“It’s funny, but the thing that scared me the most when I started a year ago – talking to strangers – is now the thing I like the most,” says Bega resident Vivian Harris, who has recently celebrated a full calendar year of weekly climate strikes at Bega Farmer’s Market on Fridays.
Her boldly painted sign, Happy To Talk About Climate Change has become part of the scenery at Bega’s Littleton Gardens and she has spoken with everyone from farmers to steadfast environmentalists, always with the goal of finding people’s strengths and empowering them to take any action they can to reduce their emissions.
Vivian modelled her action on teenage activist Greta Thunberg, although she says that being an introvert made putting herself on display a huge challenge.
“I was terrified but I thought if a sixteen-year-old can do this, so I can I.”
Sitting through raging wind and below-freezing temperatures during the winter months hasn’t deterred Vivian.
“Once we had wind so bad, it ripped the banner in half,” she laughs “and one week was so cold I had to call my daughter and ask her to please bring gloves, jacket and beanie!”
Like Greta, Vivian sees moving from individual action to collective action as the next step and has been involved with the Bega Valley’s Climate Action Mobilization since its inception.Having a local group to connect people to means a lot to Vivian.
“Over time, the people who have approached me have become more mainstream,” Vivian comments “sometimes, people are full of doom and gloom or just want somewhere to share their climate grief and it’s great I can connect them with our local group. A lot of people ask me: are we too late?”
Vivian doesn’t think so, although she believes that the time for extreme action is now.
She points out that over 70% of Australians are in favour of taking action to address climate change but that there are still social stigmas around being a climate change activist.
She says she often hears the quiet confession I thought I was the only one who cared.
The demographic of people who approach her has changed most dramatically after the season’s bushfires.
“I think people have shifted from thinking that climate change is one problem among many to realising post-fires that it’s here, now. Let’s face it, those fires were just a kick in the guts.”
Although Vivian had read the predictions in the International Panel on Climate Change reports [IPCC] and expected that unprecedented fires would occur as a result of a hotter, drier climate, she says she was still surprised about some aspects of the lived experience.
“Intellectually, I knew we’d have fires that burnt for months – what I didn’t understand was the psychological effect of living in the smoke for that long and the effect of being on high alert for months.”
Vivian says she has no plans to stop her Friday strike.
“All our environmental and social justice concerns, none of this matters if we don’t take action on climate change first. There’s not anything more important than addressing climate change now.”