My Not Very Ethical Christmas

Anyone else feeling the pressure with Christmas around the corner?

We hit an early peak in this house, as we try to get presents posted in time for them to wing their way round the earth to our family. I spent too much time standing in packed shops full of Christmas themed housewares nobody truly needs, listening to Mariah Carey and waving my bankcards around with abandon as I spot just one more perfect little Christmassy thing, just a wafer thin one. Go on. ‘I can make room for that in my life’ I cry as my shopping bags begin to erupt in a slow tinsel-lahar.

It’s not just the pressure to have a good Christmas though is it? There is also the pressure to have the right Christmas. The ethical Christmas. The one that is a perfectly festive celebration which by necessity involves consumption but at the same time not excessive consumption.

I’m not having a particularly ethical Christmas this year.

Yes, I have read THAT George Monbiot article where he terrifies us all over how we are killing the planet with our excessive consumption.

And do you know what? I don’t really care.

I mean I do care. Obviously, I do care. I’m just not going to let caring take away my Christmas.

Putting up the Christmas tree was so special and the kids loved it. Every mismatched ornament was hung with enthusiasm and a complete disregard for the overall aesthetic.

I’ve made a big rich fruit cake because I always do, and we’ll make Danish risengrød (rice pudding) for Christmas Eve because it is the law in Denmark and I think they’ll deport me if I don’t.

I’m going to buy my kids presents. I feel my son has had a hard year and I want to give him something good. Something he’ll love. Not a book about how we are all slowly destroying the rainforest with pictures of orangutans (Sad Face). Not a candle making kit because making your own candles is both environmentally friendly and Fun!

There’s going to be wrapping paper, and ribbons, and little gifts to be unwrapped and cooed over and hopefully used and not just chucked in the corner to moulder away until next year.

I want to have all these things.

More than that I want to have all these things without seeing a billion different articles telling parents that they are individually responsible for wiping out polar bears.

We’re not okay?

Okay. Maybe we are. But not any more than any other individual on any other day of the year.

Christmas – it isn’t just another day of the year. It is a special day for lots of people. It is a festive day. With that comes consumption. Any consumption is still consumption. Regardless of whether it is ethical or not.

Like it or not this is the society we live in. There are aspects of consumerism I find bleak. That doesn’t mean that every purchase is ultimately hollow. Giving gifts to those we love is an act deeply rooted in our minds. Humans have been giving their children toys for millenia.

There are a lot of families who are low consumers most of the year but for whom Christmas is the one time they splash out on their children. Who have toys on lay-by for months for this one day.

There are a lot of families who are grieving, or living with serious illnesses, or facing uncertainty in their futures, who just want to make this one day special. To forget their troubles and celebrate for just one day.

There are families like mine, scattered over the globe, far away from their grandchildren, or niblings, who don’t get to spend time together. The best they can do is wrap a little gift, take it to the post office and send it on its way, sealing some kisses in the box to say I think of you. I wish I could spend time with you. I love you.

If you’re feeling good and your needs are being met in life then yes, it can seem easy to simplify and minimalise. Maybe your family is super happy with Laura Ingalls Wilder-esque childhoods and a 100% biodegradable corn cob for a doll. I mean, great. You still don’t get to judge people for the ways they have of bringing joy into their lives.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Corn Cob Doll

Giving experiences rather than presents is a lovely idea. We’d love to go to the Christmas markets at the theme parks. But like many families that isn’t very accessible to us, and not just because of finances. My son loves to go out but he rarely has the energy for that at the moment. Last weekend we managed only a short trip to an outdoor museum we live only minutes from. It is always a lot of effort for minimal reward. Frankly, he is much better off having days at home playing with his Lego. I don’t want to give him experiences that exhaust him and stress us out. I want to give him that awesome present he has his heart set on and watch his face light up when he opens it.

Besides, there is a lot of unpaid labour going into these low-impact Christmases. It’s not good enough for a parent (Mum, 99% of the time it is Mum) to grab a roll of wrapping paper as they go through the checkout anyway. We’re supposed to find rolls of craft paper, and nice non-plastic-based-ribbon, and environmentally friendly dyes and a potato. Who is taking the time to sit with the kids while they decorate the paper? Who is tidying it up afterwards? Who is organising the cupboard to save the ribbon for next year? Yes. It is doable. It is all doable. But surely we are at the point now that we recognise we have got to stop putting the burden on individuals and change the structures everything is running on?

It is great if people find ways to incorporate ethical products or homemade presents, but if you don’t have the time or the space to do so then I don’t think that makes you lazy, or thoughtless.  I know we are so fortunate to be able to have the celebration we are having. We are keeping things pretty simple but it still takes time, and effort. Christmas might be a time of joy but it is a hard time for lots of people, and if that is you reading this, then I want to tell you that whatever you are doing is enough. Not being able to live up to some ethical ideal doesn’t make you a bad person. Buying presents doesn’t make you a shallow consumer.

Every year at Christmas I shed tears for my mother who isn’t alive to celebrate with us. No amount of Christmas Cake or wrapping paper can fill that void. However, creating Christmas, filling my home with the echoes of Christmas past, is important to me. I know my children are making memories they’ll hold close all their lives. A sense of family. A sense of celebration of the passing of time, and the rituals that accompany it. A sense of joy. That means something.

As a wise friend of mine once wrote

Celebration is why people love Christmas, even when they’re not Christian.

Celebration is a fundamental part of our human experience. It is something humans have done in every culture, in every part of the world, since prehistory. Celebrations add meaningfulness to our lives. They give us a sense of belonging within our communities and families. Let’s not use Christmas to shame each other, but as a time to celebrate each other.

Merry Christmas Everyone – however you choose to celebrate.

Thanks for reading. Please drop by my Facebook page to let me know what you think. Or join me on Twitter .

If she knew

If she knew, why didn’t she do something?

Why didn’t she?

It all depends on what you mean by knew.

Us women, we’re like Spiderman, you see. Sometimes knowing isn’t a concrete fact. It’s not a single blatant offense that belongs firmly in the harmful or criminal categories. It is a long slow accretion of data. Sets we’ve been building our whole life. Knowledge that means sometimes we meet men, even outwardly charming men, and they set our spider senses tingling. The little buzzing in our brain that warns us to be on guard in the presence of this man.

We’ve spent our whole lives being taught how to keep ourselves safe. In a world that will not grant us a right to safety in our workplaces, in our leisure time, not even within our own homes.

And we learn, we learn from a young age to watch out. The world is full of subtle invasions of our safety that we navigate every day. Right in front of your eyes and you don’t even notice.  The acquaintances whose eyes linger. The ticket collector who holds onto your ticket a moment too long, forcing you to look at him, or look away. The men who ‘bump’ into you and then eye you up as they apologise. The jokes you are expected to smile at, because is there anyone around who will back you up if you don’t, or will things just get nasty? So, you smile and move on. And the whole time our spider senses are tingling. We know these men are creeps.

This is just the boring backgrounds of our lives.

I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of being expected to know who’s a creep and who’s not. I’m sick of being expected to watch out, to be careful after dark. I’m sick of being expected to be nice to men when they are decidedly not nice in return. I’m sick of men whinging that they all get labelled as predators just for being nice to women, even though we know hundreds of men we don’t label predators, so spare me your sob stories and reflect on what aspect of your behaviour we dislike so much. I’m sick of being told not to rock the boat, not to make a fuss, not to take things too seriously. I’m sick of being minimised, and made to feel small, like we’ve been doing this wrong. I’m sick of wondering if this will ever, ever change.

On 8th November, almost exactly one year ago, Trump was elected President of the United States. We know he is a sexual predator. His ex-wife has testified that he raped her. His own words have been played for us to hear, over and over, and over.

How can any women ever expect to be believed? How can we ever expect to be supported when knowing that a man is not just a creep, but a bona fide sexual aggressor is not enough to see his career finished, his public persona confined to a trash heap, any shred of respectability razed.

Speaking out has got women nowhere. One individual might be stopped. Weinstein’s career is finished, maybe even for good. There are a million Weinsteins and a million Trumps. A million men ready to turn a blind eye in the hope they can hoover up the crumbs that fall from the gold-encrusted plates. A million women ready to chance it, see if they can be the lucky one to get through the obstacle course unscathed and grab a prize at the other end. Or at least, get through, relatively unscathed.

Right now, I want to call out every creep I’ve ever met. I want to scream from the rooftops but I won’t because then I’ll seen as a crazy misandrist and who will listen to me then?

No one.

It’s so easy to ignore our suffering isn’t it? You can ignore it when we are quiet and smile and play along with the status quo. You can ignore it when we are angry, because then we are just hysterical bitches. If we didn’t say something at the time, you can ignore us. It can’t have been that bad. Did we say No?

The point isn’t that every instance is that bad. It is just the sheer volume of shitty behaviour we put up with in our lifetimes. Every time our spider senses tingle there is a calculus to be made. Is it safe to say something?  Is this someone I will ever see again, or can I just swing away to safety, putting their foul jokes behind me? If I say something about this colleague how will this affect my relationship with others in the office? Will my bosses support me? Will any one in this crowded public place intervene, or will they assume it is “just a domestic”?

And you know what, we can’t call it all out. We just can’t. It is too much, too tiring. If we do we are far too easily labelled as uptight, humourless, man-hating, asking for it, bitchy, hormonal, slutty, imaginative, sensitive, bossy, hysterical, misandrists, wishful-thinkers, heartless, career-wreckers, frigid, ugly, fat, shrill, flirts, cold, nags, anything, anything but someone on the receiving end of calculated male aggression.

If we kicked up a fuss every time we put up with a shitty comment, or an unwelcome look, or even touch, the world would grind to fucking halt.

It is not just Hollywood, or the BBC, or sports teams, or public transport after dark, or your average office work space. Sexual Harassment is everywhere. Everywhere.

Our entire world is supported by women keeping their head down, being strong and powering through because sometimes we just need to use the photocopier.

That’s the way it is.

Some weeks, weeks like this, like that one last November, I think about that. I think that if that’s the case then all these systems, all these businesses aren’t worth it. If that is what your capitalist society has built its foundations on – I don’t want it. If your business model is predicated on lip service against harassment and the bare minimum of protection – then piss off. If you require the silence of women and minorities to keep power – then we should be tearing it from your hands and grinding it under our heels. We won’t even care how you think our legs look while we do it.

Sometimes I just want our collective rage to burn so fierce these men and the systems that support them will be reduced to nothing but ashes on the ground. Every single one of them.

We know who you are. You are every man who has felt entitled to something he is not.

Maybe it is finally your turn to be afraid.

We are finally hearing the power of our collective voices. It’s a power that won’t just allow us to swing to the rescue. Tangling misogynists in our sticky feminist traps. No. This is real power. Power that shows that if women know they will be supported and believed then we can make the world a better place.  Power to redraw the line, so as Emma Thompson put it, one women, once would be enough.

Power that says no women has to keep quiet.

If she knew.

Thanks for reading. Please drop by my Facebook page to let me know what you think. Or join me on Twitter .

 

Calm down. It’s just a Burqa Ban

I’m fuming.

Last week Denmark’s coalition government agreed to a formal vote on whether to ‘ban the burqa’. Apparently, a majority of Danes are willing to support such a ban.

Another fact: the majority of Danes have never had a conversation with a woman who wears a burqa.

In an ideal world the women effected by this ban would be central to the ongoing debate. So far, they are not. Coverage I have seen in both Danish media, and English language media worldwide is more likely to quote politicians involved than the women themselves. I have no intention on writing about what the experience of wearing hijab or veil is like, or of trying to convince people of its virtues or its faults. As a white non-muslim that is not my place. If you can read Danish this is an excellent interview with a woman who wears a niqab, and I urge you to read it.

Before we start on why this is a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad idea, let’s cover what this ban actually means, and who it effects. While the ban is named a ‘burqa-ban’ it is called so just because the western media thinks it is fun to misuse terms for the sake of catchy alliteration. More accurately it is a niqab ban. Burqa is a full gown, covering the head with a mesh for eyes, and is unheard of here. Niqab is a full veil with slits for the eyes, and while more common, is also, virtually unheard of here.

So, who is actually affected? One difficulty with this is that we don’t actually require people to register themselves as niqab wearers. Aarhus, my home city, has a large Muslim population. In 2009 a report estimated 18,000 Muslim inhabitants, and of that 20-40 women wear niqab. If that figure was extrapolated to the whole of Denmark then that would give an upper estimate of 400 women, in a population of 5.5 million. That’s an absolute maximum. The actual figure of niqab wearers is believed to be much lower. The concluding estimate of that same report was only approximately 100-200 women in Denmark wear niqab.

200 women.

That’s it.

All this parliamentary time, and media time, is devoted to restricting the rights of a tiny minority of women.  We should not have doubts about this. This ban is not about protecting women.

Now, you might be thinking, surely as a feminist you object to the treatment of women in parts of the Middle East? Don’t you object to the way women are forced to cover up? Or not granted freedom of movement? Well, yes. I do object to that. But, this ban isn’t about women in the Middle East. This ban is about what women living in Denmark are wearing. I object to any women being forced to wear any form of hijab. In the same way I object to aspects of Christianity’s purity culture and the demands placed on women there. Or the way I object to women’s clothing choices being routine evidence in sexual assault cases. I object to any law in which the burden of compliance falls solely on women, because then the issue becomes misogyny.

There a million ways the rights of women are infringed upon in our society and being forced to cover up is only one of them. In the absence of any evidence that coercion is the case for the niqab wearers in Denmark I do not see how forbidding its use will free anyone.

Any attempt to control what women wear is an attack on women’s freedoms

When one of the working partners in legislation think schoolgirls should be forbidden from attending school wearing headscarves, you should be questioning what kind of freedoms you are creating. The Danish People’s Party argue that teenagers are not able to understand the ramifications of their decisions. Isn’t experimentation with how you look the whole point of being a teenager? Like, isn’t everyone entitled to make questionable choices as a teen? There are many things teenagers can be doing that are worse than wearing headscarves.

Women in Denmark are free to dress how they choose. Some women have chosen to wear niqab. If that is their free choice then so be it. If it is not their free choice, then how does the ban help? You do not free the oppressed with further marginalization. In a truly tolerant society we must make room to tolerate difference.  Otherwise it is akin to saying “Look, I’m giving you freedoms! Here are your freedoms! Enjoy your freedoms! WHY AREN’T YOU USING YOUR FREEDOMS THE WAY I TOLD YOU TO?!”

Mattias Tesfaye, an MP with the Social Democrats, another party supporting this ban, is quoted in DR saying:

Jeg bliver også mega provokeret, når jeg ser en kvinde komme gående i en burka. Ikke så meget af kvinden, men mere hvad det er et udtryk for. Jeg betragter det egentlig som et slags fængsel.

I also find it provocative, when I see a woman walking along in a burqa. Not so much the woman, but more what it is an expression of. I see it as a type of prison.

Well, somebody just get this the guy a white horse and some shining armour.

That last sentence right there. I see it as a type of prison.

How many times do women have to say it? How we choose to dress isn’t about you. We Westerners are so convinced of our tolerance that it is easy to turn a blind eye to our intolerance. I am sure that Mattias Tesfaye believes in equality for women. I am sure he believes that he is freeing women. I’m sure he thinks of himself as an ally. In this circumstance at least, he is wrong.

Equality isn’t something given to us at men’s largesse. Equality is something we have whether you like it or not. Equality is when women don’t need your approval for how they dress, or behave. Equality is when we can make our own choices without regard for how you perceive them.

Denmark is generally considered forward-thinking in areas related to gender equality. It is further advanced than many countries when it comes to gender equality. That doesn’t mean that it is perfect. That doesn’t mean that its citizens are universally enlightened as to what equality means. In a society that has historically been very homogeneous, it also doesn’t mean that people here are very skilled at navigating multicultural societies, or understanding foreign cultures without ‘othering’ them.

This is about immigration and to what degree the Danish population will accept Islamic values in the country they perceive as belonging to them.

Tolerance has long been considered a cornerstone Danish value. Sometimes it is tolerance with limits. It is a tolerance that says as long as you look more or less Danish, and act more or less Danish then we will tolerate whatever goes on behind the closed doors of your home. The niqab is so very, very undanish, so udansk that many people find the mere idea of its presence – intolerable.

That is what Danish law makers have chosen to pick on. The most visible reminder of a people and way of life that exists in Denmark, and yet somehow remains udansk.

Jakob Ellemann-Jensen a spokesperson for one of the governing coalition parties The Liberals, is quoted in DR, the state broadcaster, saying:

Livet går videre, og det skal det også, for vi skal kunne fungere i dagligdagen, og vores børn skal stadig kunne klæde sig ud til fastelavn. Så ro på.

Life will go on, and that is because we must be able to manage in our daily life, and our children must still be able to dress up for Festelavn (Carnival). So calm down.

Calm down.

CALM DOWN?!

Did you actually think telling people to calm down helps? Have you ever met a feminist?

The point is not that we really think you are trying to ban Batman costumes, it is the hypocrisy of banning face coverings without actually banning face coverings. Why do you get to decide which circumstances are socially appropriate for people to cover their faces, and which not? And while Ellemann-Jensen might think ‘life goes on’ the very point of this ban is that for the women effected life won’t go on as normal. Their life will change. So, no Ellemann-Jensen, you don’t get to tell us to ‘Calm Down’.

I feel a lot of Danes are quite convinced by their existing reputation that they are the good guys. They look to America and see a stripping of rights from people of colour, and the disabled, and women. They think they are doing better than that, but to me it only goes to show how easily and quickly things can change. Denmark is currently one of the most equitable nations on earth, and as for the Danish far-right goes, historically they have not been nearly so nasty as some of their neighbours. Being the “good guy” doesn’t mean that they are above mistakes. Being the “good guy” doesn’t mean any choice you make is a good one. Being the “good guy” relatively speaking doesn’t mean there aren’t signs we should be concerned.

The far-right Danish People’s Party had their best election results at the last general election. Since then a new, even further right-wing, party has formed –The New Right. In our neighbouring Germany the far-right AfD received a record 13% of the vote. A number of European countries are enacting similar burqa bans. In a time of geo-political instability in the Middle East, and with the following record numbers of refugees fleeing into Europe, politicians are mainstreaming Islamophobic views.

Take Islam out of it, then the question comes down to this. Do you think it is acceptable to take rights away from a small religious minority?

If your answer to this is “Yes” then I believe you can no longer call yourself a free, and tolerate society.

If your answer is “No” then now is the time to step up.

Burkaforbud? Nej, tak.

Thanks for reading. Please drop by my Facebook page to let me know what you think. Or join me on Twitter .

 

 

 

 

Happy Families Are Made In a Multitude of Ways

Parenthood. It can be hard and fraught sometimes.

It feels that even talking about our decisions or feelings as parents suddenly means we are opening ourselves to a pile on of reckons, and answers to questions we didn’t ask. Every word open to misinterpretation. Making different choices mutated into judging other’s choices. Uttering our darkest fears seen as revealing a rotting core.

Why does it have to be this way?

I guess it is because we all have so much skin in the game, but damn, if that skin isn’t thin sometimes.

I’ve been a bit quieter here on this blog, mostly because of fear of this. That opening the door even the tiniest crack on aspects of our life means I’ll have to justify myself, or apologise for slights I don’t intend.

Talking about things can be hard. It feels risky to fess up to the time you yelled because the kids wouldn’t stop fighting and you felt completely overwhelmed. Or how you were driven bonkers by the lack of sleep and decided to sleep train, or decided to co-sleep and it worked for you. To admit to having a picky eater. Or a hopelessly messy home.

If we can’t talk about these things without treading carefully, then how do we talk about the things that are harder? Should we pick our way gingerly across the minefield? Or swallow them whole? Keep them burning a pit in our stomach for fear we, or our child, will be seen as failing.

I started reading a book recommended to me – The Highly Sensitive Person. I never finished it. I gave up about the time I read a passage stating that only half of people experience adequate parenting as a child.

Screw that.

There are some terrible parents in the world. Some children suffer terribly at the hands of their parents. Some highly successful people carry scars all their life from parents who failed them in very important ways.

But – half?

I don’t think there are any perfect parents in the world. No matter how understanding, or nurturing, or independence-building, or loving parents are, there will always be mistakes.

There is no one way to raise a child.

I refuse to believe we are all going around fucking up our children with our incompetence. Fucking up days? Weeks, even? Maybe. But the vast majority of us provide lives that are stable enough, loving enough for our children.

I think of Anna Karenina’s famous opening line

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

It’s a fabulous sentence, and who am I to judge Tolstoy, with his bestselling classics, 14 children and a whole religious-socialist movement named after him? Yet, I think he couldn’t be more wrong.

Happy families are made in a multitude of different fashions.

We don’t need each other’s permission for the choices we make. Other people do not need your permission for the choices they make. There are happy families with happy kids whose parents are doing things you wouldn’t agree with, wouldn’t do, can’t imagine. So what?

Parenting is hard, and it is fraught, but ultimately the world is full of functional adults who work hard and look after each other, and who have people they love. Who bake cakes for friends in need, and visit their grandmothers for tea, and in turn have children that they love. Despite everything, I choose to see the best in people.

Right now, parenting can seem hard. Sometimes after an evening with my son bouncing off the walls, and tears, and slammed doors, I slump on the couch with a lump on my throat and wonder what I have done wrong. I delete nice things I’ve written because I feel like a fraud.

I’m not a fraud. I know it is not about me. I know my son’s problems are larger than my acts as a parent. I know they are also much, much smaller than him. He is my own sweet child, as complex as any. I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to hear the solutions, or the judgement. There is nothing you can offer him or me in two minutes typing that I won’t get from the professionals we see. He needs some more help at the moment and we are getting that for him.

In many aspects of his life he is thriving. He has a very blessed childhood that he enjoys. He gets a lot of positive attention and family time. He has interests we support. He is learning to read. He has two parents who love him, and a sister who only pulls his hair occasionally.

We are a happy family in our own way.

Ultimately I am only parenting my children. I answer to them. The only people who have the right to look back at the decisions we make about bedtimes and mealtimes and playtimes and judge will be my children. I don’t want to hear ‘have you tried…’ I don’t want to justify the minutiae of our life.  Nobody can create the perfect environment for their children 100% of the time.

It is clear that I’m not always going to be the kind of parent I thought I would be, or that many parenting columns tell me I should be. What I am being is the parent that my son needs. I think that this is a better parent than any that only exists on paper, or the stock photo parents who are nothing but the ghosts of our internet imaginations

Parenting is hard and fraught and it is a long, long game. My son might have some problems, and they might weigh heavily on us at times, but he’s only five. We’ve got a lot of life and growing up to do together still. I’m pretty sure one day I will turn around and see a young man, and be enormously proud of how my wee boy has turned out, and wonder what miracle it was that brought him into my life, and is this really the same young man who could never stop talking, or sit still, or go the fuck to sleep despite being eye-rollingly tired?

I am sure I am not the only parent who feels this way. Who can feel weighed down in the now. The future may be bright, but the getting there is hard. Nonetheless we carry on, finding glimmers of hope. Sun rays that burst through the clouds. Auroras that play across our night skies.

My life isn’t perfect. I never expected it to be. The choices my family makes are just our choices. We’re making the choices that enable all four of us to carry on as best we can. You might make different choices in my place. That’s okay too.

All of our families are finding their own ways to be. To hold it together and build the best worlds we can for our children. Building with little things and big things. A whole messy jumble of things.

Happiness finding its own way into our life.

Thanks for reading. Please drop by my Facebook page to let me know what you think. Or join me on Twitter or Instagram.

 

The Avocado and The Polar Bear

When I imagine the future, I imagine myself as an old woman, one who has survived the apocalypse, sitting around the campfire with her grandchildren. They’ll be like

“Tell us about the old days, O wise grandma?”

I’ll tell them a story about how in the old days we practiced inter-generational warfare. And how back then if only we had stopped buying avocados we could have bought a house. And saved the planet. And they’ll be like, “What are avocados?” And I’ll describe to them this mythical forbidden fruit, its luscious green inner and its propensity for bruising, and how it went the way of the polar bear.

“Look.” I’ll say pointing at a random patch of sky “Look. There they are”

And, lo, a constellation will be born.

It is a comforting thought, in an otherwise bleak scenario, that somehow it would be me, and my children, who would survive the apocalypse. I’m sure all those skills I have will come in handy in this new world. Skills like cooking from scratch. So as long as the supermarkets also survive I’d be fine.

Who am I kidding, I’d be fucked.

Frankly, we’d all be fucked.

* * *

My son loves Dinosaurs. He is obsessed. I found an old, but still reasonably accurate, book in a second hand shop, The Story of Life on Earth. Thanks in part to his book, scientific concepts once foreign to me have taken up space in his brain. The different eras and their classifications. Earth’s first – the Hadean, then the Devonian, the Silurian. Each page of the books lists life as it develops. The first trees in the Carboniferous. The first dinosaurs in the Triassic.
“Did you know” He enthuses “the first primates evolved in the Cretaceous?”

No, I did not know. I did not know my son would absorb these facts. Holding ludicrously scientific conversations with strangers. Using long multi-syllable words and then declaring himself an “expert” in a charmingly childish way.

He can list time periods and dinosaurs. He can remember the right words. It all means something to him, but millions and billions are hard concepts to grasp. Millions are almost as unfathomable as my thirty-odd years. He might be impressed by how big these numbers sound, but the scale of geological time is beyond his understanding. It is hard for any of us to comprehend.

He has another book, just about dinosaurs. It has a scale across the top of the page, showing the 248 million years from the start of the Mesozoic to the present. Black lines mark the time each species walked the earth. He flips through the pages.
“When were the first humans?”
I hold a fingernail at the edge of time. The most advanced species on earth, this is all of time we have seen. A hair’s breadth of civilisation.

What do we have to show for ourselves? Ancient temples and pyramids. Our people scattered across the globe showing our explorer spirit. The songs and stories of our ancestors, shared around a campfire. Produce, grown on the other side of the world, then left to gather dust in our fruit bowls, or blitzed into smoothies for the ultimate, nutritious snack.

We are the decipherers of the universe. The only species we know who have unlocked its secrets. We pride ourselves on our mathematical formulae, our poetry, our telescopes that peer into the deep recesses of space, our analysis of the very beginnings of life on this planet we live on. Do we think we are like the wizards in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, who gain their power by knowing the “true name” of things. As though by naming photosynthesis we somehow control it. That a system of cataloguing makes us experts?

My son’s book has a page of alternative theories for why the dinosaurs died out. Bizarre explanations: eye disease, too lazy. A victim-blaming exercise in which the dinosaurs are complicit in their own destruction. He knows that scientists believe an asteroid strike wiped them out, almost as certainly as it is possible to be 65 million years after the fact. An unpredictable disaster that frightens my son. We offer the gentle white lies parents tell anxious children, that scientists know so much now, they’d find a way to stop a strike.

He has invented a solution for himself. Enormous space ships will rocket off into space to keep us safe. We will live off-planet. It’s a Star Trek like future, in which humans are wise and peaceful. Explorers who will sail off the edge of the earth without the complications of colonialism.  I imagine it more like WALL-E. Leaving a desolate, rubbish strewn, water-world,  destroyed by our own insatiable appetites. Bloated consumers in search of somewhere else. The next best deal.

What will the AI overlord species of the future make of their creators. Will they mythologise us? Tell stories about our demise in the great floods? Noah, Zuisudra, Utnapishtim safe in the ark of their hard-drives, then sent forth to build a world anew, free from our sins. I can’t help but think it would be less fucking embarrassing for it to have been some particularly nasty eye disease that wiped us out, rather than our own relentless greed and stupidity.

One day we will have to answer to the children of this world. I will have to look my son in the eye and tell him what we did when we knew this asteroid was coming. We are all so busy, So Busy, pointing the fingers at everybody else for our problems. Or quibbling about individual actions that are not meaningless, but are not, and never will be enough. Did we do enough internet campaigns? Did we do Plastic Free July or Meat Free Monday? If only I had done them would New York and Jakarta still exist? While we are busy nitpicking at each other the time for systemic structural change is melting away.

Then I reassure myself. Nothing so terrible will happen. Nothing fundamental about the universe will change. Not the law of gravity, the earth will still float around the sun. Not photosynthesis, or nuclear fusion.

So sit back. Relax. Enjoy that avocado on toast. Maybe we’ll all be fucked in the future. But it’s not like there is anything we can do to change that, is there?

The stars in the sky will burn, whether we are here to name them or not.

Don’t despair – do something. The overwhelming evidence is that it is not too late if we act now. I recommend the Planetary Boundaries project for further reading, or listen to one of its key researcher’s interview with Kim Hill. Vote for parties and politicians who will prioritise our environment, and commit to a carbon neutral earth by 2050.

Thanks for reading. Please drop by my Facebook page to let me know what you think. Or join me on Twitter or Instagram.