When will they listen? A school striker's lament



On 20 September 2019, an estimated 300,000 students attended the many 'School Strike 4 Climate' protests across Australia. According to the ABC, the protestors called for the federal government to commit to powering Australia entirely by renewable energy sources by 2030, stop providing federal funding for coal and oil projects, and ensure 'a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers and communities'.

Main image: Protestors holding placards look on on 20 September 2019 at the climate strike in Melbourne. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)Among the bustle of hundreds of thousands of teenagers with clever signs, mild sunburns, and a palpable disdain for major party politics, there was a burning sense that we could change the world. The noise we made felt so deafening that no one could ignore it. 

And then we were promptly ignored.

In response to the demands made by the protestors, Prime Minister Scott Morrison simply said in a session of parliament on 26 November, 'What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.'

On the 26th of August 2019, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian appeared on QandA on a special episode where the panel and audience were made up of NSW high school students. Berejiklian was asked how she felt about students striking to demand action on climate change. The premier stated that she 'encourage[s] protest, but outside of school hours. I think you should protest on school grounds ... I think there are so many creative ways to get your point across.' 

On 20 December 2019, the Australian bushfires began in rural New South Wales. At present, this fire has killed 27 people, including firefighters and volunteers, destroyed over 2000 homes, and has burned 11.2 million hectares of bushland. In response to the fires, the Australian chapter of 'Extinction Rebellion' organised a number of protests all around the country, challenging the government's lack of action on climate change. A review of 57 scientific papers published since 2013, done by Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre found that climate change has led to an increase in the frequency and severity of periods with a high fire risk, due to a combination of high temperatures, low humidity, strong winds, and little rain.

Richard Betts, one of the co-writers of the review, stated that 'Australia is particularly vulnerable to fires since its land area has warmed by more than the rise in global temperature of about one degree Celsius since pre-industrial times.' But despite the significant amount of scientific evidence that climate change has created the conditions which have allowed these fires to start, the Australian government is determined to avoid taking any real action to stop climate change. 


"It was not time to talk about climate change before the bushfires, it was not time to talk about climate change during the bushfires, and it will not to be time to talk about climate change after the bushfires. So when will it be time to talk about the climate crisis?"


Morrison, Berejiklian and their governments have called for discussions on climate change to be put on hold in the wake of the bushfires. Berejiklian has refused to link climate change to the bushfires. In a 2019 interview with the Advertiser she said that 'these fires are the cause of extreme weather conditions, but also the deep, dry conditions, the drought conditions ... it is a combination of factors that we need to look at.' Berejiklian has also labelled questions regarding climate change during the fires as 'disappointing'

It was not time to talk about climate change before the bushfires, it was not time to talk about climate change during the bushfires, and it will not to be time to talk about climate change after the bushfires. So when will it be time to talk about the climate crisis? When it's economically profitable, of course!

Both Morrison and Berejiklian seem primarily concerned with the creation and preservation of jobs in the Australian mining economy, because historically the mining industry has been excellent for the Australian economy. But if saving the planet was going to make the country incredibly rich, then we might have a different story on our hands. 

Until such time as climate change stops people from being able to act as a consumer or as a worker, any action taken to prevent it will be considered bad for the economy. Ultimately, we must discuss climate change as soon as possible, because as it stands, it is the poor who do not have the infrastructure to deal with the effects of climate change who will be most devastatingly affected.

I fear that Australian farmers and rural communities, as well as international communities in poor countries, will have their lives ruined before we as a nation begin to have these important conversations about climate change. 

So when will it is time to talk about climate change? I fear it will be once it is too late.



Gracie RyanGracie Ryan is a young writer who can often be found hunched over her laptop fussing over comma placement and line spacing. She is deeply passionate about the environment and upholding human rights.

Main image: Protestors holding placards look on on 20 September 2019 at the climate strike in Melbourne. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gracie Ryan, climate change, bushfires, Schools Strike 4 Climate



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Existing comments

I suggest readers read Professor Ros Garnaut['s new book "Superpower: Australia's Low Carbon Opportunity". The fog of Australian politics on climate change has obscured a fateful reality: Australia has the potential to be an economic superpower of the future post-carbon world. Garnaut points out that we have unparalleled renewable energy resources. We also have the necessary scientific skills. Australia could be the natural home for an increasing proportion of global industry. But I can't see our current Australian Government adopting a quick transition to renewable energy. I think they's prefer to continue accepting big donations from the fossil fuel industry and let Australia continue to burn.
Grant Allen | 28 January 2020

There's lots of things I like about this article. But two in particular: the sign saying "You Know It's Real When The Introverts Arrive" and Gracie Ryan's passionate interests which include fussing over punctuation and human rights. The young Australians pictured in this article are our treasure. Let's do something about nurturing and encouraging their passions and then this country will at last 'grow up'.
Pam | 28 January 2020

It was time to talk about climate action two decades ago. It was time to act for climate action more than a decade ago, and some years ago a young student in the US, Kelsey Juliana, and about 20 others decided to take their government to court for inaction. See https://www.cbsnews.com/news/juliana-versus-united-states-climate-change-lawsuit-60-minutes-2019-06-23/ The most recent ruling has gone against them but they are not giving up and it is worth reading the dissenting judgement: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2020/01/read-fiery-dissent-childrens-climate-case/605296/ What is now needed is for Australian youth to initiate a similar action against our government: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/australia
Joseph Fernandez | 28 January 2020

Here's one Grannie who hears you and the other young people Gracie! We're all in this together. Believe it or not, we each (the elders and the youngers) have much to learn from each other as we learn to connect to country which is speaking to us. We must all learn how to listen and respond for the good of all - human and other than human. I would love to see places where the young and the older get together to listen and learn from each other. One place I suggest is doing Landcare or Bushcare together. It would help to nurture a sense of wonder about God's creation and overcome what Richard Louv wrote about in "Last Child in the Woods" - "Nature Deficit Disorder". http://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/
Anne Lanyon | 29 January 2020

Gracie, As an "oldie" and with half a century of observation of weather and climate under my belt, I sense the frustration of the younger generations, who will inherit this mess for which my generation is largely responsible . I wish I had the answer to your question, but I don't. All we can do is to keep knocking on the door, maybe , just maybe, they will act before it is too late! DO NOT GIVE UP! Gavin A. O'Brien. FRMetS
Gavin O'Brien | 29 January 2020

They won't listen. They have long since lost the idealism and sense of social responsibility that typifies the young and hopeful unpolluted by the lure of money and social position in society.
john frawley | 29 January 2020

Hi Gracie Thank You. Please encourage our young people to continue to raise our awareness of our critical climate situation. In life as you know there are set backs. That's a real ity. Don't give up. Think of other ways to encourage young people around Australia to help make our climate crisis a front page item. Another school year has begun. How do young catholics call on the Catholic Education Offices in their local states to support them .
michael coughlin | 29 January 2020

Gracie, maybe the time is over for general consciousness-raising about the issue of climate change. Maybe you can all feel satisfied that you put everything you had into it, and that you succeeded. (Whether or not we agreed, we all heard you, and really, that’s the best you aim for via this kind of action). Now - maybe - it’s time to start working on specific issues and begin generating a range of possible responses to them. This is going on already among individuals and small groups, but their expertise is in their own field, whether it’s town planning, or agriculture, or energy generation or the application of political pressure or praying a lot. Let’s accept that politicians don’t listen just because our cause is good. They don’t, they won’t. Let’s leave them out of it for a while. Grassroots action means a lot more than demanding that Daddy and Mummy do something. First of all, it means each individual -of whatever age -finding or founding the community which will act - just as you young people found the community where your consciousness-raising was done so successfully. I’m old, you’re young, but it’s not over for any of us!
Joan Seymour | 30 January 2020

Hi Gracie, I'm an oldie (72) who agrees with you. In order to understand the current world situation, I suggest you read Ken Wilber's, "A Brief History of Everything". It's a bit of a tome that I have found really useful in coming to some understanding of the world as it is. For example, most human adults in the world are stuck at the tribal/traditional stage of development, and we aren't going to get very far until all humans start moving into the higher stages of development. Which certainly seems to be not happening at the moment as the population goes into fear and consequent regression! I guess that all we can do is be persisitent, and keep reminding the politicians of their governance responsibilities. And maybe we should also be exploring the possibility of sortition for all the upper houses in Australia!!
Richard Bull | 30 January 2020

One of the great things about mortality Gracie is that all we older fogies will die off, if not soon enough, at least eventually. We've not done enough, the generation that's now in power has its face set against doing anything. We can say sorry, but that would be meaningless. So it's up to you and your generation. Carpe diem !
Ginger Meggs | 31 January 2020

The School Strike 4 Climate protests and protestors you mention are all immensely sane and balanced. There are others on the extreme fringe and they are almost always the ones mentioned in the press. These extremists almost always seem to be adults. They are the ones who endanger lives. The School Protesters did not do this, they were in the very best tradition of active, positive nonviolent protestors like Gandhi. Like Gandhi, they had a vision of an intrinsically better society. It was important they mentioned a just transition for workers in these industries: this is vital if you are wanting to bring about change in rural Queensland. I was watching the 7.30 Report last night and there were economists saying exactly what Grant Allen mentions Ross Garnaut saying, that we need to get with alternate sources of energy now or we will miss the boat. Young people are our future, we need to heed them now.
Edward Fido | 13 February 2020


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