A strong proponent of the power of education, Hilary’s early work examines school curriculum and proposes effective strategies to better assist students in grappling with the growing climate threat.
She applauds the degree of research and thought behind youth climate movements and is pleased that previous work done by her colleagues and peers can influence the next generation. “Most of the young women who are involved in the School Strike 4 Climate are drawing strongly on ecofeminism. They have rediscovered it and recreated it for their own purposes right now.”
As her career progressed, Hilary began to recognise the importance of strategies that promoted action over mere awareness. “Gradually, the literature and research started to address this change. We initially focused on attitudes, knowledge and behaviour, and then values education was very big.”
“We call it the materialist turn, this recognition that we need to take action. I always argue now that it doesn't matter what action you take. It could be a tiny little bit of action, or you can go for a global level. The important thing is action. The field moved to what's called action competence. That’s now a key idea in environmental education, this idea that you give people the capability and the confidence to act in a competent way and not feel bullied or oppressed, so they can achieve change.”
In her work to empower individuals to act, Hilary notes that climate action cannot be solely the responsibility of our young people. “I don't think it's fair for a few generations of people who've lived large and haven't done anything about that waste to turn around to much younger people and say, ‘oh, too bad, so sad, that is now your problem’. That is completely inequitable.”
As a result, her work has increasingly turned towards adult learning and investigating the ways in which adults share climate information and plan for action. In particular, she references the Knitting Nannas Against Gas and Greed, a group from Lismore, NSW who congregate and participate in informal peer-to-peer learning through a social media crafting group. Their brand of climate action is based primarily around ‘knit-ins’, craft installations and street theatre, and Hilary’s work considers how this highly effective way of learning can be adapted and applied to others.
Although a controversial medium in climate change discussion, Hilary concedes that social media also has been influential in spreading information and connecting like-minded individuals, particularly women. The key is strong and supportive networks, she reflects. “There are Australian Parents for Climate Action, Grandparents for Climate Action Now, School Strike 4 Climate and all kinds of people who form networks. The networks coalesce this information and knowledge is shared through them.”