When the house is on fire, but also needs a tidy

Climate change has been a background theme in most of my research and thinking, but it felt like one issue among many: part of these interconnected global struggles to resist authoritarianism, to push back against corporate power, to build solidarity with each other.

About three years ago I went on parental leave. My research, which often involved weeks or months at a time in unfamiliar places, spending time talking to activists and attending movement events, went on pause. A long project I’d been working on wrapped up, somewhat inconclusively. Once I went back to work I felt like I was only just managing parenting and bad sleep and teaching, with little time left for research.

Climate change no longer feels like a problem looming in the distance. I think about it constantly: as I cycle along the river with my toddler, as we make choices about how our household works, as I teach about the constant growth our current economy relies on, as I consider flying to conferences.

I need to be focusing, now, on applying my previous research about how movements around the world work for change to understanding more about how we can support just action on climate change now.

What none of us appear to be reckoning with is the idea that the apocalypse, having begun long since, might last for the entirety of our lifetimes; that we could live through this slow worsening, the poisoning of sky, water, land, and mind as the world heats up, resources become more scarce, and violent conflict spreads.  Ask yourself: what will you do if things don’t get better, and also the world doesn’t end? Who will you show up for, and how?

– Omar Sakr, Head in the Sand

One of the reasons it took me so long to come to this now-obvious realisation is that action on climate change is so often framed as happening on the individual level, perhaps in large part because shifting the Australian political landscape felt almost impossible until recently. I’m surrounded, online and in person, by people (especially women) who are trying to find ways to live more sustainably, to budget money to support climate justice, to cut plastics and boost marginalised voices and do less harm in a thousand small ways. I’m surrounded by people who have been working for structural change, but have often felt frustrated and overwhelmed.

I think, often, of the work involved in all this.

I meant to write this post a week ago, to start articulating my thoughts to myself. I also meant to take the next step for a community organising project I’ve been thinking about.

I got an hour free a couple of days ago, and put some laundry on and watered the drought-tolerant natives I’m trying to get established out the front of the house. On the weekend I had some time, and I went to the bulk foods store and restocked the kitchen. Last night after the kids went to bed I steamed broccoli and made some crackers (for plastic-free snacks through the week) and tried out making oat milk (to cut down on the soy milk we use, that comes in plastic).

I don’t think the world would be improved by all the people (and especially women) I know working on structural change instead of spending time packing kids’ lunches in reusable containers, doing multiple loads of laundry for cloth nappies, sewing their own clothes, learning Indigenous words so that we can try to teach children more about resisting colonisation, doing the slow and sometimes tedious work of keeping the house going, even while the house is on fire.

I don’t think the world would be better if only those with the privilege of outsourcing this caring labour worked on climate action.

As I think about doing more work – paid and unpaid – around climate action, I wonder a lot about how we balance different levels of action. I wonder how I keep the plants at home alive and also write and think and organise around climate action. I wonder how I commit myself to action and still parent slowly, giving my toddler time to learn about living respectfully on Noongar Boodjar. And I wonder how to make space for others who don’t have the privilege I do – of a supportive partner, of whiteness and education that gives my voice more strength, of money that smooths some household work, of a wonderful and unconventional family who are also committed to change.

And so I stumble forward, trying to work out how to learn better ways to show up.

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