As my son suffocated in bushfire smoke, it was evident that our most vulnerable people felt our climate neglect | Nick Seton

I have never felt more helpless as a parent than during the black summer fires.

While taking my two-year-old son to the hospital, I worried: There was no escape from the toxic smoke, even where we lived in the city. Sydney. Go on and on. As with any parent, we were terrified about what the next few days might hold.

The call came from his child care center. Our child was suffocating in the air. For months we felt as if we had no safe place to go and no way to adequately protect it.

Our son was one of the more than 4,000 people who ended up in the hospital due to smoke from the bushfires that summer – nearly 450 died from smoke inhalation and I’ll be forever grateful he wasn’t one of them.

I was reminded of how vulnerable I felt at the time when news came out of the latest State of the Environment report last week.

The report confirmed what we already knew from experience: Climate change is having a real impact on the environment and we are seeing the effects now.

Extreme weather events, including wildfires, are increasing in frequency and intensity — and the health effects of bushfire smoke and heat waves are among my children’s biggest fears.

The environment in which we live and where we raise our children is deteriorating because we have neglected it for generations. This trend is set to continue without fundamental restoration and ambitious climate action.

When my son was in the hospital, it was already clear that our youngest and most vulnerable were feeling the impact of our neglect.

The State of the Environment report said: “Environmental degradation is now considered a threat to humanity, and it can happen Cause societal collapses with serious and long-term consequences. “

As the natural world deteriorates, the impact of extreme weather on all of us will increase, and our food and water security will be put at risk.

So I was thinking again about the kind of environment we’re trying to raise happy, healthy, and safe kids in, as well as the world they and their kids will inherit. What does the future look like for them?

Today’s world is already deteriorating before our eyes. But it’s not too late to change this story.

To keep our children and our wildlife safe in the future, we need a charter that recognizes two key Australian values: that we love and value our unique natural environment; And that older Australians have a duty to care for our young people.

Australians are very proud of our environment. We take our international visitors to feed kangaroos and watch koalas, or we take our families on bucket list trips to the Great Barrier Reef and the red deserts of central Australia.

We are also united by our sense of fairness and a desire to protect children and our most vulnerable members of society.

Federal Court Judge Judge Mordechai Bromberg describe it Impacts of climate change as “the greatest intergenerational injustice inflicted by one generation of people upon the next”. He said this during his ruling (which has since been overturned) in a class action lawsuit challenging former Environment Secretary Susan Lee’s approval of a coal mine expansion. Agreed.

Will the new environment minister honor the duty of care one expects from the role?

The fact that older Australians are bequeathing this deep environmental debt to younger and future generations should upset us all deeply.

If we really stick to these values, we can make an impact. With better education, attention, collaboration, and advocacy from all sectors, we can stop the endless destruction and hold our leaders to account.

We can introduce regulations that protect the air we breathe, the soil our farmers work in, and the water we drink.

But most importantly, we can call on our leaders to rule out approval for any new coal and gas projects – new projects that are inconsistent with a safe climate. This awful compromise must stop now.

Any overall climate impact development project approvals must consider all projects and activities that threaten our ecosystems, not each project individually.

We can follow the Welsh example of a law ensuring that listed government bodies take into account the quality of life of current and future generations in their decisions. The Welfare of Future Generations Act recognizes the duty of care that those in power have for young people, and the stewardship we have of our environmental, social and cultural heritage.

Solutions are available, but we need bold, decisive action and support at all levels of government and across party lines.

The story I tell my son, now four, about our natural environment is simple: If we want to enjoy the beautiful nature that Australia has to offer, we must be the ones to care about it now.

If our leaders in government and business share our Australian values ​​of justice, pride in our natural environment and care for our children, they will hear the same story.