September School Climate Strikes

As part of the global climate strikes on 20-27 September, I took our eldest daughter out of school, collected the little one at lunch time, and together our family went to the Melbourne rally. For the kids this was probably one of the most exciting things we’ve done all year – they got to go on a train, wave posters, chant with a large crowd, and all in exchange for catching up on the missed classwork over the school holidays. For us parents it was also a bit exciting – preventing our toddler from whacking people with her poster, getting separated in the crowd, and realising half way there that we forgot to bring the baby wrap.

Melbourne Climate Strike September 2019

In response to the strikes, I spent one or two days reading comments that the children should have been in school learning instead of being out and participating in democracy. Those arguments faltered and vanished fairly quickly, and were replaced with astonishing observations that it wasn’t older generations who are responsible for climate change, but younger generations with their rampant consumerism and materialistic ways.

Who do you think taught them to be that way? We did. The generations they looked to for an example.

With the strikes our leaders complained that children should be in school learning, and the response from our children was that there’s no point learning if we don’t act on what we teach them. To instead complain that our children are part of the problem when they are doing what we have taught them to do is just astonishing.

If you have been able to watch the speeches during the youth protests without feeling a degree of shame then either you’ve cleaned up your act or you don’t realise how dire the situation is. I’m incapable of watching Greta Thunberg’s UN address without crying. I imagine my little girls in her place in a decade, a time in which it will be too late to do anything but stop the disaster from worsening further, and I realise how complacent I have been since the day I became old enough to do anything about it.

There’s an interesting thing about shame; you can either lash out at those who make you feel it, or you can do something about it. Based on my Facebook feed, a lot of people who I thought knew better have chosen the lashing out option. I understand, because it’s very difficult to look at yourself and acknowledge all the ways in which you have failed. It takes a strong person to stare at the truth and see it as a call to action. There is tension in knowing that the time to correct past mistakes is almost over, and an incredible fear when you realise that nobody can tell you the quick solution to make that correction.

Our own parents aren’t coming to the rescue, and the true shame is that our children are starting to realise that about their parents too.

When the children of the world asked adults to strike with them this time, there was no way that I was going to say no. We might not be able to do much as individuals, but we can accomplish beautiful things as a collective. In a decade from now, my eldest will be Greta Thunberg’s age. When she asks what we did, I can tell her about the changes that we made to our lives, and I can also tell her that for one day we stood up as a family, we made our voices heard, and we joined in with something bigger than ourselves.

Melbourne Climate Strike September 2019

If you’re playing along at home…

…did you and/or your children attend the climate strike? What did you learn through the experience?

Moving Closer

Three months ago we bought our first family home. Prices in the area we most wanted to move to had plummeted in the previous months, there was uncertainty in the market due to the election, and competition was thin on the ground. We ran the numbers and, if we bought something small, we were in a position where we could pay less in interest than we were paying in rent. It was now or never, so we chose now.

Since starting this project to curb our emissions, we had a few new criteria for buying a house that we wouldn’t have considered a few years earlier:

  • Within walking or bike riding distance of our daughter’s school;
  • Good access to public transport, shops, and other amenities;
  • A building where we could make energy efficiency improvements and not somewhere that they had already been done;
  • Small, properly sized for our family, and not a McMansion; and
  • Space for a vegetable garden and our chickens.

The biggest surprise in our search was what a limiting factor the chickens turned out to be. While they’re permitted by the local council, almost half of the properties we were initially interested in had covenants that prevented owners from having a wide range of pets, and chickens were often on that list. It’s possible to get a covenant removed, and I suppose we could have just ignored one, but it’s not a fight I was particularly interested in having. Many gardens were so small that it would have been vegetables or chickens, but definitely not both. We were happy to leave those properties for people who don’t want the hassle.

soldAfter a lot of drama, a few tears and several lawyers, we ended up finding the perfect property for us. It was a stretch for our budget, but we settled on a property that is only a five minute walk to the school (ten with our toddler). Eliminating our car for this commute will save approximately 7,000km of driving per year. The house is approximately half the size of our previous home, and we’re dazzled by how much less cleaning that involves. Since the local supermarket is next to the school and there’s a bus stop at the end of our short street, we’ve got all of the convenience we could have wished for.

Our new house is at the bottom end of the market because it’s very worn and tired. The wooden stumps had almost rotted away, so they were a major structural defect, and getting them replaced chewed up the budget that we had for our solar panels. That repair work has cracked the walls and ceilings, but it’s an opportunity to take down the damaged plaster and put some insulation in the external walls. We’ve decided to view every problem with the house as a challenge that gives us the potential to create something better than we might have otherwise had. There’s an enormous amount of work ahead of us, and it will probably take years to complete, but we know it will be worth it.

If you’re playing along at home…

…how different could your life be if you were close enough to walk to the important places instead of driving the car? If you’ve moved closer to where you live, please share in the comments what sort of impact that decision had on your every day life.

Reducing School Consumption

Our little girl is starting school next week, and I’m not sure if that’s a bigger change for her or for me. It’s an exciting time for all of us and, as with many exciting changes, it’s an opportunity to go crazy with shopping. There are uniforms, book lists and accessories, and the sky is the limit when it comes to what a proud parent can spend. When the school happily gave us the uniform price list I took it home, read it, and had an actual panic attack.

When I calmed down enough to think, I decided that my mission was to carefully go through both the uniform and book lists, and work out what we really needed to buy and what was optional or could be substituted. It isn’t that money is tight and we can’t afford this stuff new so much as the planet can’t afford for us to be buying this stuff new.

The uniform was the easiest point to work on. At the school is a second hand uniform shop. The stock comes from lost property that is never claimed and donations from parents whose kids have outgrown the clothes. Every piece costs $2, which was music to my ears given a new dress costs $48.95. The range is obviously down to chance, but I was able to find five school dresses, two school jackets, and a long sleeve t-shirt with the logo on it. Some things need to be mended, but that is within my skill set. Total cost: $16. I don’t have to worry about my daughter getting paint or ink on her brand new uniform because most of the items already come with some.

To round out her uniform, I bought a few items from clearance racks at the discount stores. By shopping here I was able to save money and buy things without the logo, which means she will be able to wear these clothes as part of her regular wardrobe outside school. She doesn’t need a perfect colour match for shorts to wear under her dress, because close enough is good enough in this instance. I also bought a size too big for most items so that she can wear them for longer.

When it came to the book list, I was planning to substitute as many of the paper items for recycled versions as I could. Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue what most of the items on the list were. The only substitution I made this year was the ream of paper that we needed to buy; we already had an unopened ream at home, so she can use that instead. The school couldn’t believe that I was making a change that would only reduce our bill by $4, but they accepted it and I was able to reduce our acquisition by 500 sheets of paper. It might not be much, but every bit counts.

Backpack and hatThe final area where we had the potential to over-consume was on her school accessories. Excited relatives gave her a lot of things for starting school, such as backpacks and lunch boxes. They aren’t in the school colours, and it turns out that I just don’t care. If or when her things wear out I can replace them with the versions the school wants, but until then she can enjoy her gifts. She doesn’t even need new hair ties or pins, because she prefers liberating mine from the cupboard.

Compared to our initial expectations, we have been able to dramatically reduce our consumption as well as our costs. I did feel disappointed that I wasn’t continuing rituals with my daughter that my mother did with me until I realised that we’ll be doing the same things, just in a modified format. It has also been an excellent opportunity to talk to her about our throw away culture, reusing resources, and to teach her that new activities don’t always mean we need new things.

If you’re playing along at home…

… are there areas with your child’s education where you can cut back on consumption without compromising results? Please share the changes you’ve made in the comments below.