Concerns about climate change are growing, and with them the protests against it. While in Britain the Climate Rebellion group has launched a campaign of peaceful civil disobedience, activism in Australia is being spearheaded by an unexpected yet entirely appropriate section of society: schoolchildren.
Pupils down under have been going on strike from school in a bid to force Australia’s federal government to curb a range of environmentally destructive practices, including burning fossil fuels, mining, meat eating and livestock farming. Thousands downed pens and paper and walked out of the classroom last month in cities and towns including Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, Townsville, Newcastle and Ballarat, to “tell our politicians to take our futures seriously and treat climate change for what it is – a crisis”.
The campaign, School Strike 4 Climate Action, has received huge support among a generation that will bear the brunt of worsening weather and climate-related catastrophes, including drought, floods, wildfires and rising sea levels – issues triggered by environmental damage caused by their forebears.
As one young Sydney protester, Lucie Atkin-Bolton, 11, of Forest Lodge school, commented: “I wish I didn’t have to be here today. I’m the school captain at my primary school. We’ve been taught what it means to be a leader. You have to think about other people. When kids make a mess, adults tell us to clean it up and that’s fair. But when our leaders make a mess, they’re leaving it to us to clean up.”
This generational unfairness has often been highlighted by MFM founder Paul McCartney, who in a video message for schools on YouTube channel says: “Maybe we have a responsibility to do actually do something, for our children, for our fellow beings on this planet, and for the future – for the generations that are now being born that will inherit what we leave them.”
And has he told the EU parliament in a speech in 2009: “We often assume that because kids are young, they’re stupid. They’re not – we know they’re not. They understand this is their planet. They’re going to inherit this planet. And if we leave it in a mess, they’re going to have to clean it up … We’ve got to be responsible for our children’s future. We owe them that much.”
As well as responding to the threat posed by climate change, the striking pupils intended to deliver a rebuke to Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, who has encouraged them to be “less activist”, and to resources minister Matt Canavan, who said: “The best thing [young children will] learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue”. Manjot Kaur, 17, from Ravenswood school, said: “If Scott Morrison wants children to stop acting like a parliament, then maybe the parliament should stop acting like children.”
Schools Strike 4 Climate Action was inspired by a pupil from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, 15, who refused to go to school for almost a month in the run-up to the country’s general election in September, deeming it her moral responsibility to force politicians to address the climate issue. As she succinctly put it: “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.”
Her protest gained support from the Green party and inspired several members of the public, including her teacher Benjamin Wagner, 26, to join her on strike, risking his job in the process. “Greta is a troublemaker, she is not listening to adults,” Wagner said. “But we are heading full speed for a catastrophe, and in this situation the only reasonable thing is to be unreasonable.”