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.


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.