Professor Rupert Read teaches Philosophy at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, working alongside some of the world’s leading climate scientists. He is a writer of many years standing, with works in the academic and popular fields.
Walking along the street the other day, I overheard a fragment of a conversation. A mother with a pushchair was saying confidently said to her friend, ‘You know me, I’d do anything to protect my kids’.
It’s a variation of a phrase I have often heard but, just recently, the urge to interrupt and say something along the lines of ‘If that’s true, prove it’ has been getting stronger.
Maybe you feel the same?
That mama- (or papa-) bear instinct, that all consuming love we feel for our children (or nieces/nephews, grandchildren, godchildren…) is incredibly powerful but so often taken-for-granted – until now.
While generally unwilling to accost people in the street, I did wish I had a copy of my recent book, Parents for a Future – How loving our children can prevent climate collapse, that I could gently hand to her as she passed by.
It is a call to arms, of sorts. A definite challenge to the more than 80% of the world’s adult population who are parents (plus anyone who cares about or for children; so that’s pretty much all of us!).
Surely, even if it’s at the back of their minds, everyone now knows that the ecological and climate emergency is the biggest threat to our children?
How do we explain that what this means is that, at this point in history, it is no longer enough to protect them the old-fashioned ways; by just looking after their health and their schooling, protecting them from playground bullies, making sure they know about stranger danger and so on?
My book sets out why it’s more than time to prove that if we truly would ‘do anything’ to protect our kids, we will take on not only the fight of our lives but, more importantly, the fight for their lives.
The trouble is, at the moment, it feels like the general population is sleep walking slowly but headlong into climate-driven societal collapse.
How do we wake them up?
I believe now is the time. As the world attempts to reset following the horrors of the COVID pandemic, this is our one unexpected last chance to finally change our ways (and get other people to do the same) – and so do right by our kids.
If you’d have told me, in late 2019, that within months we’d pull together to shut down our economy and ground the planes in order to stop our elders from being literally decimated – by a fatal disease that spread because of uncontrolled air travel – I would have called that far-fetched; but that’s what we did.
If we can do it once, we can do it again, because if life carries on as before, in the coming decade, it won’t just be more deadly pandemics we have to contend with (though it will include that) but the likely end of this civilisation.
So, again, how do you get people to understand we can’t any longer outsource our collective self-protection to governments which are drastically failing us?
How do we empower them to believe they have a chance against such a massive problem?
For me, on the back of taking part in the adventure of Extinction Rebellion, it was writing this book with a simple message but with massive potential at its heart – if we truly love our children, we will mean it when we say we will do anything to protect them.
Here are three objectives for us to aim at:
- Firstly, and following XR’s lead, we need new Citizens’ Assemblies empowered to work in all the areas that are too difficult – too ‘big’, too long-term in their implications – for ‘representative’ democracy to make serious decisions about.
- Secondly, sitting above Parliament, there should be a permanent panel of Guardians for Future Generations: like the Citizens’ Assembly, this would be a kind of ‘super-jury’ that can radically rein in the short-termism of ‘liberal democracy’.
- Thirdly, we should enshrine the Precautionary Principle – essentially, to err on the side of caution, ‘better safe than sorry’ – in all our decision-making processes.
These are the starting points in policy that I want the parents of the world, including that mum and her friend in the street, to unite to make happen.
Because here is the exciting thing: If enough of us truly care in this way about our own children, it will be enough to save humanity.
Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.
How does it work? Like this: Care iterates into the future. You care about your kids, therefore you care of course about any children they might have (or at least: you care about them being able to care actively for any children they might have), and so on and so and so on, into your greatgrandchildren and beyond; and, so really, what you’re doing now, by loving them, is parenting the whole future.
What this shows is that, given the existence of the existential threat that is the ecological emergency, simply meaning it when you say you love your kids is enough to unleash a protective care for the ecosystems they and we utterly depend upon, now and forever.
The best way we can protect our kids now… is by rising up, to meet the rising tides. At our workplaces, in our community. It’s time to change. It’s time to be counted. It’s time to make your voice count.
Maybe it’s even time to find a way to stop strangers in the street and gently urge them to prove their love.
Prof. Rupert Read teaches Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. His latest book is Parents for a Future: How loving our children can prevent climate collapse. Visit www.parentsforafuture.org for more info.