FJA 2020 Shortlist

Category: Excellence in Environmental Journalism

James Button (Australia)

The Climate Interviews

March 2, 2020

The Monthly (print edition and online)

Despite growing awareness of the looming catastrophes of climate change, life for most of us goes on largely as usual. But there is understandable anxiety among the community. How do we personally plan for a future we now fear? How do we talk when we’re lost for words? JAMES BUTTON speaks with everyday Australians to see if we can articulate hope and provoke action.

She always knew she wanted kids. Even at five years old, she had to hold any baby who came into the house. She loved going along when her mother worked as a volunteer in a home for abandoned children. As Jayde Harding grew up, whenever she heard a nice name, she would try to remember it.

Her family migrated from South Africa to Perth in 1999, when she was 10. After university, Harding studied film and television in Melbourne, grew to love the place and stayed. She made films, acted on stage, had relationships, made plans. Her days were full. One day, she would have children, the natural step in a happy life.

It’s mid January, the worst of the fires has passed, but outside the cafe where we meet Melbourne is blanketed in smoke. A girl rides past wearing a face mask. The world’s most liveable city, with the world’s worst air.

Harding says it was 2018, the year she turned 30, when she really started taking notice. “It crept in slowly,” she says. She read a lot of articles, wrestled with the science. In October, the official global body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ºC”. If there was a tipping point for Harding, that was it.

She read that some climate scientists thought the IPCC’s findings had once again been too conservative. She read reports of rising alarm within the Australian Defence Force. “Hardly soy flat white drinkers like me,” she says, pointing at her coffee. In a short time, a peripheral concern became a central anxiety.

In February last year, the Australian Conservation Foundation and 1 Million Women, an organisation of climate-change activists, published a survey of 6500 women showing that about a third of those under 30 were reconsidering having children, or any more children, because of climate change. The survey was far from representative – the organisations had polled only their own supporters – but even so, Harding was nonplussed. The women in the survey were people like her, yet no one in her circles talked about this issue. Was no one thinking what she was constantly thinking – wondering whether she could bring a child into a world that might be descending into catastrophe at the very outset of that person’s adult life?

The question was consuming her. So, she decided to make a film about it. “I didn’t want to make it,” Harding says. “It was my way of grappling with the issue. I wanted to find people who had been through this and then made a decision.”


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