It was the fossil versus the baby last week at the United Nations.

The fossil had a weighty speech to deliver. It was to be his dramatic abdication. Baby Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford's contribution was merely her presence.

Is it even appropriate for a baby to be at such a formal occasion with all those heads of state?

There might be crying or nappy-filling noises which would not need the famed skills of United Nations translators to render. Heavens — there could even be the need for a feed or a nappy change.

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There were certainly many positive reactions.

Neve drew attention just by being the first baby to ever appear at the UN General Assembly. New Zealand was in the limelight again, as it was exactly 125 years ago when our women achieved the vote for a world first.

And there was a deeper message.

As babies do, Neve charmed people and awakened the parts of their brains that want to protect life.

Babies elicit our smiles and our caring behaviour. Genes for nurturing are hallmarks in our DNA and a baby's vulnerability reminds us of our duty to the future.

This is deep-rooted stuff. It affects our internal chemistry and our behaviour to see and smile with these innocent new people.

Our species produces very helpless babies and our whole culture is built around a period of caring that is longer than any other species. We have to co-operate and work hard for each new generation to flourish.

Babies remind us of the essence of sustainability; that each generation needs to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Now, sadly, it is in the realm of scientifically proven fact that the present generation has not been acting sustainably.

The deluge of data from earth-based and satellite observations shows all sorts of short-term profits trumping sustainability.

Donald Trump - last hurrah of a generation of selfish old men. Photo / Getty Images
Donald Trump - last hurrah of a generation of selfish old men. Photo / Getty Images

If the planet has two lungs for gas exchange, one (the forests) is half gone. The other (the plankton in the oceans) is dangerously acidifying and starting to overheat. If it were a person, our planet would be undergoing careful treatment.

The models of international co-operation and successful treatment are available.

We heeded the science on CFCs and the ozone hole and averted disaster by education, reflection and action. Without that success story, UV-driven cancer rates would have soared. It cost big money to regulate some profitable chemical manufacturing, but globalism came first.

Sadly, the day after Neve's visit, the president of the United States, in yet another election speech delivered to the wrong audience, abdicated the mantle of global leadership in preference for patriotic self-interest.

Co-operation is not in his playbook. While fossil fuels can make profits for his elderly backers, the fossil-fool president will favour short-term gains over the health of the biosphere.

We are at a point where humanity has the capacity and the desperate need to use its growing awareness and technology to mount the kind of co-ordinated action required.

We need to use our baby-inspired, nurturing-brain software not our competitiveness.

Tragically, just when every nation had signed the Paris Climate Accord, we have to endure what we can only hope is the last hurrah of a generation of selfish old men.

Trump has turned his back on globalism and, with it, an ever-increasing list of agreements built by nurturers.

I wish Trump and his ilk would take the time to play with babies like Neve — stare into their eyes, exchange smiles and then promise to do everything they can to bequeath the bounty of a healthy planet to them.

*Keith Beautrais is an educator and conservationist