Dreams For My Daughter

08th November 2016

Photo from here.

After her tea, to wind down from a day at school, my daughter and I often head for the woods. We take a torch, the dog, and we are in constant negotiation about biscuits. I tell her that the sugar will make her hyper, and hyper children in the woods scare away the fairies. For now, she reluctantly buys this. But she is only four.

We hunt for the family of deer that live in the woods. My daughter is the leader. When the path divides, she points, confidently.

‘My fairy powers say they are this way,’ she says.

Often the deer they can be found in the field just above the wood. They watch us watching them from behind a wall, before bounding away. Other times, we might catch sight of a white bottom vanishing into rhododendrons. Even on nights when they don’t appear, the wood is full of life. Pheasants, roosting the trees, are disturbed into flight. There are tawny owls about. As the darkness rises, my daughter inspects everything with her torch. We make very slow progress. I quiz her about the trees. She can now recognise beech, hawthorn, rowan, holly, oak and silver birch. In spring, we’ll continue our lesson with flower names.

A final ritual is sitting on a bench beside the small woodland lake. By now it is very dark. I am uncomfortable with the torch on, disliking the sense that we are visible to every woodland eye and blind to everything. My daughter has no fear of the unknown. The darkness (and occasional biscuit) fuels her imagination. I sit beside her in our little cocoon of light, loving her stories.

My wife tells a story of how her grandmother recalled her feelings at the outbreak of WW2. ‘You have to remember,’ the old lady said, ‘I had dreams, so many things that I wanted to do with my life and then the war came and I had to fit into it’.

More than anything else, my wife and I want our children to be healthy, happy and to live their dreams. But increasingly I fear that the course of their lives will be altered by forces we can’t protect them from. Today America goes to the polls, to quite possibly elect a man who hasn’t put forward any climate change policies on his website. In the past Donald Trump has placed himself squarely in the climate change conspiracy theory camp, saying it was a hoax perpetrated by China.

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton’s website promises a $60bn clean energy initiative, among other proposals. But even if Clinton gets into power, even if she unites a nation to tackle climate change in an unprecedented way – these are big ifs – is this all too late for my daughters?

Climate change makes global conflicts ‘more likely’ says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which strikes me as an understatement. Having worked as a journalist and editor, visiting conflict zones, I personally cannot see how flooding, rising prices, drought, failing crops and so on cannot lead to conflict. In a lecture given by leading climate change scientist Lord Stern, he suggested that weak action on climate change could push us towards a warming of 4°C or 5°C by 2100.

And here is the scenario he paints if this happens: “The reasons we live where we do would be drastically changed, usually through too much or too little water, as both floods and droughts increase in different parts of the world, and sea level rises across the globe. These radical changes would cause the migration of hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people, potentially leading to severe and sustained conflict. That is the future our children, grandchildren and future generations face if we do not act.”

Even if the face of our planet doesn’t change in this way, so much of its beauty and diversity has already been lost. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s latest report, global populations of birds, mammals, fish, amphibians and reptiles declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. For our plants, the situation is equally dire. A report from the University of East Anglia claims that more than half our common plant species worldwide will be seriously threatened by 2080 if climate change isn’t addressed. Even if these reports are only half accurate (and that’s just wishful thinking on my part), I fear to imagine the world my daughters will be stepping out into.

I fear that whatever dreams they have now will be cast to the winds, just as their great grandmother’s were. And I fear that they will not live in a country at peace, with enough pockets of glorious landscape left to fill their imaginations and their lungs.

When I was a child, I was taken on autumn evenings to my father’s wood. I remember tangled undergrowth, eating salt and vinegar crisps, holding his gun bag, the silence. I can’t remember being afraid of the dark. I love that my daughter sits on her bench by the lake, completely unafraid, telling me stories. I pray that her child will be able to ramble winter woods with her and sit in darkness without fear, with a head full of dreams.

Snow is predicted in Nidderdale tonight. My daughter is excited at the prospect of a glittering morning. We'll read bedtime stories and I hope her night will be full of happy dreams. And all the time, thousands of miles away, a vote is taking place that may affect her future and those precious dreams.

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