THE GLASS HALF-FULL
"But rivers are supposed to be dirty, mum."
That was Mr Eight's response to my pointing out how unusually clear and inviting the Mangawhero River looked as we drove down the reopened Parapara highway returning home from our recent summer holiday.
I had to explain that, no, these rivers were meant to be clear, with swimming holes tempting us and tannin-stained waters running over papa slabs.
That the sediment-laden flows were not (often) natural, instead caused concern primarily about human impacts to the land. We let our precious soils get washed into waterways and carried away, damaging habitats and more.
It got me thinking about what else my children currently think is "normal". What do they think of their country of birth being on fire? Is their answer: "Australia is meant to be hot, mum"?
Do my boys think these bush fires are typical or do they understand that having a smoky haze from 2000km away darkening skies is most definitely not normal.
Do they know the connections between our climate crisis and increasing intense fires was predicted by scientists years ago, but that Australia continues to develop and defend coal?
Are they shocked that the latest estimate of animals lost in the blazes is one billion?
Further, ecologists at the University of Sydney and World Wildlife Fund warn this may be a conservative figure.
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My children and I have been lucky to visit Australian wildlife parks, seeing healthy koalas up close, even touching them.
I haven't shown my boys the many images of burnt koalas being rescued, or the videos of dead livestock, but they will come across them and it will break their hearts.
And of President Trump, Mr Ten is not a fan. But does he understand that being the US President doesn't have to mean crazy and unstable, shooting from the hip with no signs of regret?
That assassinating foreign leaders, even those who may be guilty of atrocities, without Congress approval and while part-way through impeachment hearings is not normal – it's not even legal.
One of the scariest Twitter threads I've read on this comes from Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington DC. He was quoting anonymous officials: "Last year, if you would've asked me whether American institutions are durable enough to prevent a Trump-led war with Iran, I would've said absolutely. Today, I'm not so sure. For as bad as it looks to you all on the outside, it's even worse when you see it from the inside."
Now we have Iran returning fire, hitting targets in Iraq housing US troops. It is not just the pictures of burnt orange skies across New Zealand that has me feeling this is the end of days.
I keep making jokes about the coming apocalypse and which friends are worth nurturing for their survival skills. I'm pretty sure they're still jokes. It isn't quite time to break out into rounds of REM's 1987 hit "It's the End of the World as We Know it".
Hopefully for my children, they will look back at the year 2020 and say "it started pretty rough but it was the turning point".
We still have a tiny window to make changes, whether it's locally around water and soil protection, globally around stopping carbon emissions to keep our temperature rise under 1.5 degrees, or in diplomatic and democratic movements taking a stand against warmongering.
The changes we need are not just a ban on single-use plastic straws or eating less meat – we need massive transformation and we need it now.
Yes continuing our own personal choices add up and also influence politicians, but it is time for systems change – changes to the rules and structures that underpin all we do.
Let's make the next chapter of the Anthropocene when humans use their complex brains to find a way forward that puts us back as a part of nature, not trying to dominate or control, but simply and essentially connected to a healthy, safe world for our survival.
• Nicola Patrick is a councillor at Horizons Regional Council, leads Thrive Whanganui, a social enterprise hub, is a Green Party member and has a science degree. A mum of two boys, this fortnightly column is her personal opinion.