Nancy – Grandmother to Coralie and Anabel

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family

My husband Jeff and I live in Mt. Roskill in Auckland, and soon will be moving to Waiheke Island.  We moved here from Seattle after retiring from our jobs as a veterinarian (Jeff) and a family doctor.  We initially came here when our daughter Emily, her kiwi husband Brett and their two-month-old daughter Coralie moved here a few years ago for work.  Since then they have added Annabel to the family and Jeff and I have become residents of New Zealand. Our grandchildren and daughter were key motivators for our move to Auckland from Seattle, but the political climate and insane gun violence in the US, and the general atmosphere and lifestyle in New Zealand, also counted.

The impacts of climate change have been more obvious in recent years  – how have you noticed climate change impacting on your community and your family?

I think about climate change all the time and how unpredictable, wild weather is increasing.  Low-lying Auckland has many opportunities for land to vanish, as do the Pacific Islands near us, where people already are having to migrate because of sea level rise.  All of this will exacerbate other existing issues of social injustice.

What drew you to volunteer with 350 Aotearoa?

As a child in the early 1950s my father was a blacklisted journalist as he was believed to be a communist sympathizer during the Cold War. From their own teenage years, both my parents were activists and they raised me in this spirit. The Vietnam war and protests for civil rights in the 1960s were powerful sources of learning for me. Over the last decade of my working life, I became more aware of climate change and its potential consequences.  In 2014 I was in New York for the massive Peoples Climate March and it was around that time that I became aware of Bill McKibben’s activities and the 350 philosophy. Bill is a very inspirational figure, who comes across as very caring and compassionate as well as scientifically sound. I was drawn to the idea that individual change is not enough, that we need leaders, public figures, governments, banks and systemic change to address the challenges of climate justice.  I became distracted from climate change activism for a while by volunteering for various US political campaigns, especially Bernie Sanders. However, when I came to New Zealand I sought out 350 again. I am not adept using social media so I had trouble finding them at first. Bill McKibben’s visit here in early May 2018, part of a Fossil Free world tour, allowed me to connect with a local 350 group and get involved.

What 350 actions have you been involved with?

I am a regular meeting attendee and organiser for the Auckland 350 group – at 70 years old I am the oldest person there by several decades. I have spent a lot of time campaigning for the Auckland Museum to sever relationships with organisations involved in fossil fuel extraction e.g. the Stevenson Foundation. We held a protest on Worldwide RISE day at the Auckland Domain, and on several weekends gathered petition signatures to present to the museum. After finally getting a meeting with the museum’s CEO we were heartened to hear that they have been working on developing more ethical fiscal relationships recently.  They have now appointed a dedicated staff member for ethical fundraising so hopefully, that will achieve results. I have also been involved with the nationwide campaign for banks to commit to fossil fuel divestment now and in the future.

How do you talk to your grandchildren about climate change and your activism with 350?

For little children like my grand-daughters (the oldest is not yet four), I try and keep the messages simple. I talk with them about how we need to make the world a better place and how we are responsible for things beyond our own whims. Caring for plants, animals and the environment is also an important topic.

Many people don’t associate being a grandparent with activism – what do your friends and peers think of your involvement in 350?

This is a misperception, perhaps reflecting how older citizens in general, and women in particular, are marginalised. My friends in the US are very familiar with my political nature and activism and expect it from me. I have one group of friends who were part of a cohort known as the “red diaper babies” – children born to parents who were communists/sympathisers in the 40s and 50s. Our common experiences growing up on the fringes helped create strong bonds. For me now, it’s more about coming to terms with my grief at what’s happened over my lifetime – the fact that climate change, driven by human greed, happened on my watch. There I was, doing my best, raising my child and pursuing my career. I was concerned about social justice issues but generally felt the world was ok apart from a few bad eggs.  But now I see the willingness of people to destroy the planet for the sake of a profit and I realise the world was never ok.

Recently I met a young person at the School Strike for Climate with a sign saying ”Euthanise Baby Boomers”.  He told me that he knew he was being inflammatory, but that he was angry with my generation who have made a mess of the world and will leave his generation to deal with the consequences. Were I his age I would feel the same.

What would you say to other grandparents who are thinking of getting active around climate change?

I would explore where their interests, skills and talents lie and get them in touch with people and activities that would suit them.

If you could get it done tomorrow what is the one thing you would want to see happen right now to address climate change?

For me, sustainable energy is probably one of the most important priorities – although it is hard to choose because there is no one thing that will solve the entire crisis.  New Zealand should perhaps prioritise agriculture and dairy emissions.

Inspired to join a community of passionate changemakers like Nancy?

Get involved with the 350 Aotearoa whānau here.

Interview by Julia Lindesay

Julia has been concerned about the environment ever since she visited the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour when she was 13.  Her career has been dedicated to empowering communities, organisations and individuals to take action to preserve the life-supporting capacity of the planet.  Julia is a mother to Morgan (11), and Penny (8) and will soon be returning from a 2 year sabbatical in Berlin, Germany to live in Auckland.