If everything goes as expected, I’m going to become a father in about five weeks. I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it, but I guess that’s usually how it is for first-time parents. For my wife and me, this was always part of our plan, and after several false starts it’s finally happening. It’s a time of joy, anticipation, and all the regular anxieties that come with the arrival of one’s first child.
But there’s another kind of anxiety hanging over what should be a time of celebration that is both unwelcome and unavoidable, anxiety about whether my child will live in a habitable world. The news each day grows ever more dire, and even if I could tune that out, the seemingly endless summer that has now stretched into mid-October is a constant reminder of the climate crisis. Every day I check the forecast for rain and instead see another sunny day with highs in the 80s and an air quality warning. Under the old normal in Portland, a single day like that might have been a nice last taste of summer in the midst of a rainy season already well underway. This year, it means the woods are still on fire. Next year will likely be similar, and the data tells us it will just get worse.
Have we made a grave mistake bringing a child into this world? Would we have made a different plan when we first met if we knew what we know now? I hate that I have to ask these questions. I resent the fact that I have to feel this right now. But that is the world we live in, a world that seems to be sliding toward collapse. Friends try to reassure me by saying “maybe your child will be part of the solution,” but I can’t help but wonder if by the time my child has any real agency, the die will already have been cast.
In the midst of all this, I can’t help but look for hope, and I do find some. Climate change is finally being taken seriously by a growing majority of people, especially those of the generations following my own. While most mainstream politicians are doing little more than paying lip service to the issue at this point, the pressure from below to take serious action is mounting. History tells us that’s usually where significant change comes from–people organizing to force change, not leaders doling it out by virtue of their own benevolence. Technological developments are also happening at a rapid pace, increasing the range of tools at our disposal for averting disaster, if only the political will can be mustered. The future is ours to win or lose, right now.
It has always been the case that the choices people make today will shape the world of tomorrow. Every parent makes decisions that will affect their children’s futures. But now, we as a society have to choose whether they will inherit a world they can survive in. It’s one thing to understand that in the abstract and quite another to feel it deeply and personally, and I feel it more personally now than ever. I’d like to say it’s been a source of motivation to redouble my efforts. Honestly, sometimes it just feels debilitating. At the end of the day though, there’s nothing to do but keep trying. It’s a heavy responsibility, but one that we owe to our children, both real and hypothetical, not shirk. The time to act is now.