Parenthood Prompts Climate Action

Australian Parents 4 Climate Action

Cr Brent Hoare and Australian Parents 4 Climate Action (AP4CA)  organisers of the event: Jade Herriman, Liora Ballin, Jenna Condie & Hayley Stone. (Belle Butler)

Australian Parents 4 Climate Action (AP4CA) is hosting a Spring Kids’ Clothes and Toy Swap at 10am on Sunday 10 September at 9 New St Lawson. Writer Belle Butler spoke to the organisers at their last Swap.

Key Points:

  • The Blue Mountains branch of Australian Parents 4 Climate Action (AP4CA) hosts quarterly ‘kids clothes and toy swaps’ to build community and raise awareness around climate change. 
  • Organisers discuss how having children has intensified their climate grief, anxiety and worry, but how they’ve discovered action is an antidote to despair.
  • The swaps demonstrate that you don’t need to participate in fast fashion and fast toys, and are a step towards creating a more sustainable culture.

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Change usually happens behind our backs. One day we realise things are not as they used to be, and yet somehow we have missed the incremental slip into this different state. Not so with becoming a parent. As with the death of a loved one, the birth of a child marks a sheer line between two states of being. Suddenly there is a before and an after, and the after will never again resemble the before. This change might be the most exciting of a lifetime. But it also brings with it a storm of emotions. New depths of love are matched by new depths of concern. Joy is heightened. So is pain. 

This change has always been accompanied with the fear that things outside our control might threaten this precious being we are now responsible for: war, economic instability, disease, natural disaster. For many recent newcomers to parenthood, the acceleration of human induced climate change tops that list of concerns. 

There is a special reserve of ‘fight’ in a parent when something is threatening their child. This was no more evident than when I met Jenna Condie and Liora Ballin from the Blue Mountains branch of Australian Parents 4 Climate Action (AP4CA) to talk about their recent ‘kids clothes and toy swap’ held at the Mid Mountains Neighbourhood Centre in Lawson. 

Liora joined the Sydney AP4CA group in 2019 when she was living in the city with a toddler and a baby. “2019 is when climate grief, anxiety and worry really hit me,” she said. “I think having small children really made me connect with the issue.” 

Liora and Jenna, co-leaders of the AP4CA Blue Mountains Branch

Liora and Jenna, co-leaders of the AP4CA Blue Mountains Branch. (Belle Butler)

Sensing that the federal election that year was pivotal in how the country would move forward with climate action, she decided to hand out flyers at the polling booth for the first time in her life. The outcome of the election hit her hard. “The night of the result, I was devastated,” she said. “There was a depression that set in and a kind of fear and worry. And then all of that really led into a feeling of responsibility. And then action.”

After the election, Liora spotted a Facebook post by climate campaigner Anna Rose. Anna’s post gave readers detailed reasons to stay hopeful and determined, as well as ways to take action. At the end of the post, she shared her email address and offered for anyone to contact her if they needed advice on how to get involved. Liora took her up on this offer and Anna replied with suggestions of different climate action groups Liora might be inclined to join. Being a parent, AP4CA seemed the right fit: “I joined it straight away.”

AP4CA welcomes locals to swap clothes and toys

AP4CA welcomed locals to swap clothes and toys. (Belle Butler)

Liora moved to the Blue Mountains the following year. “So much had changed for me. It was like I had to reappraise absolutely everything that I knew about the world,” she said of her decision to relocate. “I realised that I was completely disconnected from the natural world, and I wanted my children to have that connection.” 

Her move coincided with the departure of then leaders of AP4CA’s Blue Mountains branch. When the call went out for a new leader, Liora’s sense of responsibility and urgency to act outweighed feelings of imposter syndrome and she put up her hand. Initially, she didn’t know what to do in the role. “I remember thinking, I’m not a rallier of people. I can’t do this. I thought, people up here are doing so much more than me, who am I to come in and say this is what we need to do?”

She was grateful when in 2021 Jenna made contact through the Facebook page and offered to help. The two became co-leaders. Jenna has a passion for social justice, which has provided her with many years of experience in activism. She is currently researching the relationships between social media, community organising and social action at Western Sydney University. Calling herself an ‘activist academic’ she noted the happy marriage of her chosen pursuits: her activism informs her research, and her research informs her activism.

AP4CA clothes swap blue mountains

Attendees contributed their old clothes and toys before the swap began. (Belle Butler)

Attendees and organisers gathered and ready for the swap to begin. (Belle Butler)

As with Liora, becoming a parent was the driving force that prompted her to join AP4CA. “Just having a baby has given me the confidence to step up and lead,” she said, noting that  becoming pregnant at the end of the 2019 bushfires and having her first baby during a pandemic created a sense of inevitability in her choice to fight for change.

Jenna, now pregnant with her second child, could not hold back tears as she expressed disbelief and exasperation that more is not being done to combat climate change by those in power. “We are literally facing climate breakdown,” she said. “Right now things are going off the charts, all the warning signs are there and the people who are meant to be making decisions in the best interests of our children are still approving new coal and gas projects. They’re still approving the logging of native forests. Extinction of animals and biodiversity loss is just huge. And the recent news that we’re going to breach the 1.5 degree threshold in the next 5 years… actually we don’t have a choice but to act, or we’re not going to survive. What else can we do but try to get enough people to engage with it? Then we might be able to change things.”

Attendees browsing. (Belle Butler)

Likewise, for Liora action is the only choice. “One way to interact with the grief we feel around this huge, pivotal moment, is to do something about it. I want to act because I think it’s important and I have a responsibility to my children, and for them to be a part of it too so that when the day comes that they understand climate change, they will know that they can do things too. I realise that for myself, action is the antidote to despair. There’s so much more to do, but this gives my brain something to focus on.”

The pair created the quarterly AP4CA kids clothes and toy swap off the back of a ‘Festival of Action’ that took place at Western Sydney University. They wanted to create a joyous, inclusive event that engaged people with the issue while giving parents and children a practical way of participating in one solution.  

Busy browsing. (Belle Butler)

“Fashion has a huge environmental impact, and it’s not sustainable the way we consume fashion as a society,” said Liora. “So this event is a practical form of climate action because we’re swapping clothes instead.”

Jenna noted that we currently have enough clothes on the planet for the next six generations. “We don’t need any more,” she said. “And the kids are swapping as well. So it’s actually a really early introduction to this lesson that you don’t need to participate in fast fashion and fast toys.” Liora added, “It’s normalising that action for multiple generations.”

Denzel happy with his ‘new’ toy. (Belle Butler)

An estimated 70 adults plus kids turned out at the event. There was a constant buzz of activity while adults and kids contributed to, then browsed the goods on offer. Satisfied with their finds, lots of people hung about and participated in the various activities: music, painting and storytime. 

Getting creative at the swap. (Belle Butler)

Alex, happy with what he found. (Belle Butler)

One attendee, Alex Carey, was grateful for the opportunity to participate. “I’ve seen countries that are used clothes islands,” he said. “Anything we can use from this material, make other things out of it or use it as is, reduces our individual footprint. I never had this growing up, so it’s good to expose our kids to it and get them used to it.”

Jenna noted that another key aspect of the event is to build community and raise awareness. “The clothes swap gives us an opportunity to engage people. It’s very confronting news, so this is a way of talking to people in a soft way. Even though it’s about clothes swapping, it’s also about political pressure. We are growing our influence through this practical, inclusive event.”

Painting a banner that will be showcased at the ‘Buying into Sustainability Expo’ during the Festival of Resilience in December. (Belle Butler)

The next clothing swap will be held on September 10. The group will host another swap at the ‘Buying into Sustainability Expo’ as part of the 2023 Festival of Resilience in December. The Expo will focus on individual and collective local actions that connect and influence systemic change. Liora and Jenna welcome attendees to these events and invite any newcomers and volunteers to join the group. Acknowledging the busyness of parents, they stress that there are various helpful roles available for people with different skills and capacities. 

Liora and Jenna are happy for you to contact them through the Facebook page if you would like to get involved.

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This story has been produced as part of a Bioregional Collaboration for Planetary Health and is supported by the Disaster Risk Reduction Fund (DRRF). The DRRF is jointly funded by the Australian and New South Wales governments.

About Belle Butler

Belle Butler is a writer, musician and occasional photographer. She likes mix-and-matching these artforms and often explores the same themes through each of them. Her short fiction has been published in numerous Australian literary journals and she recently received a WestWords Fellowship and Mentorship with Delia Falconer for her novel manuscript, ‘River.’ Hopefully it will be published one day.

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