My daughter starts school this September: I should be happy, but I’m also frightened for her future
August 12, 2022
On Thursday 15th March 2018 my baby girl was born. She was breech, delivered via C-Section. And I will never forget locking eyes with her that first time as a surgeon lifted her over the screen. Those beautiful big eyes. “Hello sweetheart, I’m your mummy”, I said quietly in lovestruck awe. Desperate for her to know that I’m here for her, that she’s safe. I’ve never experienced a love like this, never will again. My daughter is four years old now. She starts school in three weeks’ time, and like parents everywhere with kids the same age, we’ve spent a large part of this summer talking to her about it and preparing. Gearing ourselves up for this enormous change. Buying uniforms, meeting teachers, organising after-school care. Friends with kids who started a year ago will say things like “tissues at the ready” and “don’t underestimate how emotional it’ll be” as they recount their own experiences – and I don’t doubt it. The emotions come in waves. Back in June, when the grass was still lush and green, I found myself standing in our local park, eyes blurring with unexpected tears at the thought of her in her uniform. But it‘s been an emotional summer for many parents, I think. For reasons some will talk about and some will not. And the tears I shed then were nothing compared to the hot, terrified tears I will shed a month later when the July heat wave hits, and I receive a call from her nursery. She is lying on the floor, sick, they tell me. Her temperature of 38.7C mirroring the soaring mercury around the country. As I arrive to collect her, I feel relieved to see her lift her head and smile. Happy to see mummy, yet oblivious to how bittersweet her faith in me feels these days.
I fish out a spray can of water from my backpack, to cool her face. Then she passes it around her friends – and I’m so bloody proud of her kindness. When we leave for home they rally around, cuddling her, chanting “we love you, we love you”, and my heart explodes. These little people, learning about love. Learning to share. We spend our afternoon lying on the sofa watching films and reading books. A fan blasts from one corner of the room. I check her temperature hourly, and dish out Calpol every four, which she gratefully gulps down. (Because it’s the red stuff, the good stuff. Not the nasty orange liquid you get when you’re nine.) It is an anxious, feverish night. I lie in the dark and read articles by climate scientists. One, by Professor Bill McGuire, makes my hot blood run cold. He says that when our children “reach our age they will yearn for a summer as cool as 2022”. That water contamination, drought, disease, and mass starvation are on the way. That we are past the point of curbing temperature rises to 1.5C. McGuire concludes, “if you are terrified by what you have read then I have done what I set out to do.” And I cry fitfully and silently into the pillow. Because his words are waking me, but I do not want my tears to wake her. Because I love her so very much and feel incredibly guilty about the planet she will inherit, and about my part in all this. Because we are all complicit within this system. A week later, I find myself sitting on a Zoom call with almost 200 other scared people. Many of them are parents and grandparents. I have signed up to an Extinction Rebellion introductory programme. I push through a lot of fear to get here.
But fear is good, I’ve been learning. Fear is only bad when we’re afraid of fear itself. When we hide behind climate denial – “I can’t comprehend something so huge so I won’t bother trying”. Or subscribe to doomism – “it’s too much to sit with this monumental uncertainty, so I’ll decide how this will end”. Or when we’re too scared to become an activist “because those guys don’t look like me”. Because if fear stops us from acting, then it’s madness. We’re mad. It means we’re dying because we’re scared, when we should only be scared of dying.
I know this, not because I’m judging others, but because I’ve felt this too. I’m ashamed to admit that a part of me is scared that others will think I’m crazy – though I know doctors and scientists glueing themselves to buildings is not crazy. I’m afraid, too, that XR members will judge me. For not being vegan. For flying earlier this year. For not having done more. And what if I’m not ready to take direct action? Thankfully, I learn quickly that this is not a judging organisation. A key mantra, “no blame, no shame”, acknowledges the way we’re all held captive by the current system. And there are numerous ways to help, direct action is only one. We are welcomed by a friendly, eloquent woman with a huge smile and what I describe to my husband afterwards as a “BBC presenter’s positivity”. Then we move on to the first training session. Due to the high numbers joining XR – awoken by the heatwave – there are technical glitches. Our coordinator sets up a new meeting to hold us all, since some have been locked out of the call. And as she does this she apologises, telling us how awful she is at multitasking: all the while doing an incredible job of remaining calm and solving the problem – like so many women I know. The meeting starts 15 minutes late, but throughout the hiccups everyone remains patient. The course material is comprehensive and well organised, the Zoom chat full of kind messages. “You’re doing brilliantly” and “keep going, thanks so much” everyone says. There is no eye-rolling, no sniping. It is a million miles away from the behaviour we see in Parliament. Only patience and compassion prevails here. We have waited and waited for something to be done about our climate, what’s another 15 minutes? Our coordinator starts by asking us to share our reasons for joining XR on the chat, and it’s immediately flooded with words that make my cheeks burn brightly with emotion.
To tell the grandkids I tried, one retired couple says. Because I had a baby last year and I’m terrified, says one woman. For my daughter – and all kids, everywhere, I write. Because it is down to us, says another.
The messages land thick and fast, all with common themes. Love, compassion, fear, and rage. I suck my bottom lip at one point to avoid crying. The coordinator’s voice wobbles, too, as she thanks us for those thoughts. Then she takes us through the group’s principles of transparency, decentralisation, inclusivity, truthfulness. And then we move onto science. We’re asked to raise a hand if we believe keeping global heating beneath 1.5C is still possible. Only two people lift their hands. Sadly, no, she tells us. If we stay on our current course, with global emissions continuing to rise, and don’t act, then we’re looking at a 4.7C rise. Meaning an uninhabitable world. It’s beyond difficult to hear. My face remains flushed in fear.
Downstairs my husband is putting my daughter to bed. We take it in turns, so she knows it’s his night, but I hear her ask “where’s mummy?” and my guilt levels rocket. After the call ends I still feel the terror of the truth I’ve been processing all summer. That night I dream about us inside a house cowering from the heat – trying to stop strangers breaking in. It is dark, apocalyptic, and I wake at 3am thirsty. But the next day I feel calmer. There is something else there too. A resolve, a burning anger, and a comfort that comes with committing to something. I sit down and start writing this. Check my emails. Get my daughter dressed for nursery and cuddle her while we watch an episode of Bluey. I silently promise her that I will make every day together as fun as possible. Since these moments, this life together is special. And although I’m not sure with certainty that I can stop these “bad guys” as she would call them, from ruining her future, I will do everything I possibly can.
Because this is not a bad dream. This is not a drill. This is happening, and at a faster rate than scientists predicted. So waking up to it – and our fear – is all that matters now. And so if you are scared, please know you’re not alone. Sit with that fear, then use it to do something, anything. None of us signed up to this. We all wanted to raise our kids in a different kind of world. One where climate change was a far-off concern, a module in GCSE geography. But the reality is terrifying and now that I’ve seen the truth, I can’t turn away from it. To do the right thing by my daughter I need to accept that my responsibility to her now goes far beyond getting her to brush her teeth, and eat her veg.
The UK is set to emit twice its carbon budget for 1.5C. It has taken a man to go on hunger strike, with the backing of over 79 scientists, before MPs are briefed on how bad things are getting. Even then, only 70 from over 600 elected MPs bothered to attend.
Those in power are not taking responsibility for ours or our kids’ futures. They have failed us again and again. This fight is down to us now.
See you on the streets.