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Children speak truth to climate inaction



When I was a young child, I had nightmares about Ronald Reagan. I was terrified he was going to start a nuclear war and destroy us all.

Hobart school students strike for climate action in 2018 (Laura Campbell via Flickr)People often laugh when I recount this tale. To many it seems funny, almost cute. Others have described my fears as the product of a childish imagination or parental brainwashing. But the fact is that nuclear war was a genuine possibility. The world was not in safe hands.

Although I was lucky enough to have parents who took my agency seriously, the most overwhelming and depressing aspect of that experience was how little my fears counted. As a child, I had no power and very little voice, despite the fact that the adults in charge were risking our very survival.

Fast forward 35 years, and my own children are faced with a similar predicament in relation to climate change, but now there is a crucial difference: it's not a genuine possibility, it is a reality. We are already changing the climate and creating devastating changes to the planet. The only question that remains is how devastating will these changes become? How many ecosystems will collapse? How many rivers will run dry, species die out, diseases spread, famines ravage, wars rage?

Do you ever lie awake in bed and wonder how this could have happened? How did we let it happen? And why are we not marching in the streets in sheer fury at the vested interests who have sealed our fate? Greta Thunberg has. At the age of eight, she learned about climate change and struggled to understand why serious action was not number one on the global agenda.

'If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn't it made illegal? To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal.' By the age of 11, Thunberg says she was so overwhelmed and depressed by what was happening to our planet, and her sense of powerlessness to stop it, that she stopped eating and talking.

Then, last August, at the age of 15, she decided to take action. Greta refused to go to school and, instead, sat herself down in front of the Swedish Parliament to demand action on climate change. She was alone for just one day. This Friday, the School Strike 4 Climate Action will go global for the second time. Children in at least 1209 places across 92 countries are planning to walk out of school to protest the lack of real action on climate change.


"Describing the issue of climate change as ‘complex' is a deliberate ploy to continue to marginalise the voices of those with the most at stake. Children are particularly good at seeing through this kind of obfuscation."


Predictably, people have responded by arguing that these children have been brainwashed — that they are ‘being used as pawns'. Public relations executive Gemma Tognini has mocked children for ‘'demanding action' on an issue that the world's most educated voices can't reach agreement on.' But, as Thunberg has so eloquently pointed out, educated voices have reached agreement — ‘the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions.'

What Tognini probably meant to say was that the world's most powerful voices — politicians and the vested interests they answer to (aka, her PR clients) — can't reach agreement. In fact, they have little incentive to act and a lot invested in maintaining the status quo.

In contrast, children have a particularly strong incentive to demand change. Not only is it their future that we are destroying, but children are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. And these physiological and psychological vulnerabilities to climate change are exacerbated by their exclusion from decision-making processes.

Describing the issue of climate change as ‘complex' is not just a cynical way of avoiding the truth, it is deliberate ploy to continue to marginalise the voices of those with the most at stake in this debate. But children are particularly good at seeing through this kind of obfuscation — particularly those, like Greta, who are on the autism spectrum.

On Friday, my children will be walking out of school. My eldest says she wants 'to protest that some of the adults should actually do something about this planet that is dying, because we're all going to die with it'. Like Greta, she sees climate change action as a pretty black and white issue. 'I think it is important to save the planet and not just think about money and power.'

When we contacted their school to let them know that our children would be leaving early on Friday, they responded encouragingly and said they 'love civic engagement and for children's voices to be heard ... It's their planet after all.'

I'm glad that children across the world are being heard too, but honestly this should never have been their burden to bear.



Cristy ClarkDr Cristy Clark is a lecturer at the Southern Cross University School of Law and Justice. Her research focuses on the intersection of human rights, neoliberalism, activism and the environment, and particularly on the human right to water.

Main image: Hobart school students strike for climate action in 2018 (Laura Campbell via Flickr)

Topic tags: Cristy Clark, climate change, student activism



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These children are not being bribed by the fossil fuel industry as some our political parties are, so they can speak the truth. For more truthful information, including the following, go to the Climate Council website: “The Angry Summer of 2018/19 was characterised by prolonged, continental-wide heatwaves and record hot days, bushfires throughout Australia, and heavy rainfall and flooding in northern Queensland. • The record-breaking heat in Australia over the 2018/19 Summer is part of a long-term warming trend from the burning of fossil fuels and land clearing. • For many years scientists have warned that climate change is driving worsening extreme weather. The Angry Summer is another example of the consequences of climate change today. • Protecting Australians from worsening extreme weather requires phasing out fossil fuels and accelerating the transition to renewables and storage technologies. The window to effectively tackle climate change is rapidly closing but many of the solutions we need are already at hand. • Tackling climate change effectively requires credible national policy to drive down greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels across all sectors: electricity, transport and industry, as well as credible policies to address emissions from agriculture and land use. • Solutions include accelerating the uptake of renewable energy and storage, investing in energy efficiency, and switching away from direct fuel combustion to electrification powered by renewables in transport, industry and buildings. • The Federal Government has no credible climate policy in place with greenhouse gas pollution increasing over the past four years.”

Grant Allen | 13 March 2019  

Dr Cristy Clark: Beautifully written and expressing deeply heartfelt concern. Also, a great comment by Grant Allen. You are so right, Cristy, in drawing our attention to the nuclear-bomb BRINKMANSHIP that jeopardised humanity and its parallels with todays climate brinkmanship. Will the foolishness never stop? Please listen to Hugh Riminton superbly compering school children maturely discussing the climate strike: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-roundtable/the-climate-kids-are-coming-for-you/10882394 By the way, they are welcoming their mums & dads & uncles & aunties & grandmas & grandpas to join their peaceful protest this Friday. Let's hope the federal election gives us an ECO-SAVVY government to replace the eco-crass mob currently in Canberra. Global pollution and warming is a massively complex problem but we shouldn't doubt that Australia has the creative inventiveness and the resources to be a world leader in solving the problem.

Dr Marty Rice | 13 March 2019  

These children are being exploited to push the climate change agenda. What do they know of scientific theory? They should protest against the American warmongers. They are the ones destroying our planet.

Heng Onn | 13 March 2019  

Unlike this author, I welcomed Ronald Reagan. Reagan helped bring down the Soviet Union and the murderous tyranny of which Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote. And I disregarded “The Population Bomb” and Paul Ehrlich’s alarmist predictions: “Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” and “England will not exist in the year 2000”. It was all nonsense. But some people took Ehrlich seriously, and refused to have children. Similarly today, climate alarmists have convinced women to sacrifice having children in order to save the planet. Despite endless failures, Ehrlich still preaches doom and is still revered by environmentalists. Climate alarmist’s solutions would destroy our economy and lead to mass poverty, yet our Chief Scientist has said that if you shut Australia down completely it would have virtually no impact on the world’s climate. Meanwhile China, Japan, India etc. continue to build coal-fired power stations to enrich their peoples. Naturally our neo-Marxist AEU supports politicizing our dumbed-down children. In 2017, Australia was ranked 39th out of 41 high and middle income countries for educational outcomes by the UN Children’s Fund. Only Romania and Turkey ranked lower.

Ross Howard | 13 March 2019  

Dr. Clark, I hope you dinner table discussions include conversation about the need for energy across industry and how some industries - steel making for example - require very high loads of power. I hope you explain we can take the moral high ground and prevent a new mine but the net global effect is higher emissions because countries like India will substitute lower quality fuel sources / higher polluting coal. The system is closed and therefore more pollution affects us all... ask them in that context whether we should allow the mine to proceed or not proceed ? Explain that successive QLD labour governments set the legislation for the CSG projects with a 10% buffer for “system design shortfall” and how the system ultimately delivered a shortfall of 15% and therefore we had no gas left for the eastern states. Ask them whether our gas which provides cleaner air in other countries should be counted as our contribution as the provider or the importing country as the burner of the fuel. Explain to them that an Ex Bank of England head economist has just commissioned a report for BP forecasting the east coast of Australia will run out of gas in the next two to three years... explain that when someone is building a house, the bricks are coming from Spain because we cannot afford the electricity prices and gas prices to kiln the bricks at competitive prices. Finally, explain to your children that David Suzuki calculates back in the 80’s that the earth only had enough resources to accommodate 1B people at high standards of living but we are at 7.4B and on our way to 11.5B this century. Ask them whether they will have children or choose to take action at a personal level and not have them. Finally, ask them to explain the endothermic model that makes these predictions and why that model has not been able to accurately forward forecast rising temperatures. As the son of a meteorologist, we had all these discussions at our dinner table and they made for an informed discussion and debate which leaves an understanding of the complexity of the issue.

Patrick | 14 March 2019  

Thank you Dr Clark. Two of my grandchildren, one aged 11, the other 8, will be taking part under teacher supervision in a protest demonstration demanding more action against the pollution of the Earth's atmosphere. I'm encouraging them to protest for several reasons which I won't go into here. But I learned an an additional reason to support them when I heard an anti-demonstration advocate in the media say: Children should not be involved in adult issues.

Uncle Pat | 14 March 2019  

Thanks you Christy for a very important article. We ignore the signs of climate change and the ever increasing pollution that las already mad millions around the world very sick. All responsible adults who want a safe and clean environment so that coming generations have a viable future support the young school students. As a former school teacher in biology, health and development education, I salute Greta Thunberg and her young supporters around the world. They are showing far more responsibility than their detractors who have their heads buried in the now polluted sand. And yes, I remember Ronald Reagan's legacy. During his time in office, he escalated the Cold War, developed a the Strategic Defense Initiative - nicknamed by Ted Kennedy as the "Star Wars" program - which could have involved nuclear conflict from space and intervened militarily in many nations around the globe eg Afghanistan and Pakistan, Grenada, El Salvador and Nicaragua (remember the Iran Contra Affair), Lebanon, Libya and others. There was a real fear amongst children at the time that they would not survive to adulthood because of a nuclear showdown. This was discovered by child psychologists who were assisting children who were having psychological problems at the time. It should be noted that the Cold War did not end because of Reagan alone. Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika movement, which opposed Stalinism, also played a very important role in ending it. The important role for us all is to combat climate change and make the planet's environment safe for human life. We cannot ignore the obvious and concerning signs as some would have us do.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 14 March 2019  

I resonate with this writer. In my case, I lay awake at night wondering whether President Kennedy (our hero) was going to allow us all to be destroyed. This was at the time of the Bay of Pigs episode. Like Cristy, I looked to powerful adults to save us. Now I realize that the very people children trust to take care of them are the ones who may, in the end, cause our human catastrophe. I recently read a brief but powerful article on the duties of a democracy to represent the people in decisions which will affect them. Not the voters - the whole people. And the younger the people are, the more they have to lose, and the more weight must be given to their needs by the decision makers. Te writer was talking about the failure of Britain's democracy to take this into account in their decision- making re Brexit. A fortiori, everyone who has no vote, no power, in the world is dependent on those who have to remember them and care about their needs. Where do they go if their own 'parents' have forgotten them. Congratulations to those young people whose prophetic actions aim at recalling us to our God-given duty. And I am sorry.

Joan Seymour | 14 March 2019  

Very well said Andy! Dear Heng Onn, please listen to: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-roundtable/the-climate-kids-are-coming-for-you/10882394

Dr Marty Rice | 14 March 2019  

After reading the comments on this excellent article, I wonder whether it's time to stop arguing about ways to slow down, stop or reverse climate change? Maybe we have to accept climate change as a reality, and countering it as an increasingly likely impossibility. Should we not be predicting its effects in detail, and focussing our efforts on ensuring our society's ability to adjust to the new needs of human beings - or perhaps the old needs (for air, nourishment and peaceful community) in a new geophysical context. Do we still have enough evolutionary potential for that?

Joan Seymour | 14 March 2019  

Is this article inviting only those in with positive comments to respond? Would a school similarly allow a thousand students to join a peaceful pro life witness? Those children who come out by their thousands to give witness on the Day of the Unborn Child are also good citizens. Let us see the ABC give positive coverage to these children who realise the greatest threat to the world's ecology are the 45 million lives lost to abortion each year. As St John Paul II said, the natural disorder reflects the moral disorder. You will never have respect for nature if you do not have respect for human life. How many in the media support children witnessing to the social ecological loss of human life.

Alice Larkin | 14 March 2019  

Thanks Christy for this important article. I think we are learning to respect and learn from the perceptions and insights of children. Ask the children of Wilcannia. I shall be catching the train to Wollongong tomorrow to walk with the students and for my grandchildren. I coordinated the 2017 Micah Climate Petition to the House of Representatives for the electorate of Gilmore and experienced first hand the intransigence of the Government in responding to our concerns. I take heart from recent interventions such as by the judiciary, the Reserve Bank Deputy Governor and today by Ian Dunlop in the SMH, co-author of the 'What lies beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk' where human induced climate change is described as an existential risk to humanity demanding urgent precautionary management and emergency action. This will demand major societal change but our children deserve no less - there will be costs but the cost of ignoring climate change will be far greater.

Denis Quinn | 14 March 2019  

I was very happy to see some men support action on climate change. What is it with men?

Tom Kingston | 14 March 2019  

Dear Joan: both. There're opportunities for preventing or minimising environmental damage to be energetically pursued. Then there're opportunities for minimising the impacts of damage, including creative new solutions to old problems. A massive cultural turn is also mandatory, a turn away from the WATIC* mindset that has, over the last 300 years, arrogantly used the air, the soil, the waters, and even the space around our earth as sewers for its waste (* Western Aggressive Techno-Industrial Commerce). There are many vested interests that have become rich from the profligacy of WATIC and they won't flinch, even on the edge of global catastrophe. What the children are calling out is: "Mammon ENOUGH! The earth and our future come before greed!" What sensible person could argue against that?

Dr Marty Rice | 14 March 2019  

Thank you very much Doctor Cristy, I totally agree with you. As a young person in the 1950's and 60's, I worried about Communism and the threat of Nuclear War, much to the concern of my mother. I ended up in the "American adventure" that was Vietnam, as a conscript. I watched in horror as an ancient civilization was destroyed by :Yankeeism" , although the Vietnamese are remarkably resilient, having resisted China for two thousand years. I taught for almost three decades. I soon became aware of "Climate Change" or "Global Warming" as it was referred to in the 1980's I had it included in our Geography lessons. .As a climatologist , I can state that the evidence is irrefutable , climate change is real and it is happening now. Lastly as a teacher of Religious Education in the final years of my teaching career, I introduced the concept of "Stewardship of the Planet" to my students. I firmly believe that when we individually front our Creator , He will ask us one question; "How well did you care for my creation? How will we in the affluent West respond? What do you think that a squatter eking a hand to mouth existence, living on the rubbish tip in Tondo, in the slums of Manila (Philippines), will respond? These children , like I was in my childhood , very worried about the future of the planet. They are not in any way stooges of the "Greenies", they are thinking concerned citizens who want a future not a death sentence. Good on them!

Gavin O'Brien | 15 March 2019  

Both School children and Media can keep on talking and marching to ...save the planet. Who is going to save all boys and girls from their interior deficiencies? ... Deficiencies caused by the lack of education and TRAINING to learn by doing to respect themselves and each other? To acquire the skills necessary to become RESPONSIBLE PARENTS/CARERS?? Governments respond to increasing crimes by saying: -We will build more prisons- -We will put more police on the beat- -We need more Family Court Judges etc., thousands of Family in distress are waiting ..... the back log of cases to be heard is enormous ... children suffer ... One woman/mother is murdered every week in Australia, sometimes with her children, murdered by her present or ex sexual partner. Responsible Parenthood should be the subject of a well researched Ph.D. with many chapters related to the skills required. Family is the Key to Society's Survival: -The first school -The first spiritual Church -The first Government. Capable to become the guardians of the planet. But, as the ex Prime Minister told the Nation: -We must train little boys to respect women from a very early age.- What about teaching little girls to respect themselves and each other? What about also teaching them about the power of sex (at the appropriate age)? Both Church and State Governments' Institutions have failed dismally to train us all for the most important profession on earth: - The people who nurture the next generation. Thank You All!

Luciana | 15 March 2019  

Today was a very sad day in Australian history. Our children became political pawns. Yes, the climate is changing and we are making the politicians the scapegoats. What are they going to do about it? More solar subsidies, another free home insulation scheme? They can't do much. Whereas we can. Do you need to take a tonne of metal with you every time you go shopping, or to work? Try walking, or at the very least try public transport. Build your own biogas plant. Try putting out zero rubbish each week. Plant a shady tree in front of your lounge room so that you won't be so dependent on the air-con. These are the big ticket items. Remember we are the adults. We should be showing the example. We are not going to change things by whinging, blaming and getting our kids to do the dirty work. This week the strike was about climate change, what will next years strike be about? Whatever it is, it will need the full support of the Teacher's Union, the ABC and the Fairfax group, and have you seen their agenda lately? Student activism has been put to work politically before in history. In 1923 one notable group had a fledgling 1,200 odd members. Fast forward ten years later and their numbers had swelled to 2.3 million, when it became mandatory. Hitler's Youth ranged in age from 10 years and upwards. Don't let history repeat. Come on Australia, do something for yourselves. Our children are looking for some leadership.

Mick Barry | 15 March 2019  

Oh for some truth rather than simplistic slogans. Australia is already doing a great deal as a good international citizen, even at the expense of increased energy costs, less reliable electricity supply, and huge public expenditure. Any more than that will literally achieve nothing at yet greater cost, as we produce such a small percentage of world CO2. The really big issue in the world is how we an limit atmospheric CO2 while and at the same time lift billions of our poorest people out of poverty, for which huge amounts of new electricity generation is vital. Totally different pproches are re

Eugene | 18 March 2019  

I disagree Alice, its the 75 million extra people (130 million births less 55 million deaths) added to the population of the homo sapiens species each year that are the biggest threat to the ecology of the planet. We have reached plague proportions, and unfortunately the 'health' of the capitalist market economy that we have constructed for ourselves depends upon perpetuating that plague.

Ginger Meggs | 18 March 2019  

My thinking (opinion) resonates with all of Luciana , Mick Barry, Eugene, Alice Larkin, Patrick and Ross Howard .... all making good sense to me (no need for me to add to their thoughts). However, I really have a problem with CHILDREN in the age bracket of 0 - 12 protesting about anything! Babies and young children being dragged into (whatever protest ) is wrong. Parents who allow this , promote this, are irresponsible in my mind. We'll never know the percentage of protesters who are there but don't really know why .... and others who are just followers . I'm not against the right to protest ... just children (being used) and idiots who just protest because they like to.

Jack Bowen | 19 March 2019  

Unfortunately, emission reduction (alone at least) shows no sign of working in the time needed. It might however bankrupt Australia if these protestors have their way, and they really won`t like the lifestyle consequences of that (I was brought up in the UK immediately after the UK was bankrupted by defeating Hitler and fighting WW2) . What we need is really big investment in new technologies and especially atmospheric carbon capture which is looking very promising as a solution to our global climate threat.

Eugene | 19 March 2019