Sophie Marple: From Anxiety To Action
We spoke to Sophie Marple, co-Founder of Mothers CAN, about how to stay hopeful in the face of eco-anxiety. Read on for her thoughts, or watch the video above for the full conversation.
‘I had done a really good job for many, many years of ignoring the existential crisis which is coming down on us very quickly. This idea is pushed in the media, that you're not allowed to do anything about climate change if you fly or if you eat meat, because you're just branded as a hypocrite.
‘Then around 2017, my husband and I kind of got more aware that this isn't going away. We watched a film called “Cowspiracy”, and became vegetarian overnight. We were making changes in our lifestyles, we were flying less… but then 2018 I think we both had the big realisation that we were not recycling our way out of this.
‘That year, we saw this kind of collision of a number of things happening at the same time: you were seeing XR burst into our awareness with their bridge action, which was in November 2018. There was also the IPCC report that came out… and that was the first one, really that I've been very aware of where we were talking about the decade that we had to make a difference.
‘Whereas climate change had always felt like something that you didn't want to talk about – you didn't want to be seen as an environmentalist or a "tree hugger'' – suddenly I was going to bookshops and seeing books like The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells there, right in the middle of my local bookshop, and thinking: “There really is something in this… and not enough is being done.”
‘So it was that point where I realised that actually, as I say, personal actions weren't going to do anything. There were much bigger systemic problems and that when everything needs to change, that needs everyone, and that included me.
‘I think having children does make a big difference. By being a mother, you are really seeing into the long term. I'm in my 50s now… I'm thinking I might live 'til I'm 85? 90? So that's 40 years…But you're looking post 40 years, it is not looking good. It isn't looking good in ten years… but 40 years, we have no idea what's going to be happening.
‘When you spend so much time, effort, energy, on raising your children... That's what can make me go into despair, actually.
‘My journey to turn that despair into action started with going to the XR rebellions. I felt like I needed people around me. If you try and cast your mind back to that time, before the big rebellions happened, that was a very different time than we live in now. People didn't talk about climate change very much and I think when those rebellions happened, there was a huge sense of relief that someone was actually doing something: somebody cared and there was actually something that was bigger than me happening.
‘What I realised from that was by going to that rebellion and being around people who felt the same way, is that's really important.
‘We have a number of group leaders (at Mothers CAN) and every month we all meet together and sometimes those are my best moments of the month because I feel that energy and I feel their relief of just coming together, and I feel that anxiety lift. To be able to share what you’re feeling is just priceless, actually.
‘The most radical organising tool that anybody has is the conversation. It's to go and talk to someone about this. To learn how to talk about this stuff. As part of the Anxiety to Action course (at Mothers CAN), we have an amazing speaker called Nikki Hawkins, from an organisation called Heard. She talks about how you talk about the climate, so people will listen.
‘This is not about talking about 1.5 degrees, it is not talking about the science, it is talking about where people genuinely feel concerned. And that is the future, that is their children. If you're a mum, you can talk to anybody about this. It doesn’t need to be judgmental: we all have the same concern and that is the future of our children.
‘Talking to some people about the future of your children, that’s a conversation. I do this for my children and that's why I get up every day and spend six or 7 hours working on these various things that I do, because I'm doing it for my children.
‘Because when my children ask me, "what did you do?'' I'm going to say: "Everything I could, everything that was in my power to do.''
‘Mothers CAN is based on four values: belonging, learning, sharing and action. The reason that it's about belonging is really that you will do more if you feel like you're in a comfortable space with other people that you're prepared to go to do this with: you will stay there for longer, and you will do more.
‘Motherhood goes across all boundaries. If you are a natural leader, you might have given up work to be a parent, but it doesn't mean you don't want to do something. You may be thinking: “I'm worried about this. I’m worried about climate change,” and you already have a network because your daughter or son is at nursery, or at school or in clubs, and you’re seeing these other parents regularly. So that network already exists.
‘So Mothers CAN invites people to reach out via that network and recruit their own group, and then we take you through a process which is two meetings which we as Mothers CAN facilitate.
‘We are building those bonds to feel belonging so that you can feel like yourself in that group and feel like if you're concerned, then this is the group that you can bring it to.
‘What we're encouraging is instead of people thinking about their personal actions in their household, they start thinking about the system that they live in and how they can change that system because nothing will change unless we change that system.
‘Something we hear quite regularly is mums saying: "Oh, I always feel like I'm the climate mum of doom. People don't want to talk to me because they have an SUV or they've just flown to Florida or whatever.''
‘This is not about your next-door neighbour’s actions. This is about you doing something much bigger, that could have much more effect. And if it doesn't, even if you don't get to that final action and change something huge, what you are showing to the institutions in your community, your schools and your council etc, that is this is important.
‘In September last year we launched From Anxiety to Action, and we had 16 mothers on the first one. That was nine current group leaders and seven people who were new to Mothers CAN. We took them through a five-week course. It was 2 hours a week and with lots of different speakers, the feedback was incredible.
‘It’s all about building confidence. These mums are amazing. They have so much experience, so much to share, so much to offer. A lot of them, they’ve just been going through a lot of stuff, they've just had children and they're just going back into work, so they're feeling a bit underconfident; but they all have something they can offer the group.
‘Generally anything that mums want in their community is something good for the climate: More green spaces, more active travel, better food in schools… they're all good for the climate. So we're really focusing on the co-benefits, but of course the other co-benefit is that we're going to have a happier, more brighter, more sustainable future if we make these changes.
‘We already have all the solutions, they're all there!
'When you feel burnt out, I think the most important thing is to feel hope and to feel you can talk about how you're feeling. It isn’t easy though! The other thing is it’s really important to remember why I'm doing it.
'I have a local group of mums and we chat about how we're feeling quite often about it and that's what I mean about the belonging and the sort of the safety in that of being able to say: “this is this is how I'm feeling.”
'Mums step up for you, they really do. They want to know how you're feeling and check that you're okay. It’s important to build these people around you and also, to not beat yourself up, none of us is perfect, and it is not anyone's personal responsibility to solve climate change. Because that's how we all go into our personal sort of domains of doing more personally and driving ourselves insane. It is “out there” that needs to change. It's the institutions, it's the corporates, it's the businesses.
'That is where we need to put pressure constantly, and the more I can do that, the better, and the more I feel I can cope.'
Mothers CAN came into being at the beginning of 2020, set up by a small group of mothers who had recently been struck by the extent and urgency of the climate crisis and the knowledge that we could play a part in solving climate change. Our work began as a series of educational events covering different aspects of the climate crisis, but driven by a desire to involve more mothers in climate action, it quickly evolved into something more ambitious and far-reaching.