Carolyn Ingvarson in her kitchen with her microscope Photo by Charlotte Bowra
I feel so frustrated that politicians don’t take the science of climate change seriously that I joined a local Climate Action Group called Lighter Footprints. Their Convenor is Carolyn Ingvarson, a 75-year-old woman who eschewed a relaxing retirement to spend the last 13 years cultivating change in her local community and at all levels of government.
My journey began with my mother who was a scientist and zoologist. I got my first glimpse of the world through my mum’s microscope and saw things that were mind blowing. The sense of belonging to this wonderful earth came to me through her. She taught me to look at things and appreciate and love them. My brother, Peter Newman, is also a strong influence. He is the director of a sustainability institute and has a really powerful view of the world that is full of hope. I am the eldest of five and I love my siblings more than most people I know.
I loved being a biology teacher. It was such a gift to be able to talk about what is around you and open kids’ eyes to what they were seeing and science. I miss it to this day. I have a microscope in my kitchen, just like my mum did. The grandkids say, what’s this Grandma? And I’ll say let’s have a closer look at that. An amazing thing that comes out of biology is you understand how all the things link together. You knock one bit out and the whole lot tumbles.
I finished working as a biology teacher in the mid 80s and then worked in the public service for 20 years. I was offered a job with the Office of the Director General as the Coordinator for the Elimination of Sexism in schools as a secondment. When it finished, instead of going back into the school, I went into the public service. I didn’t realise I was making a dramatic career shift. I ended up being a public servant in state government and that taught me a huge amount about how to work with disparate groups, much of which I use in the work I do now.
I retired at 60 and started new life. I embraced the opportunity to do something different and did the professional writing and editing course at RMIT. When I was invited to see Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient truth in 2006, I thought I do not want to see this, it is going to be political bullshit. But I watched the film and afterwards, a group of us had a cup of coffee together. We bumped into a friend of mine who said you are doing a writing course, write me a piece about Al Gore to put in the local news. This was the first time I felt this was something I didn’t want to write about, but when I sat down to do it, the words came.
I was terrified by the film and thought there must be other people who feel like this and don’t know what to do either. In the article, I said maybe if you feel like I do, and you think together we might be able to do something we can’t do on our own, call me. I got 12 phone calls. I said come and have a drink and we got together and had some champagne and celebrated the fact that within two hours we had formed this group called Lighter Footprints.
It’s grown over time, but most of the original group are still there 13 years later. We initially met as a small group in my house and talked about how we could lighten our own footprints. Then we went into a local guide hall where we invited experts to come and chat with us. We started to understand this impact was impinged by bigger issues, so we decided we’d get individual speakers to come on a regular basis and as we did that, numbers picked up. You wouldn’t believe the range of topics we have covered. From permaculture to lobbying, electricity, energy, batteries, psychology and how to deal with deniers. Now, we often can’t fit everyone in the hall and when we invite high-profile speakers, we hire the local town hall and we fill it.
For 13 years we’ve been a voice and while our group is only small, its influence is quite strong. Part of the reason we punch above our weight is we are dogged and persistent in talking to people at two levels. One is friends and neighbours and the other is politicians at local, state and federal levels. And not only do we talk, we write letters. Writing letters has become a thing we do, and we get hundreds of letters into papers each year. It gives people a sense of belonging and it’s a way of eliciting change that’s really hard to measure because it’s a mood thing. The Herald Sun used to never publish stuff we write, and now it does all the time.
Recently, there’s been a change in mood. Now climate has become such a big issue politically, we are probably standing at a point of this becoming a common interest instead of a peripheral issue. We want people to realise this is really important to you, not just the greenies on the side. It’s impacting on you, the way you work, the way you live, what’s going to be here for your families. I hope we can raise the profile of climate change so people understand how important it is to get strong action as the basis on which we elect our representatives. If it were possible to think my time with Lighter Footprints has made a difference to how we can address climate change, I’ll feel like my life has been worth it.
Visit Lighter Footprints for more information.
© Matilda Bowra 2019