan

 

L.A. is in flames, it's getting hot
Kanye West is blond and gone
"Life on Mars" ain't just a song
Oh, the live stream's almost on.

The Greatest - Lana Del Ray

 

As a physicist, I know that

power

=

work over time.

Dr Kate Marvel

 

 

It was a coincidence that finally broke me.

I'd never cried over climate change before, never mourned the rising seas, never let the existential angst of it all escalate into a physical response. This detachment was never the result of a generalised 'stiff upper lip', 'boys don't cry' reserve. I have a pretty finely tuned emotional trigger. Watching Richard Linklater's Boyhood a few weeks before my first son was born the tears flowed. Some days a simple smile or innocent comment from the boys can spark a misty-eyed pause as I cast around for composure. At our wedding the ushers organised a sweep stake - 'the weep stakes' - on how far I could get into the speech without crying. About seven minutes as I recall.

My father does not lack for what is now described as emotional intelligence, but I have only seen him cry once, I think. At his father's funeral. About half way through the ceremony, his shoulders shuddered as he sobbed. My mother took his hand, and he pulled himself together. I'm pretty sure he didn't cry at his mother's funeral, because he was looking after his father - a beautiful, dignified old man suddenly bereft. I only saw him cry once, I think. At his wife's funeral. About half way through the ceremony, his shoulders shuddered as he sobbed. My father took his hand, and he pulled himself together.

That's the tradition. A Victorian, empire-building code of masculinity that has echoed through centuries. And then something shifted.

My parents came of age in the Sixties and trained as teachers in the Seventies, back when atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases were still vaguely in the ballpark of where they were before we started burning stuff. They soaked up the educational theories of the era: the child-centred desire to move beyond repetitive rote-learning, to teach the whole person. To master literacy and numeracy, yes, but also inspire an engagement with the world, a love of the new and the unknown, a respect for nature, and an understanding of the 'soft' skills that are so hard to master. They are the embodiment of everything Michael Gove would appear to rail against nearly 40 years later. I prefer their approach.

Soon after our second son was born I overheard my Mother talking to my wife about raising boys. The one thing, she said, that she consciously aspired to amidst the day to day chaos of corralling young children was to produce a boy who was sensitive. The "sensitive child" tag that even now is perceived as mild criticism, a shake of the head disappointment, was anything but to my mother and her boho-infused ideals. It was something to aspire to, even if it ran counter to the old school, rough-edged masculinity that still defined what boys should be and how they should behave.

The result is a hybrid. A willingness to voice emotions, a recognition there is no shame in it, but also a slight awkwardness, a sense that expressive outbursts should be reserved for special occasions: weddings, funerals, the best films, the worst goodbyes.

I see this awkwardness, this conflict, this dialectic if you will, in so many of my peers. Humanity's inherent hubris means every generation thinks it is special, that it sits at a turning point in history. But I remain absolutely fascinated by my coevals from the maternity wards of 1980 (and yes, that does mean I'm about to turn 40; and yes, this piece should be read as the self-indulgent musings of a newly middle-aged man fast approaching the likely mid-point of his existence).

Mid-life

We are the people who have been disenfranchised by the generational nomenclature. We were technically adults at the millennium and as such can't be bracketed with the Millennials, but we were only 11 when Douglas Coupland published Generation X. Computers were the backdrop to our youth, but we are still digital immigrants rather than natives. We enjoyed the fin de siècle hedonism of the late 90s and early 2000s and were the target market for both the hyper-sexualisation of everything from deodorant to car insurance and the accompanying debate over whether it was empowering or exploitative (answer: probably a bit of both, it depends on the context). We were told history had 'ended' and 'things can only get better', and we almost believed it.

In the UK we were the first year to face tuition fees, in 2008 we watched in powerless horror as our career prospects and earning potential were hammered just as we were finding our feet in the workplace, and if we were lucky enough to buy a property we likely did so towards the tail end of a housing boom. As a result numerous studies have shown how those in their 30s are still considerably worse off than those in their 40s were at the same stage of their careers, as we failed to accumulate assets before the crash torched job security and pushed salaries onto a plateau. Then, just as the economy was starting to recover, a majority of us and our younger colleagues once again watched in powerless horror, as older voters snatched away the European citizenship and freedom of movement that we treasured. To top it all off we started to make families as austerity and Brexit uncertainty took chunks out of the public services we suddenly needed to use.

And beyond this economic unease something else loomed, like a smoke plume on the horizon. We are the first generation that was taught about climate change at school. And so we watched the greatest expansion in human wealth and wellbeing in the history of civilisation and struggled to enjoy it. We knew the social and environmental injustices that were baked in to globalisation were eating away at the foundations of this success.

When climate scientists note that the world has emitted more carbon dioxide since the convening of the first UN climate summit in 1992 than it has in the entire preceding sweep of human civilisation, they are saying that in the period since we started secondary school the greenhouse effect we learnt about in our text books has morphed into an epoch-shaping climate crisis. The impacts we are now seeing - the raging fires, the drowned cities, the parched crops, the torched wildlife - are precisely what we expected. And yet we view them through a prism of quasi-academic detachment, tinged with a 90s infused belief that things should turn out alright in the end.

Facts and Tears

Consequently I never cried over climate change. A professional distance was maintained. And then a coincidence broke me. I'm not sure I've been quite the same since.

It was during that strange week last Easter when Extinction Rebellion brought London to a standstill and the BBC made David Attenborough talking about climate change one of the centrepieces of its Easter schedules. That evening my wife decided to go to bed early, knowing that Calum and Fraser would wake before 6am like usual and that worrying about their future is not conducive to a passable night's sleep. So I watched alone as those I love slept and the closest thing the UK has to an environmental conscience offered his belated perspective on Climate Change - The Facts.

Nine months on, every scene remains etched into my memory. After a decade writing about climate change and the green economy the show contained no surprises, no new insights. The computer models and unknowable tipping points, the climbing atmospheric concentrations and rising sea levels, the emerging green economy and last ditch salvation technologies - it was all as familiar as the various talking heads, many of whom I have interviewed myself over the years. But connecting these facts were stories, each one ratcheting up the emotional temperature.

I was once lucky and privileged enough to walk through a fruit bat colony at dusk. It was Queensland in 2001, a few months after the Twin Towers brought that long, largely peaceful decade to a horrifying close. Just a 10 minute walk from the campsite we were staying at there was a colony of thousands and thousands of bats. I strolled amongst them alone, as this bustling metropolis of gorgeous, curious, other-wordly creatures, each one with a wing span longer than my arms, roused themselves and set off into the darkening sky. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

Nearly two decades later, there they were again on my TV screen, again in their thousands, perhaps even that same colony. Only this time they were lying dead on the floor. They had expired from heat so intense they had been literally cooked alive. Tearful conservationists walked amongst them, saving the few animals they could, but mostly counting the dead.

Then there was the scientist, almost lost for words, as he explained how new satellites were now able to track forest loss in almost real time. Like a light flicked on in a horror film to reveal the killer in the shadows, these evolving digital maps had confirmed everyone's worst fears. We now know the natural world is being obliterated like never before.

This annihilation comes from the economic forces that fuel the chainsaws and, even more viscerally, the climatic forces that fuel the fires. Attenborough took us there too, courtesy of the dashcam on an Australian truck as a father and son tried to escape the roadside inferno that was engulfing them. They escaped, but their recorded voices still haunt me. The adult son driving and audibly scared, his father doing what all fathers aspire to do at all times - to supress his own fears, to offer reassurance and comfort. 'It'll be OK'. Except sometimes we lie.

Towards the end of the show, Attenborough pivoted and offered a snap shot of the clean technologies that might yet stabilise our climate and avert catastrophe. But after 40 minutes of battering the audience with reality it suddenly felt as if punches were being pulled, as if the narrative arc demanded hope and that there was nothing to be gained from forcefully reminding everyone that we are trapped in the foothills of the full scale decarbonisation that is so desperately required. That what is needed is industrial, technological, and economic transformation at a breakneck pace and global scale that is utterly without precedent. And so he cut to Greta.

I can't recall which of Thunberg's speeches the show closed on. It was before she crossed the Atlantic to rage at the UN about her stolen childhood and before she visited the UK to remind our shamed parliamentarians that they had failed. Perhaps it was from her trip to Davos and her plea to the self-styled 'masters of the universe': "I don't want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act… Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don't".

Then just as the final credits rolled, Fraser woke up and started crying for his mother. And so I picked him up and held him and cried with him. I cried over climate change. And then my wife held my hand and I pulled myself together.

The joy and the fear

I've been meaning to write this piece for months. I wanted to write it straight after the documentary was broadcast, while XR were still on the streets. Then I planned to write it over the summer and make it my annual piece of cathartic solipsism for my darling boys. Then I planned to write it last month when Australia started burning again. But there was always work to do. Other stories to write and events to plan. And now it is 2020 and my promise to myself to write something for Calum and Fraser once a year has been broken.

Although perhaps subconsciously I put off writing because the balance between the joy and the fear that defines both parenthood and engagement with the climate crisis is becoming harder to sustain.

Both publicly and privately many veterans of the environmental and green business community admit to finding the last year disorientating and difficult. Campaigners talk of working for years to push environmental issues up the agenda only to find that the sight of protestors on the streets and decarbonisation pledges in manifestos sparks little sense of vindication and even less satisfaction. Sustainability executives admit they are happy to suddenly have the CEO's ear and a net zero emissions target to work towards, but fear they still lack the budgets and organisational authority to deliver on their daunting new goals. Global emissions are still rising. The burden of responsibility sits ever more heavily.

And the clock keeps ticking. For many 2020 was both a deadline and a line in the sand. The point at which global emissions had to start falling fast if we were to have any realistic hope of avoiding more than 1.5C of warming within a handful of decades. The point at which the Paris Agreement should come into full effect and start delivering on the promise of multi-lateral decarbonisation. The point at which Trumpism should be consigned to the history books as a reprehensible but passing flirtation with American pollutocratic authoritarianism.

And yet here we are. As the new decade starts Australia is on fire and Jakarta is underwater. The latest round of UN climate talks looked more fractious and more fragile than at any point since the fiasco of the Copenhagen Summit over a decade ago. Geopolitics has descended into a glorified mafia turf war, complete with morally bankrupt hitmen and diplomacy reduced to the essentials of a 'might is right' protection racket - 'nice rainforest/atmosphere/cultural site/journalist you got there, would be a shame if something happened to it'.

Just days into the new decade, the simmering cold war that has provided the common thread through Presidential malfeasance in Ukraine, disinformation in election campaigns, betrayals and atrocities in Syria, and assassinations in Istanbul, is boiling over into missile launches and military deployments. All the while, global emissions are rising, and if they are closer than ever to peaking it is increasingly hard to envisage them plummeting any time soon. 

As US climate commentator David Roberts observed in an essential New Year's read it may be seen as "unhelpful" to say it out loud, but the goal of keeping temperature increases below 1.5C is now barely plausible. It is technically possible, but vanishingly unlikely. As Roberts puts it:

"We've waited too long. Practically speaking, we are heading past 1.5C as we speak and probably past 2C as well. This is not a "fact" in the same way climate science deals in facts - collective human behaviour is not nearly so easy to predict as biophysical cycles - but nothing we know about human history, sociology, or politics suggests that vast, screeching changes in collective direction are likely… The story of climate change is already a tragedy. It's sad. Really sad. People are suffering, species are dying off, entire ecosystems are being lost, and it's inevitably going to get worse. We are in the midst of making the earth a simpler, cruder, less hospitable place, not only for ourselves but for all the kaleidoscopic varieties of life that evolved here in a relatively stable climate."

The response to all this despondency is to focus on the causes for optimism, of which many remain. This year the build up to the crucial COP26 Summit in Glasgow will see a concerted effort to foreground the green progress that has been made and demonstrate that a net zero global economy can be built at the requisite pace and scale, delivering myriad benefits along the way. I'll be amongst those making the case for such action as best I can, but I won't be labouring under the illusion that our collective and necessary temperature goals are anything other than a long shot. The clean tech sector and the green economy has spent the past decade consistently smashing expectations and redefining what is possible. Coal is on the way out and renewables have demonstrated their viability at scale. Consumer and political attitudes are shifting in ways once deemed impossible. And yet all the progress to date amounts to a consolation goal with 10 minutes to go when your team is already 5-0 down. Miracles can happen, but by definition they are rare.

As such the next few years will see a necessary and inevitable shifting of focus from striving to meet the 1.5C target towards delivering on a broader goal of building a net zero and climate resilient economy as swiftly as possible. A vision underpinned by the unimpeachable truth that every fraction of a degree of warming that is averted and every piece of climate resilient infrastructure that is constructed will save lives and improve humanity's prospects, even as climate impacts worsen. A cleaner economy is demonstrably healthier, wealthier, safer, and just plain better than the inherently unstable, ultimately self-immolating fossil fuelled alternative. That's the mission.

Consequently we are entering a deeply confusing decade when our response to the climate crisis will get a lot better, and the climate crisis itself will get a lot worse. The two are not mutually exclusive. A clean tech utopia and a climate ravaged dystopia can co-exist, indeed it arguably already does. How society responds to the cognitive dissonance that results from accelerating the net zero transition while still watching climate cataclysms escalate around us will determine our collective future.

We can see this tension playing out in the current ill-tempered Twitter row about future climate scenarios, the plausibility of worst-case scenarios, and their misguided or misleading (delete based on your priors) elision with highly contestable 'business-as-usual' scenarios. This debate has led to new analyses that suggest we are currently more likely to see 3C, rather than 4C of warming above pre industrial levels by the end of this century - a conclusion that, leaving aside massive uncertainties, looks like 'good news', but which given what is happening at 1C of warming and given how millions of people are alive now who will live beyond 2100, should provide comfort to absolutely no one.

How to use a gun

What then to do with this excess of reality? How do you comfort your child when you are the one crying? How do you raise children in an age of climate crisis? My eldest, Calum, has just started school and his younger brother, Fraser, is absorbing - in the way only two years old can - all the new habits and information that now come home each day. This new phase in our lives presents numerous questions. How do we prepare them for the world? How do we guard against the new risks they will face and help them seize the opportunities? What should we teach the boys when we know the future will be so very different from the present? Or, because this is meant to be a business blog, how do you build a sustainable business in the face of metastasising risks and seemingly insurmountable odds?

Stephen Emmott's 10 Billion includes the now infamous vignette of a scientist who when asked to pick the one thing he should do in the face of environmental crisis deadpanned "teach my son to use a gun". That feels a little extreme, and not just because our boys are four and two, and we don't live in Texas.

The pacifist version of this survivalism is to retreat into nature, to let the climate change and insulate oneself from the impacts as best as possible within the embrace of the natural world. There is a lot to recommend such an approach, as evidenced by how our evolving understanding of the human mind points to the immense physical and psychological benefits that flow from true engagement with nature. But this doesn't feel that practical an approach when you live in Lewisham, even before you consider that to step away from the climate fight is to admit that countless millions will face a bleak and dangerous future.

Alternatively there's a consumerist version of teaching your offspring to use a gun - that is to say you simply ignore the environmental degradation and economic and political mega-trends that will make the coming decade civilisation-level consequential, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. This is a hugely tempting and pretty ubiquitous course of action. In the rich West there is even a perverse logic to it. It is possible to look at the localised short and medium term risks and conclude that for many people the levies will hold, the conflagrations will hit elsewhere, and if the worst happens the emergency services will arrive and the insurers will pay out. At the same time the hope that 'technology will save us' offers the conscience-salving possibility that we can still mitigate the worst long term risks.

And yet to detach from the reality of both current climate impacts and our projected future amounts to an abdication of moral, parental, and, at the corporate level, fiduciary responsibility.

Moreover, it is to ignore how climate risks and impacts interconnect and expand. The past decade of populism and austerity was shaped above all by bungled responses to a stranded asset-induced financial crisis and relatively modest migratory flows from the Global South. The most obvious second order impacts from a full blown climate crisis will be stranded assets and large scale migration. Throw food insecurity into the mix and there is a recipe for interlocking pressures that even rich and resilient nations will struggle to contain. Just ask Australia.

As The Observer's Nick Cohen noted in a must-read column this weekend, the climate sceptics of the Australian right wing (and some of their Brexiter fellow travellers closer to home) cannot deny reality indefinitely - ultimately "fire still burns". And all of this is to parochially focus on the challenges for the West. The consequences for the world's poor, even now facing worsening rates of hunger for the first time this century in large part because of climate change, are simply unconscionable.

A social good

Faced with risks that feel existential - even if they don't quite yet meet the technical definition of extinction-level threat - it is understandable that some people conclude the answer to the question 'how do you raise children in an age of climate crisis' is not to bother. Each to their own, of course, especially when it comes to something as deeply personal as procreation. But I've always struggled with the rationale behind the birth strike movement. Children are ultimately a social good. A society without children is self-evidently doomed, regardless of any climate catastrophes that may befall it.

Admittedly, the famous thought experiment about the date in history you would choose to be born if you could not select any other variable - sex, location, race, and so on - is not quite the open and shut case it once was. With rates of hunger worsening, climate projections straight from the Book of Revelations, the widening wealth gap between the generations, missiles over the Middle East, and data that suggests life expectancies are actually worsening in some industrialised communities you can construct a case for joining the Boomer and Gen X cohort, especially if you tweak the rules to ensure your hypothetical birth is in an industrialised country.

But the general premise behind the thought experiment stands. At the global level multiple indicators of human well-being and societal health have improved drastically over the past two decades. Given all we know about reduced infant mortality, improved wealth and health across much of the planet, and advancing, if massively imperfect, civil rights, the best answer to the question is still 'right now'. Even if you think recent progress has been secured by unsustainably mortgaging the future, there is no hope of tackling looming environmental crises if there is no new generation to pick up the baton when its time comes. If the mission is to build a sustainable, prosperous, and just net zero emission global economy by 2060 at the latest then the 2040s and 2050s are going to need good people.

Good people

How then, at the start of this crucial new decade, do we nurture those people?

Since the evening that Sir David made me cry I've read everything I can lay my hands on that is even tangentially related to this question. I've been inspired by the school strikes, suitably chastised by Greta's damning assessment of my generation, and appalled at the misogynist and morally bankrupt response this debate has sparked from some familiar quarters.

Two themes have emerged. The first is that at every possible educational level, from nurseries to advanced post graduate degrees and on into the workplace, we are in no way prepared for what is coming. Even those deeply engaged in the net zero mission and fully across the climate risk modelling struggle to fully comprehend the pace and scale of change that is already under way. We are embarked upon what the godfather of sustainable business thinking, John Elkington, describes as the "exponential decade". This next decade will determine the prospects for humanity over millennia. It is a decade of consequences. But while ever more people, including our political and business leaders are now prepared to stare at the climate crisis, we blink as soon as we turn to the implications that flow from it.

Of course, every general plans for the last war and we inevitably teach for the world as it is, not as it will be. But the pace of change and the scale of the transformations that are already underway are rapidly challenging the viability of current approaches. As leading energy analyst Michael Liebreich has pointed out there are countless business school and design courses teaching skills that are simply not going to be required during the net zero transition, and far too few teaching the deep technical skills that will be in huge demand. Back in school children are rightly being taught about the science of climate change, but are not being armed with nearly enough information about the systemic failings that have fuelled the crisis nor the transformations that will be required to defuse escalating risks.

Beyond this technical understanding, how do we instil the necessary soft skills and emotional resilience to live and prosper in a world of tumultuous change and epic environmental degradation? How do children process climate grief without succumbing to apathy, nihilism or denialism when adults are no closer to finding those answers? Or, as Matt Rooney of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers put it in a Tweet this week that almost made me cry about climate change for a second time: "Wondering how many kids have been traumatised by pictures of dying koalas and kangaroos on the TV. Would have ruined me."

Love and fury

The second theme is a growing awareness that alongside the technical skills that are going to be required we are going to have to talk about values. I am instinctively wary of this discussion, fearful that it can quickly morph into 'motherhood and apple pie' platitudes and Golden Globes gesture politics. Can we really drive a global industrial revolution and save civilisation through the power of abstract verbs and nouns? Maybe we have to. 

One of the best piece of writing on the climate crisis last year came in the form of Mary Annaise Heglar's beautiful and elegiac meditation on how the pursuit of climate justice is fuelled by love. By a love "strong enough to break through the terror… hot enough to burn through anger and turn into fury", a love that can "shake you out of your despair and propel you to the front of the battle field".

Similarly, Dr Kate Marvel has mused on the wondrous interconnectedness of the crisis we face, of how the prevailing winds across the Atlantic mean the Amazon is fertilized and "given life by the dead lake in the Sahara" and how in the response to school shootings and climate impacts, the streets have "swelled with angry children and heartbroken parents, a chorus of hurt that would have echoed through the halls of power had they been able to hear".

Ahead of the global climate strike, Alex Steffen reflected directly on "how to be young in a climate emergency". His conclusion was a mix of self-care, meaningful alliances, and the ability to "seize joy" in the world. George Monbiot has offered equally powerful insights on the importance of rewilding both our environment and our souls, of nurturing and restoring nature and our sense of self. If it all sounds like the stuff of hippie cliché that does not make it any less true.

'A lot to ask of kids'

This pursuit of emotional awareness and resilience, of a new kinder way of living, plays into the bigger picture of economics and geo-politics. In a Twitter thread on September 11th last year Roberts mused on a question he had been asked about whether there was any connection between 9/11 and the climate crisis. His hypothesis was that 9/11 offered a case study of what happens when a society reacts to trauma with "anger, ignorance, belligerence, blood lust, and a thoroughgoing refusal to engage in any kind of introspection", of how "rage and revenge… only extend the trauma".

"Climate change is, above all, going to manifest as a series of traumas -- storms, heat waves, food shortages, mass migrations, etc," he wrote. "Over and over again, the countries of the world will be forced to decide, explicitly or implicitly, how to react to these traumas. If we once again indulge our worst impulses -- building walls, excluding outsiders, hoarding resources, hypnotizing ourselves with comfortable myths, drawing in our circles of concern -- we will spiral into the shit, like after 9/11, but globally, and irreversibly… That's what I would like to tell the middle schoolers of the world: you are going to be tested, again & again. Don't be like your parents. Don't be small; don't retreat behind tribal walls; don't wallow in rage & self-righteousness. Be better. You have to be, or we're all f'd."

It is, Roberts concedes, "a lot to ask of kids", but that is where we are at. And just maybe it is where we can find the biggest sources of optimism to sit alongside those inspirational clean tech cost reduction curves and divesting capital flows. It is the smallest of samples, but when I look at the initial stages of my sons' education something remarkable appears to be happening. It looks like my Mum won the argument. The desire for a mix of sensitivity and resilience appears to be everywhere. Empathy, curiosity, and self-awareness appears to be at the heart of everything they do. These small people greet each other with hugs and smiles each morning without the slightest judgement or self-consciousness. They are better at interrogating both their emotions and the world around them than most adults. Nothing is being beaten out of anyone.

And they are being taught about everything. Through school and the modern national treasure that is CBeebies Calum is absorbing diagraphs and environmental ethics and visual gags about Pythagoras' Theorem. He is four years old. He already knows about climate change and recycling and the water cycle, not because of scare-mongering environmentalists or right-on teachers, but because of Go Jetters. More broadly he knows of these things because this is the world in which he lives. He doesn't have to be scared of it, but he needs to know about it.

Against the least promising of backdrops we are going to have to raise a brilliant generation - thankfully, there are reasons to be hopeful. The curriculum may be a long way from being fit for purpose for a net zero emission world, but by luck or judgement the evolving educational ethos of the age seems focused on the versatility, resilience, and empathy that will be so desperately needed throughout this liminal century. It may have become entangled in Hallmark triteness, but there is an understanding of the timeless wisdom contained in Kurt Vonnegut's one rule: "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

An ancestral role

All of this finds a corollary in the corporate world. The emergence of B Corps, of corporates committed to delivering net zero emissions, of maturing clean technologies, of a confident millennial workforce demanding more from their employers than a pay cheque, of CEOs warning of the perils of populism and talking openly about the pursuit of purpose, this all combines to provide evidence that deep decarbonisation can still be delivered despite political leaders' continued failures. There is hope here too.

This progress provides a still inadequate riposte to the caveat that has to come with any discussion of a 'kids are all right' generational shift. As Greta Thunberg put it in characteristically blunt style: "It's sometimes annoying when people say, 'Oh you children, you young people are the hope. You will save the world'. I think it would be helpful if you could help us just a little bit."

She is right, of course. By the time my eldest son is facing his own midlife it will be 2055 and we will know whether Europe delivered on its promise to build a net zero economy by mid-century. We will know whether the Paris Agreement's goal to hold temperature increases 'well below 2C' was ever more than words on a piece of paper. We will know if Australia kept burning and Jakarta kept sinking. The next decade simply has to deliver a peak and a rapid reduction in global emissions or else the generational betrayal will be complete - there will be a lot more tears shed. 

In his recent Broadway show Bruce Springsteen told the story of how just before his first child was born his father visited him in California and in a roundabout way asked for his forgiveness for "not always being good to you". Springsteen interpreted the quasi-apology as both advice on how to raise his own children and a petition from his father for "an ancestral role in our lives".

"We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children's lives," he said. "We either lay our mistakes and our burdens upon them, and we haunt them, or we assist them in laying those old burdens down, and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behaviour."

The pursuit of an ancestral role is everything.

The other night Fraser woke once again late in the evening. His nursery has been trying to teach his class of two year old tearaways how to recognise and process their feelings. They start every day with a simple question we should all pose ourselves each morning. "Hello Fraser, happy or sad?" they ask. "Happy," he invariably replies. That night as he cried out I went to soothe him. As I reached his room he looked straight at me, silhouetted in the doorway, and declared "Daddy, the dark is upsetting me".

You and me both, son, but it'll be light in the morning. It'll be OK.

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