Natalie Howell – Mother to Evan

Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.

My husband Alasdair and I, live in Ngaio, Wellington along with our son Evan. I am employed by WorkSafe in and Alasdair by the Ministry of Education. I am expecting a baby girl soon so I will take 6 months off to care for her, and when I return to work, Alasdair will do the same. We are lucky to have supportive grandparents on hand to help out, but life is still busy.

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?

Ngaio itself has not suffered any obvious impacts as it is an elevated community and is not vulnerable to flooding. However, I have become very aware of how New Zealand has suffered from many extreme weather events recently and the ever increasing threat of sea level rise and coastal erosion. Global impacts are becoming more and more obvious to me and it makes me worry a lot about the future.  I wonder what kind of life my children will lead when they grow up.

What drew you to volunteer with 350 Aotearoa?

It got to the point where I became a bit depressed about climate change and I decided I could do one of three things:

  1. Turn off the news and ignore the problem
  2. Continue to be depressed
  3. Do something about it

I decided that the third option was the only action a responsible citizen could take. At this time Bill McKibben was in New Zealand and my attention was captured by 350.  I was drawn to the philosophy of the group – taking action for systemic change – and their focus on climate change. Many groups are doing great work on water quality and other important environmental issues, but climate change is our greatest existential threat and the one where I feel we all need to focus our energies. I went along to a 350 meeting and was impressed by the strategic direction and plans that had recently been made as well as the friendly people I met there.

What 350 actions have you been involved with and how have you involved your children?

When I joined 350 Wellington the main campaign was to call on council to ban the petroleum oil conference from council venues.  I liked how strategic and focussed this campaign was and spent a lot of time getting people to sign a petition.

I also participated in the delivery of the IPCC report and a letter from 350 to various fossil fuel corporates like Todd Energy and PEPANZ in Wellington calling on them to take action on climate change.  The most fun action I have been involved with was call jamming to put pressure on banks to divest from fossil fuel. Also – although it was not an action I really enjoyed the 350 hui in Auckland.

My son is only three, so he is been along to a few protests for climate action but little else yet.   Evan knows Mum goes to a meeting every Monday and that she doesn’t like to use the car because it pollutes the air but that is probably enough for him right now.

Family life is busy – how do you make time to get involved with activism?

I keep it manageable and have good support from Alasdair.  Apart from weekly 350 meetings, I do other activities as needed, eg spending time at the local vege market to get signatures for petitions, but I don’t take on more than I can manage comfortably.

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

It’s good to worry about individual lifestyle changes and consumer behaviour but it’s a better use of your efforts to focus on systemic change.  Sometimes I talk to people who are very despondent about climate change and the future – parents and non-parents alike. My response to this attitude is that we have to try to make a difference, even if it is really hard. Our efforts can make a difference.

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

Global political will – governments worldwide need to recognise that this is actually a problem we need to do something about right now.  The costs of acting now are far lower than the costs of failing to act. Governments need to just get on with addressing the climate catastrophe and stop being distracted by issues like Brexit and immigration on the Southern US border, which are made up catastrophes.

Inspired to join a community of passionate changemakers like Natalie?

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.