Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people and organisations changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In sustainability, one such person is Linh Do, the director of University of Melbourne's Wattle Fellowship (which aims to cultivate young leadership in the realm of global sustainability) as well running training programs for AktivAsia (which helps educate and support climate campaigns in the Asia Pacific).
There are some pretty scary predictions for the future of the world, especially when it comes to climate change. But Linh Do reckons that terrifying people with the cold hard facts of the climate crisis isn’t always the best way to affect change. “[It] really starts with understanding who it is that you're talking to, and what are their interests?” she says. “What are their values? Why might this issue be important for them? And I think once I've started to understand that, it's helped me have better, more productive and meaningful conversations with people.”
Do has spent the last ten years working on climate change, sustainability and social justice issues, including recently working for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project in the US. Having had what she describes as “a super mainstream upbringing”, her interest in fighting for climate action started from a place of justice and equity, rather than strictly the environment. “I didn't go to high school in a town where eco-living and environmental sustainability were naturally embedded. The things that people were thinking about were, ‘how do I put food on the dinner table?’, ‘how do I provide for my family?’,” Do says. “For me, there was just something about learning about climate change in school, and making this connection that it's going to be something that really impacts us economically, and it's going to be something that actually means a lot of the people around me are going to struggle.”
The events of 2020, however, put paid Do’s plans of working overseas and placed her back in Melbourne, where she now leads University of Melbourne’s Wattle Fellowship, helping grow future leaders of the climate movement. “I think sometimes we get told that if you want to make a difference, first get a university degree, then have a career and then make enough money. And then you can volunteer,” she says. The program flips that idea on its head, giving students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – the confidence and toolset they need to start taking action while at university. Do says, “The idea is there's no better time than now to start making a difference on these issues.”
While it’s only the first year that the fellowship has run, Do says already the calibre of students applying to be a part of it “gives me hope for the future”. “It makes me feel really fortunate to get to work on a program with a bunch of people that are ready to delve straight into the deep end and figure it out along the way. It’s that idea of let’s fly the plane and build it at the same time.” Young people are increasingly aware of the battle they’re facing regarding climate change, too, says Do. “It's going to be them living through all of the consequences as they go out into the work world and as they potentially try to start families,” she says. “These young people are just like, ‘yeah, we get it, here's the things we need to do, I just need to figure out how to make this into a solution'.”
So is the future as scary as predicted? Do laughs at this question – it’s something she’s rarely asked because, as someone working in climate change, people expect the answer to be bleak. But having lived through the Melbourne lockdowns of 2020 (keeping in mind pandemics are often symptomatic of climate change), Do offers a holistic, localised perspective. “There's something really humbling almost about the lockdown in terms of how it really reinforced the niceness of localisation,” she says. “I got to know my neighbors for the first time, because I wasn't leaving early in the morning, working in the city, probably having dinner out and then coming back really late at night and just using my house as a place to sleep in. I'm interested to see once we go back to whatever the new normal looks like, how much of that we can integrate.”