What led to each of your passions in climate change, and what motivated you to take climate action in your own hands?
Eezu: Climate change has always been an issue at the back of my mind growing up. It became a much more pressing issue to me over time after witnessing the 2019-2022 Australian bushfires, the flooding after and just seeing the previously incumbent Liberal government’s inaction on climate change.
Back in high school I did a speech on greenwashing which happened to end up in the local paper. In 2019 I changed my diet, became a pescatarian and started attending climate protests. In 2021, I began to think about what more I could personally do. And so I spoke to my brother as someone who's also passionate about the issue, who told me to look into Climate for Change, an organisation that advocates for and helps everyday Australians take climate action. It was from there that I learnt that writing to politicians was the most effective action an individual could take to make any change in climate action, which led to the origination of these monthly letter-writing campaigns that Marlene and I now hold.
Marlene: I think the first touch point for me was when Eezu and I were introduced to Kua as a part of our 180 degree consulting project at UNSW. Kua is essentially a climate positive company that sells specialty ethically sourced green coffee from disadvantaged smallholder farmers. That really inspired me in not only understanding how important climate change is as a problem space, but in introducing me to a different political and economic paradigm of the circular economy.
Over time, I went to a few youth conferences like the Sustainability University Leaders Symposium and things similar to that, and I ended up developing a real passion for the food sustainability space and the impact that I could have there. Not only does it tackle climate change, but a huge aspect of creating a sustainable food system is in creating inclusivity and that emotional change to prompt people to change individual and ingrained habits.
Two books that have really galvanised me to want to take climate action are ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, and ‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein. From these books, I learnt how massive the issue with the food system is at scale and how deep it goes into personal and cultural roots, extremely complicated things that I find super interesting. From my own personal experience, I grew up in a Filipino family where it’s so normal to eat a whole pig. When I went vegetarian I was wrestling with a lot of internal contradictions and found difficulty in changing my own behaviour influenced by my culture and childhood.
So food sustainability has been very interesting to me for a while. When Eezu came to me with the idea of the letter-writing sessions, I was very open to the idea, especially the idea of being able to include people in something that they otherwise wouldn’t feel empowered to do. I really like that aspect of what we do - in showing people how they can make a difference, and in a really easy way too.
What are some key issues that your climate letter writing group has written to MPs about, and how do you properly educate your attendees about these issues?
Eezu: We've written about the Climate Change Bill which basically legislates Australia's emissions reduction target to 43% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Greens have negotiated this in good faith to ensure that this is a minimum target, allowing future governments to increase the target in the future as well.
Another issue we've written on is a Safeguard Mechanism, which basically targets the top 215 polluters in Australia. We wrote to MPs about this in our last session, to ensure that there is high integrity to what that reform will look like.
The most recent example is what we’ve been writing to MPs about in the lead up to the upcoming state election. In March, we emailed some state candidates in our local area asking them about their climate policies, to signal to them that their constituents really care about the climate and that we will vote for someone who can represent those interests for us.
Marlene: That pretty much covers it. Another issue we often write about are any oil and gas projects - where we voice concerns about not wanting to invest in these kinds of projects.
In terms of properly educating our attendees, it helps that before Eezu and I start the preparation for each session we’re also very uneducated about these topics. We get a lot of support from Climate for Change where we’ll use a lot of their pre-built resources and check out their articles and content. In addition to that, we’ll do extra research on our own to create resources and form a balanced understanding of the topics we’ll go through in each session. Although Eezu and I definitely aren’t experts, we can still break down issues and explain them in simple terms in a way that an everyday person would understand. Whenever people correct us, we always accept it and understand these corrections.
It’s also important to note that our attendees all have different interest areas within climate change - some people are really interested in politics, others may be interested in energy transition and all have some kind of knowledge to contribute. Our sessions always have an evolving body of knowledge, based on the people who come.
What do you think about Australia’s current national conversation around climate change, and what needs to be done to improve it?
Eezu: I believe that the current climate conversation is too polarising. If you care about the environment, then people label you as a “greenie.” I think we've gotten to the point where it's so obvious how climate change doesn't just affect the environment, but everything in our lives. For example, extreme weather as a result of climate change damages property and critical infrastructure, impacts health and affects mobility.
Climate change impacts so many areas of our lives, so it baffles me so much when politicians diminish the impacts of climate change and don’t consider its importance. I hope that all parties can develop some form of climate policy in recognition of the way that it will impact all sectors of society.
Marlene: The conversation is very different on different levels. When I look around at my immediate circles, people are pretty progressive and open minded, which may be different to other circles of people our age.
The biggest difference in conversation is between the people who are in power in parliament and those belonging in big corporations, to the rest of the population. Australia’s economy heavily depends on our fossil fuels, natural resources and livestock to the point when people bring up the conversation of climate, the first response from politicians is always about the economy and to think about it first.
In my opinion, Australia could be doing so much more to invest in other technology that will take us away from depending on these natural resources so heavily, which aren’t sustainable at all. It’s a tricky topic given that there’s so much economic dependence on these resources, and this conversation needs to happen more in places of political power. Take Singapore as an example - they actually have a lot of policy oriented around sustainable innovation. It’s fascinating, since they're such a tiny and high-density country, they have a really large sense of immediacy of the climate problem so they invest extremely aggressively into sustainable foods in a way that we wouldn’t conceive of in Australia because we have a huge interest in traditional farming, both locally and as a major export.
We need to figure out how we can move away from certain dependencies sooner rather than later, and that starts with changing the current national conversation around climate change.
What resources would you recommend for someone who wants to get deeper into the climate action space?
There’s a huge wealth of resources out there to get educated on climate change - in both the problems and solutions.
Personally, my top recommendation is to go find and look at art that speaks to the issue of climate change - it can instill a more emotional mindset change that non-fiction can’t do as well. Three years ago, when I was in Switzerland I saw Olafur Eliasson’s Symbiotic Seeing. It means to see yourself as a human being existing in a greater ecosystem, who can affect and also be affected by the ecosystem.
That’s very different to our default consumerist mindset, where we see the outside world as a set of almost infinite resources for us to consume transactionally. When you think about transactions and utility - very linear and simplified concepts - it's very hard to see the downstream and systemic impacts.
Seeing that notion translated and conveyed in Eliasson’s art was very powerful. In the first room that you walk into, there’s a gaseous atmosphere that creates this beautiful cloudy texture and streaks on the ceiling. The idea is that the artwork and the way it looked was directly impacted by the people in the room, their body temperature, how they were moving around and how your release of carbon dioxide into the air changed the atmosphere above you in real time.
I'd also say that another thing that has been most impactful to my climate journey is just having personal conversations and friendly debates with other people who are really passionate about it.Eezu:
I would recommend Work on Climate’s Resource Starter Packs
. Work on Climate was created by two people who left Google HQ and wanted to help other people starting in their climate journey. They have a bunch of different resources aggregated under topics - climate justice, climate tech, climate financing, community organising - I think it's a nice way of thinking about the solutions to the climate crisis which extend beyond the very standard ways of thinking about solving the climate change.
Where are you hoping the ‘climate-letter writing session’ goes in the near future?
Marlene: These sessions have definitely grown beyond just the letter writing - which we never planned for. The numbers have just gotten bigger and bigger to the point that my living room is overflowing! So Eezu and I are being a bit more strategic with what we want these sessions to be - are we prioritising education, or making connections, or the impact itself? It’s something we’re working on based off of people’s feedback and what happens in each session.
I would also love for these sessions to create the space for other people to do something of their own - to start letter-writing in their own time, or go out and speak to politicians or start their own session.
I love how we have a strong sense of community, as people have become familiar with each other in these sessions. If a community was a seedling, and we could propagate that with encouraging others to start their own community, that would be an easy multiplier of impact.