Monday, 24 August 2020

between the bushfires and the pandemic, hope springs

An Environmentalist on Having Children

A recent article in The Conversation suggests there will be no Covid Baby Boom in Australia, despite many lucky couples celebrating more adventurous sex lives during the pandemic. It cites reasons such as economic uncertainty, relationships being more strained by forced togetherness (highlighted by the horrific statistics of increased domestic violence during lockdown), and the postponement of elective medical procedures, including IVF. Other research from the US shows 34% of surveyed women said the pandemic was stopping them from getting pregnant or having another child, primarily due to the uncertainty of the future in terms of jobs, healthcare and childcare. 


These stories have reminded me of the growing group of environmentalists who are remaining child-free by choice*. In the UK, the Birthstrike movement demands system change and shares personal, often heartbreaking, stories from its members on how they decided to not have children in relation to the planet's ecological destruction. There is a similar movement in the US called Conceivable Future that includes video testimonials. I greatly appreciate that both these movements give people the opportunity to share their personal stories and speak their truth, even if that truth remains in the "I'm still undecided" category. Many environmental campaigners and journalists have also shared their thoughts and anxieties around the choice to have children (or not).

As someone entrenched in the environmental movement I completely relate to those who share their thoughts on the taboo subject to be child-free by choice in a world that celebrates reproduction. One of the most common reasons discussed is the morality of bringing children into a world that will be largely uninhabitable by the end of the century if radical climate action does not occur within the next decade. When Australia was experiencing the devastating bushfires this past summer, I was consumed with anxiety and sadness at the world that awaits my son, who is now just 2 1/2 years old. I don't think I will ever forget the particular evening we watched ash falling like black snow against a fire-tinged orange sky. And I hope I don't forget it, such a powerful reminder that the climate has already changed, and urgent action is required to halt its progress toward even more devastating ends.

Another common reason for choosing to be child-free is to avoid bringing another "superconsumer" into the world, particularly the industrialised nations where these movements are most vocal. I write this from the comfort of my first world home complete with WiFi, lighting, heaters, devices, furniture and so much stuff. Even as a climate activist my lifestyle has a heavy footprint, and the last time I measured it would take 1.7 Earths to sustain my lifestyle (the average Australian lifestyle uses 5.2 Earths - meaning, if everyone on the planet lived like Aussies we'd need 5.2 planet earths to sustain us). Bringing another western "superconsumer" into the world is hardly a pro-environmental act. 

And yet, despite these very valid concerns, I never considered not having a child for environmental reasons. In fact, I actively pursued reproduction. My first child was conceived via IVF after years of "unexplained infertility", multiple tests and treatments. And last year I had two surgeries to address complications from my son's birth because without doing so I would never be able to have another child. Even after the devastation and resulting fear from the summer's bushfires, I scheduled an appointment with my fertility specialist to start another round of IVF to try for Baby #2 in February of this year.

And then 2020 continued to unfold in surprising ways. 

Somewhere between the bushfires and the pandemic, and before my IVF cycle could begin, I became unexpectedly pregnant.** 

I view this surprising, joyful, twist of fate emblematic of the way I view parenthood in the time of climate change - a brazen sign, or act, of hope. Even though the familiar climate horror stories initially inspired my involvement as an activist, I have never once thought we couldn't solve the problem. Never.

This doesn't mean I think everything is solved, or that we can afford to be personally or politically complacent. But that I know collectively humans have the knowledge, willpower and tenacity to overcome the climate crisis. I know, I know, I hear your concerns...
  • There are conservative and corrupt governments to overcome.
  • There are covert corporate interests that interfere with our governments that also attempt to greenwash us with beautiful climate commitment statements.
  • We continue to emit dangerous levels of greenhouse gases, even during the pandemic.
  • There are countless issues of biodiversity loss, drought, and planetary health to address.
But, we also have:
  • A growing, powerful youth climate movement.
  • A robust Indigenous climate movement.
  • Growing awareness of the many effective grassroots environmental justice programs led by BIPOC.
  • Thousands (or is it millions?) of scientists, engineerings, social scientists, writers, and other experts and activists finding solutions all across the globe.
As a result, the culture is changing.

I've said it before, but one of the great privileges of my work is meeting with people who are actively improving the world. Often quietly, behind the scenes, no fanfare (no Instagram!), just hard work, often unpaid and voluntary. So in addition to my naturally optimistic view of the world, I am lucky to be surrounded by signs of hope (as long as I don't linger on social media or the news for too long). I don't mean to discount the feelings or fears of others who have chosen the alternate view, and of course there's a chance I could be wrong, but I genuinely feel the best is yet to come for humanity. You can feel change in the air (even amongst a global pandemic, or perhaps it's enhanced because of it).

I yearned for a family for a myriad of reasons, not at all connected to the environment (except, perhaps, wanting to share the love I have for the natural world with the next generation). But I do consider the fact that I am an active environmentalist having a second child to be an act of hopeful rebellion. I refuse to accept we have lost. I remain ever hopeful that we are pulling ourselves toward a cleaner, safer future. And now I will have one more reason to continue dedicating my life to the cause. And just maybe, if I do my parenting job correctly, I'll have the privilege of raising two humans with a generous, selfless, compassionate, collaborative, justice-oriented worldview (no pressure, kids).

xx Lisa


* Please note, I am writing specifically about people who actively choose to be child-free, and I am deeply sorry if this post triggers difficult emotions for anyone experiencing infertility or being child-free for any other reason.

**My intention here is not to provide any false hope to anyone experiencing infertility, or to offer one of those stories we're so often told to try and give us hope that miracles can happen. My heart truly goes out to anyone who has ever dealt with the emotional reality of infertility. I merely aim to tell my full story here.

Friday, 31 July 2020

fashion with heart

I'm so excited to share the news that my first academic publication is finally complete! Only 3 years since I submitted my PhD thesis, but whatever. Parenthood and a non-academic job certainly get in the way of those publications. Despite the time lag, there is nothing like finally seeing some of my very own peer-reviewed research out in the world.

Below is an abstract and a link to the full article. Note, you'll need a University library account to access, or you'll have to purchase access, I'm afraid it's not open source at this time.

Fashion with heart: Sustainable fashion entrepreneurs, emotional labour and implications for a sustainable fashion system

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of fashion entrepreneurs who practise sustainable fashion design, including the use of environmentally friendly materials and transparent supply chains. However, mainstream fashion practises remain unsustainable and the pathway to a sustainable fashion system is not yet clear. Using qualitative data gathered from in‐depth interviews with sustainable fashion entrepreneurs, this article examines the practise of sustainable fashion design to understand the industry's transition towards sustainability. Building upon social practise theory, the management of emotional labour is identified as a key element in sustainable fashion design as indicated by the pro‐social motives of the entrepreneurs, financial precarity, entrepreneurial risk and the management of ethical complexities in sustainable fashion businesses. I argue that the element of managing emotional labour limits the reproduction potential of sustainable fashion design by other practitioners, thus slowing the transition to a sustainable fashion system.


A special thanks to the amazing sustainable fashion entrepreneurs who gifted me their time during my research, and who have gifted the world with their compassion and innovation. You continue to amaze and inspire me to this day, and my work would not have been possible without you. I only hope to add a bit more to the dialogue to help this speed up this transition to a sustainable fashion system.

xLisa

Thursday, 20 February 2020

fire feels

Recently I contributed to a new website, Fire Feels: Telling politicians how we feel about the 2019/2020 bushfires I heard about the site from one of the founders (and my colleague!) who led a climate grief workshop last month.

This important site was created in the wake of this summer's horrific fires as a means of communicating your grief, rage, horror and shock to our politicians. It actually originated between two friends writing to one another about how they were feeling, and then realising that our politicians - the ones who have the power to make the dramatic, systemic changes we need to decarbonise and to value nature - should hear how we feel. Instead of 'staying calm', we should tell them how we feel.

You can contribute, too, just visit the site for instructions. Importantly, if you need further support, please seek professional support - find more information here.

So without further ado, below is the letter I wrote to my MP, Zali Steggall

To Zali Steggall: I had hoped never to experience this fear and grief


I have been a climate activist and working in sustainable development for over a decade. The scenes from the bush fires have brought out fear and grief that I had been hoping never to experience – and fighting for others not to experience – for so many years. I attended a climate grief workshop to help me start to address these feelings, during which I drew the following two pictures.

One is the scene I just can’t get out of my head of standing on a fairly isolated beach in Broken Bay with my two year-old son as the sky was golden-orange and ash-flakes snowed down upon us. There were children in the water who were laughing and playing, trying to catch the ashes with a goal of catching the biggest one possible. Did they know what it was? It was a very apocalyptic scene. It was very hard to accept that it was really  happening, and we were not even in the worst of the fire zones.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinze


The other is a representation of how I feel – sad and frozen, but also angry. I’m just waiting for that anger to thaw me out of my frozen state so I can start flowing and acting (and activisting!) again.

CC-BY-NC-SA Lisa Heinze


I know that you are committed to climate action, I voted and campaigned for you because of it. I am writing to remind you of how urgently Australia needs to take bold action. I will stand behind your climate efforts, but also push you for more brave and robust efforts for the sake of the future and younger generations.

From Lisa Heinze

Friday, 10 January 2020

and the fires rage on


The Australian bushfires have left a wake of devastation across the country, and the fires blaze on. Greater Sydney has experienced numerous apocalyptic days over the past few months but – aside from people with respiratory and cardiovascular issues – we are the lucky ones. Our homes still stand. Our businesses and jobs are in tact. We even had (nearly) blue skies over the Christmas break, making it possible to momentarily forget about the destruction of our beautiful country. But one whiff of smoky haze or quick social media check wrenches us back to reality.
Sometimes I think, “Well, soon all of the national parkland will be burnt and so at least the fires will stop.” Some sort of twisted rationale my mind has come up with to help deal with what is happening. Willing the smoke, the haze, the ash, the constant reminders that our nation burns as the climate fiercely changes, willing all of it, to stop. But I know it won’t, not yet, this is early bushfire season in Australia.

In actual fact, estimates suggest nearly half of all the country’s forests will have burnt by the time this bushfire season is over. Half. How do we even wrap our heads around what this means in terms of habitat and wildlife loss? Greenhouse gas emissions? People’s livelihoods? The Australian bush is varied, diverse, and so incredibly beautiful. Although I grew up in another incredibly beautiful part of the world (hello Rocky Mountains!), it wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I truly fell in love with the natural world. The bush is a place of magic and wonder, and I crave immersing myself in the forests on a regular basis. I haven’t yet ventured toward any burnt areas, safe in my urban beachside bubble, but accounts from people flying over the smouldering land and driving through the scorched earth are bracing me for a barren and blackened landscape, unrecognizable from the bush I know and love.

It’s near impossible, to imagine what the people who live in these areas of the country and have lost everything – their homes, businesses, possessions, even loved ones – are experiencing. There are beautiful and powerful written accounts, like this one by author Jackie French who praises the leaders who have emerged in place of our nation’s so-called leaders, that start to put into perspective what life has been like these past couple of months. And many others who highlight the very long, unknown, road to recovery for so many of these communities that have been decimated by the fires.

Like so many Australians, I’ve felt powerless in terms of what I can do to help. I have gladly donated money, knowing that is what is most needed right now, but it can feel like it’s not enough. There’s an ache to get out and be useful, and yet how can I be useful in a time like this? It’s dangerous. Fires still blaze. I have zero emergency skills, unlike the firefighters* and other first responders who are (as they so often are) the saviours of the nation.

There are, however, many clearheaded people who have already sprung into action and offer ways to be involved. Some of the initiatives that have caught my attention include:
  • Knitting and sewing for wildlife – mittens, pouches, possum boxes, nests, and more. Thousands of people from around the world are putting their knitting and sewing skills to help injured and orphaned animals recover. The Animal Rescue Craft Guild has more information on what is needed and patterns to help you create the needed items.
  • ThreadTogether is an initiative that collects unworn/unsold items from retailers to distribute to people in need. They have ramped up their efforts in the wake of the crisis to collect even more for those communities impacted directly. If you are a designer or retailer with unsold items, get in touch with them ASAP.
  •  Go with Empty Eskies campaign, a viral facebook post by Tegan Webber that urges us to head to the regions as soon as its safe and buy all the food and drinks (and everything!) we need from those communities.
  • Spend with Them Instagram campaign, partly inspired by the Empty Eskies campaign, which highlights businesses in effected areas that need our dollars to keep afloat. If you are in the market for something, why not start there?
  • Authors for Fireys  is a Twitter auction that channels funds directly to the firefighters with authors from around the world auctioning signed books, character namings, lunch dates, workshops and more. I haven’t put my hand up for this only because my book is old news, but I'll try and get myself organised (it ends tomorrow!) to offer a sustainable fashion workshop in exchange for donations.
  • Hearts on Fire instagram auction of experiences from fashion, food, travel and the arts to raise money. Incredible things up for auction here!
  • Yesterday more than 45 Australian retailers participated in the "All In" campaign, donating 100% of their profits to the Red Cross bushfire campaign. It was good timing for me - I needed some new work clothing so spent it all with the Iconic (which is also going to be offering its warehouse to store donated items over coming months to assist the charities that have been inundated with goods).

It’s hard to know what to write, and how to respond, except to say that I’m heartbroken, saddened, frightened and angry. I’ll continue to do what I can, to act thoughtfully yet forcefully for change. I’ll be at the protests today in Sydney, hope to see some of you there, too.

xLisa

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

tis the season for a revolution


In previous years I've written guides and given advice about choosing sustainable holiday gifts. You know, buy from ethical, local, Fair trade suppliers and artists. Choose pre-loved items. Give someone an experience instead of an object. Cook a meal, babysit kids, plant a tree, make organic body scrub. And wrap it all in sustainable gift wrap.

I still wholeheartedly believe in those options. And - despite what the rest of this post may suggest - I really do love the holiday season. Love it. There is nothing better than enjoying delicious food and the company of loved ones under the twinkle of fairy lights. As an added bonus, living in Sydney means that Christmas is the perfect excuse for an extended summer break at the beach. Bring. It. On.

But this year, instead of hoping santa brings me a gorgeous sustainable frock and fretting over the 'perfect' gift for my loved ones, I want something bigger. I want a revolution. I want a seismic cultural and political shift to address the growing climate crisis. It's not too much to ask, is it?


My state is literally on fire. Look at these photos. That extended summer break I mentioned before will likely be spent indoors to escape the hazardous smoke pollution which periodically blankets the city. The fires have come so early and so fiercely that fire chiefs are making public declarations about climate change and begging the government to address the climate crisis. And what does our Prime Minister do? Offers platitudes, thoughts & prayers, naively comments that volunteer firefighters don't need to be paid because they "want to be there" and uses the opportunity of our nationwide distraction to axe the federal arts department and splitting the energy and environment portfolios into other, larger, portfolios, all but ensuring climate change doesn't get a look in. Shame.

The Currowan bushfire has been raging for days in a national park near Ulladulla, burning almost 50,000 hectares as of Wednesday, the RFS said.
Photo: AAP via SMH

Halfway around the world other world leaders are meeting for the annual COP climate talks. I freely admit to being particularly ambivalent about the talks this year. Which is unfair - many people work tirelessly in the lead up and throughout the talks to convince nations to make binding agreements to emissions reductions. But from my perspective (and at least one top scientist) it just looks like we've had these talks for over 20 years and global emissions are rising year on year. Countries including Australia and the United States shirk responsibility and forfeit the opportunity to become climate leaders. And remind me, how many people took an international flight (and how many business class, or private planes) to attend the talks? Not Greta, obviously, and though it doesn't make a dent in the grand scheme of greenhouse gas emissions, it does have an impact on the power of one's activism and leads to systemic change.

So needless to say, this holiday season I'm distracted. Instead of teaching my toddler about the magic of the season I'm fretting about his future. I don't want the champagne and baubles and bonbons - well, not as much as I usually do, anyway. I don't have the energy to handcraft gifts and I don't feel the same joy listening to Mariah Carey's "Merry Christmas" album as in previous years. I want global leaders to act just as that - leaders - and to take the bold actions necessary to halt the worst of the project climate disasters. We are seeing too frequent glimpses of them already, and frankly, it's terrifying.

But I hear you. You want a list. You want a guide for an ethical holiday season, so here it is:
  • Change your household energy to 100% renewable energy. There are multiple affordable options available making this option more attainable than ever.
  • Divest your retirement/superannuation. There are a variety of funds options that do not invest in fossil fuel companies but do have competitive returns. Make your money work for the future you want.
  • Ask your workplace about their own energy and investment plans, and work with them to make the necessary changes if not enough is being done.
  • Contact your politicians. Relentlessly. Let them know the climate is a top concern of yours, and if it's not theirs they will not get your vote.
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Donate your money. This year there are a variety of bushfire appeals including for Fire Services and wildlife rehabilitation. If any of my loved ones want to know what to get me, please do this for me.
  • Connect with others. Build your community and look after those who need some extra care.
  • Rest as much as you can, we have a lot of work to do in 2020.
Until then, fellow Revolutionaries, 
xoLisa

Friday, 18 October 2019

sustainable fashion is so hot right now

For a long time the uptake of sustainable fashion could best be described as a slow burn. There was a constant increase in interest, but it moved at a snail's pace. Sustainable fashion designers struggled to make ends meet, with many working for the passion they felt as activists rather than for the money. And on a personal level, many people raised an eyebrow at my research and questioned whether it was really worth investigating.

Fast forward to 2019 and sustainability is trending, and it's making me worried.

Sustainability and climate change were key features at the recently-wrapped Fashion Weeks (including some fabulous disruption from Extinction Rebellion in London and New York), celebrity endorsements and labels are constantly popping up, the Duchess of Sussex wore Outland Denim and changed the face of sustainable fashion, The Iconic launched their ethical edit, 'Considered', and I feel like I'm seeing nearly as many Vejas as Stan Smiths these days.

Image via Instagram

In fact it was a Veja-spotting that inspired me to write today.

I was on the bus home from work this week, holding onto the swinging handle for dear life as the bus took a sharp turn, when I spotted a pair of Vejas on a young woman seated near me.  A quick scan and I saw she'd paired those white sneakers with some jeans, a Gucci crossbody handbag, a white Tommy Hilfiger tee and some lovely large gold hoop earrings. A few days later I saw another chic woman wearing Vejas with a long silk skirt and tee and a stunning oversized Dior tote. For all I know these designer additions were quality vintage or consignment pieces, but I'm going to make the assumption based on their pristine appearances that they were not.

I've read plenty of articles - scholarly and mass media - talking about sustainable fashion being a status symbol. And there is a lot of weight to the argument that sustainable fashion is primarily available for the upper middle class. These young women personified these criticisms in a way I hadn't yet seen in person.

I don't mean to point fingers at these ladies and blame them for the state of fashion today. However, seeing these bright young things wearing some of the world's most sustainable sneakers with trendy designer pieces demonstrated something I've been suspecting and fearing for awhile...we may be raising general awareness, but nothing is really changing.

Sure, sustainable fashion is so hot right now. More and more people actually know what it is. It's being written about in the pages of Vogue on a regular basis. There are podcasts, blogs, websites, online shops and sustainable stylists and designers all working to raise awareness of the issues and shed light on alternatives. But the fact that designer labels decided to adopt it for their latest runway shows makes me feel we are just swimming in circles, so does seeing a stylish woman who is matching sustainable sneakers with designer labels.


Fashion Editor Vanessa Friedman has an incredible critique in the New York Times about this current turn toward sustainability during the most recent Fashion Weeks. Of her many compelling arguments one that stood out to me was the fact that just last year the brands were addressing the repercussions from the #MeToo movement, and this year some models are reporting it's worse than ever.

In addition, fast fashion continues to pervail, despite some positive signs it was crumbling (like Forever21 filing for bankruptcy, mainly due to not being able to compete on style with H&M and Zara). Zara profits remain high and growing, with plans for worldwide online sales from next year. H&M recently announced its first increase in profits in two years and continue grow their store numbers to more than 5,000 around the world - it also has plans for further online reach in the years to come. More garments will be produced this year than last, and the same thing will happen next year again.


The fashion system is broken, and has been for a long time. It relies on constant renewal to survive, and it relies on us buying into new styles season after season, year after year, and so it injects billions of dollars into marketing to ensure that we make those purchases. In other words, just because people know about something - even the fast fashion companies themselves, which are making promises toward sustainable fabrics and transparent processes - doesn't mean the problem is solved. As long as clothes continue to be designed and produced at these fast rates in vast quantities, it cannot be sustainable. As long as labels want me to buy their new collection each season, or even each year, it cannot be sustainable. Until we can curtail this system that generates constant desire, it cannot be sustainable.

So there, I've said it. I've been thinking it for awhile, and there it is. For all the incredible work my fellow sustainable fashion activists have done over the past decade, particularly the past five or six years, the system remains firmly in tact. I know that progress has been made and I don't want sustainable fashion designers or activists to feel like their work has been for nothing, because it has undoubtedly shifted the conversation. But I feel an increased sense of urgency that just isn't being addressed but the launches of new sustainable fashion lines and the embrace of sustainability on major Fashion Week catwalks. It all feels like more greenwashing to me.

A few years ago, seeing two pair of Vejas in one week would have filled me with glee. Unfortunately, knowing what I know now, it fills me with dread. It appears they are being used as a status symbol, a recognisable and coveted name brand, that may even assuage guilt of some people about the dismal state of the climate and the planet.

So yeah, sustainable fashion is so hot right now. What will be so hot next year? (besides the planet, obvs).

Thursday, 5 September 2019

sustainable work life

Hello!

It's been awhile, and I'm just going to level with you - this working parent business is hard! I feel like calling every parent I have ever worked with to say, "I'm sorry if I ever gave you the side-eye for leaving work on time! And please tell me how you managed to be so put together for work while wrangling a small child at home." 

Though they probably wouldn't have even noticed my side-eye if they are like me, one eye on my work and another on the clock to ensure I time my commute-daycare-dinner-bath-bedtime routine just perfectly to minimise the likelihood of a meltdown from my mini-one.

I am managing to complete (and enjoy!) my paid work each week, but my labours of love (like this blog and other sustainable fashion activism) have taken a backseat. As so many women have experienced before me, I'm learning firsthand that you can't "have it all", at least not at the same time.

Lucky for me my paid work is incredible. I have the opportunity to meet and work with dedicated, passionate and clever people, including bringing people together with various backgrounds and ideas, all in the name of sustainability. And I was able to write a blog post about it for the Sydney Environment Institute. Here's a sneak peek, and head over their website to learn more.

Living Lab Series: Sustainability Across Campus, From Wave Flumes to Waste Fighters

Lisa Heinze takes us on a journey through the University as she explores past projects and future plans for the Sustainability Strategy.

Image by Vital Sinkevich, via Unsplash

Did you know that the University of Sydney has a wind tunnel and wave flume in its Centre for Wind, Waves and Water? Or that students can take units titled “Building a Sustainable World” or “Poverty Alleviation and Profitability”? Or that we have both a community garden and a food co-opright here on campus?
Over the past few months, I have had the great pleasure of getting to know some of the people behind these initiatives as part of the University’s sustainability strategy development project. The Sydney Environment Institute has been supporting the development of the University’s new strategy, and I have the lucky job of connecting with people who are working hard to make a difference through their research, teaching and actions at the University. In particular, the SEI has been responsible for creating an Advisory Group consisting of staff and students from across the University, and overseen the development of over a dozen sub-groups, to help establish a sustainability vision, identify priorities, and determine guiding principles across a range of sustainability issues at the University.
So what exactly does this mean? And what does it look like on a daily basis? I began by poring over faculty websites and staff profiles, seeking sustainability connections through research or teaching, and sending inquisitive, hopeful emails, asking for participation in the project. I’ve had my fair share of coffees, meeting people to find out more about their work and interests, sharing details about how the working groups’ insights will feed into development of the strategy, and connecting people into various groups to focus on categories like Energy & Emissions, Social & Culture, Water, Built Environment, Landscapes & Biodiversity, and more.
I’ve had the distinct feeling I was standing inside the (thankfully idle) engine of an Airbus A380 as I stood inside the awe-inspiring Boundary Layer Wind Tunnel at the Centre for Wind, Waves and Water...