1 March 2022

How parenthood led Jo Clay MLA to stop running from climate change and start fighting it

| Lottie Twyford
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Jo Clay

ACT Greens MLA Jo Clay stopped waiting for others to act against climate change. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Jo Clay has always known about climate change. But when she was younger it was called something else.

And while it was always in the back of her mind, the moment that it became real was when she gave birth to her daughter.

“Having a baby means that vague concept of ‘future generations’ is suddenly in your arms looking up at you,” she explained.

“[I thought] in 80 years’ time I don’t know what her world will look like. I don’t even know if she will be able to have a baby on this planet. It’s a real wake-up call.”

It was – as she puts it – a moment of action that put an end to her running away from the problem.

“All of us adults have just drifted along waiting for someone else to fix the problem,” she said. “I gave money to things and I wrote letters and I did little bits and pieces but I was still always waiting for other grown-ups to act.”

From there, her climate action only intensified.

climate change protests

After having a daughter Jo Clay joined the climate strike movement. Photo: File.

She joined the climate strike movement, started working for ACT NOWaste and Pedal Power and started her own recycling company, making her professional life fall into line with her environmentalism.

Ms Clay has also proven herself unafraid to road-test her ideas. She embarked on a ‘carbon diet‘ in 2017/18 to see if she could cut 75 per cent from her carbon footprint.

She swapped jet-setting for the hyper-local, turned down the heater, rode her bike more and changed her plate – and she succeeded, slashing her carbon footprint by 77 per cent in two years.

Now, she’s working on legislation that will help the ACT Government become a more ethical consumer.

But like a number of her colleagues, Ms Clay never wanted to be a politician and never saw herself entering politics.

“What I’ve done is taken on [climate advocacy] roles that I thought were valuable at the time and this one came up like that,” she explained. “The Greens were looking for a candidate in Belconnen and it looked like a really good way to speak up for the climate.”

READ ALSO From the Murray River to political currents: James Milligan’s journey to becoming an MLA

Ms Clay knew just how privileged she was to have had the chance to step up. Running for office and mounting a political campaign takes a lot of time and effort – and a lot of working for free, which she acknowledged not everyone was able to do.

Winning wasn’t what she expected but it was “a lovely surprise”.

Ms Clay now represents the electorate of Ginninderra – an area she has been consistently drawn back to. She was born in Weetangera and now lives a couple of suburbs over in Macquarie.

During that time, Ms Clay has seen the area change, particularly with housing affordability and watching some of her constituents be forced out of the living situations they could once afford and into “less desirable ones”.

“Turns out the issues I grapple with are the same ones others do – climate change being a big one,” she said.

READ ALSO: Greens less than impressed with government’s ‘missed co-housing opportunity’

Ms Clay’s passion for the environment and climate action has been clear in everything she has done in the Legislative Assembly.

From motions on the right to a healthy environment to backyard netting requirements, Ms Clay has put her money where her mouth is, as the saying goes.

She has been humble about her work, and said she knew there were people outside of politics doing more than her. But she was also adamant that change has to happen across all levels, governments included.

“When governments are making decisions, you get completely different outcomes if there is someone in the room who ‘gets’ climate change,” she said.

Ms Clay, who recently exchanged some fiery words with Chief Minister Andrew Barr over what exactly constitutes an affordable price for an e-bike, said she’s unafraid to hold the larger coalition partner – Labor – to account when necessary. But she’s not likely to be seen bickering in public very often.

“All relationships take work and every now and again there will be a difference of opinions,” she said.

“Nobody likes seeing politicians squabble. We need to be getting on with doing our jobs.”

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Maybe the bedtime reading should be Dr Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’, also read my baby daughter (over twenty years ago) who continually was awake in the wee small hours as I carried her through the house, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (the trilogy), Athenian Democracy ( I picked it out late at night, go figure) and whatever came to hand.

Jo Clay in the Assembly on 10 February 22: Summer thunderstorms are ‘not some random, natural event’. Intentional punishments from her Green God, then? But at least she’s a good parent, reading her daughter bedtime stores about how people who refuse to turn off their machines are all killed. ‘It is quite chilling. I had to read her a second book afterwards because it was a little upsetting for her’. What a good mum!

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