"I Was An Eco-Activist. Then I Had A Baby"



In the 1980s, my dad, Alan Pears AM, was one of Australia’s leading energy conservationists. It was hardly surprising, then, that I grew up in Melbourne to be deeply environmentally conscious. I completed my PhD in sustainability while teaching university students to reject consumerism; I kickstarted the clothes-swapping movement in Australia in the early 2000s and delivered lectures on its success for the UN. I lived without a car and ate from my abundant veggie patch. I wore op-shop frocks and Birkenstocks before they were fashionable.

I was a fully-fledged green warrior. And then, in 2011, I had a baby. Almost overnight, my priorities shifted dramatically – and my desire for convenience quickly eclipsed my eco-values. Caught up in the excitement of impending parenthood, we bought a second-hand station wagon, and I obsessed over buying the safest car seat, and pimping the pram with what I regarded as an ‘essential’ cup holder. I traded my vintage floral frocks for elasticised grey marle pants and surrendered to my middle-class lifestyle in a middle-class suburb with alarming speed.

I also gained a sobering insight into how hard it was to live a fully sustainable lifestyle when you felt overwhelmed, reverting into survival mode and living minute-to-minute rather than with a distant future in mind. Perhaps in my future, I thought in my more lucid moments, I could try to help people live a ‘lighter-green’ life, with less stringent and more forgiving rules? Maybe a ‘medium-green’ approach would feel more achievable for most of us?

A particular low point occurred about 10 months after my first child was born. I remember standing in the kitchen dialling for my third takeaway of the week, while staring at the overflowing nappy bin and plastic containers piling up by the back door. There were times I tried to clamber back onto the sustainable living wagon, but it was a struggle. I trialled using reusable nappies, but everything leaked with baby boys except Huggies, and sustainable options were so much harder to find, so I guiltily settled for conventional disposable nappies.

"I hadn’t lost sight of how important sustainable living was. But it was incredibly hard to hold the macro issues associated with climate change in mind while juggling the micro emergencies of everyday life.


My long-term ideals competed with the more urgent tasks at hand—like tackling that mountain of tiny onesies waiting to be washed. I was riddled with eco-guilt on the days where I was cognisant enough to be. Some days I was just lucky to get out the door with two shoes on—preferably matching ones. But after several ecological disasters – the bushfires and the floods – and a pandemic, my internal conflict peaked. I needed to make a change. My kids were school age, and it was time to find a way to live sustainably within the chaos of my family life.

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Read how motherhood challenged this writer’s sustainable lifestyle – and how she solved it by becoming ‘medium green’ at PRIMER.


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