It seems that whenever there is news about climate change, it is always nothing short of abysmal and I am no longer surprised, merely disappointed. I have the privilege of living in a country where climate change is not an ‘immediate’ threat to my life. It is there, I’m not denying that but in Australia, we have successfully managed to convince ourselves that in the midst of impending doom we will — by some miracle — escape unscathed.
This ‘she’ll be right’ mentality is something that is quintessentially Australian; we are proud of our easy-going and relaxed attitude towards life. However, during these critical times, it is evident that the ‘she’ll be right’ mentality is rooted in passivity and apathy, and it ultimately will do us more harm than good.
When it comes to climate change, most of us want things to change that much is clear. A recent YouGov survey highlighted that most voters across all 151 national seats feel the government should be doing more to tackle climate change. We want to see real action and real progress. But it seems that this care only exists until it is an inconvenience. Then it quickly becomes someone else’s responsibility and the rest of us resign ourselves to this ‘business as usual’ mindset where we all just go on with our day-to-day life even though the world is quite literally burning outside. We’ve seen it— the bushfires, the heatwaves, the droughts — we know what’s happening and we know that it will get worse, yet it’s easier to remain ignorant than it is to act.
I was 15 years old when I first decided that I wanted to do something tangible — talking about climate change with my friends at school was not enough, nor was liking YouTube videos about the shrinking ice caps. But it’s not like I could ask climate change to stop. This was around the time I had heard about Greta Thunberg. I thought she was so cool for resolutely sticking up for her future in a way that only she could; by making noise. By striking from school.
I was not the only one who was inspired, while students in Sweden began to organise, so did students everywhere else. At the time I used to think that people would only listen to you and take you seriously if you were an adult or in a position of power. The student-led climate justice movement proved me wrong and gave me an opportunity that I always wanted; an opportunity to speak up for myself. Even if I was just a child, I too was a valued member of society, and my words also deserved the same respect as any other person. I believed that if my future was at stake then I should get to have a say in it.
The strikes were controversial. Young people were taking matters into their own hands and indiscriminately ‘inconveniencing’ the world around them. People were divided, and while we had lots of supporters, there were many who dismissed us as being ‘naive’ and ‘not understanding how the ‘real-world’ works. Whatever that meant.
The disapproval wasn’t just coming from strangers either. One time at school I was called into the office to talk to a deputy since I seemed a bit too invested in the climate justice movement, and she bluntly told me that I was acting like a child.
I was both bewildered and a bit defensive, ‘But Miss, I am a child.’
She shook her head and let out an exasperated sigh and said, ‘No, you’re a child that’s trying to act like an adult.’
Even though this happened when I was 15, these words still ring in my ears. What do they mean? Do my opinions as a child not have any value? Should I pretend that I can’t see what’s happening around me? Can I only talk about the things that matter to me when I’m an adult? Will people only listen to me then?
Much of my activism was driven by resentment, young people can’t even vote yet they will have to live with the consequences of our government’s inaction towards climate change for decades. It was never my intention to ‘act’ like an adult. I wanted to take action and I did so using the means that were available to me — whether that be through asking my peers to sign petitions or organising a meeting with my local MP, or making snarky signs for an event or organising a protest, I thought that taking these small steps was better than doing nothing however instead of being supported and guided by the adults around me, I was dismissed and ostracised because I was a child. It’s frustrating to see how contradictory adults are. At school we were always encouraged to be critical thinkers and active leaders in our communities, but, when we actually did that, they put their foot down and said ‘NO, NOT LIKE THAT!’
Even the Prime Minister said that there should be ‘more learning in schools and less activism in schools’ as a response to striking students. I disagreed with his words (and I still do) because learning exists beyond the four walls of a classroom, and activism taught me an entire other curriculum that I never knew existed. It completely changed the way I perceived and understood the world around me.
I learnt that even though climate change is an irrevocable global concern, its impacts and urgency are not uniform. Developing nations are disproportionately affected by climate change both economically and socially, even though they contribute the least towards it.
I learnt that our indigenous communities are being sidelined and ignored to accommodate corporations and extractive industries that see no harm in fracking the land and digging up and exporting fossil fuels.
Three years have passed since I first got involved in the climate justice movement, yet Australia’s climate policy has remained embarrassingly stagnant and overall insufficient. Our government, whilst remaining a signatory of international climate treaties like the Paris Agreement contradicts itself by continuing to be a global exporter of both liquified fossil gas and coal. It’s the classic, one step forward and three steps back. These performative actions reflect our political sentiments; our government acknowledges that while climate change is bad (that’s why we sign international treaties to show the world that we care) it is not bad enough for us to forsake our interests to fix it. This is because the short-term economic gains of nonrenewable energy outweigh the long-term cost of escalating the irreversible impacts of climate change.
Although the future looks uncertain it does not mean that we are without hope. Young people are intensely stubborn and that is our strength, the era where children should only be seen and not heard is long gone. We already know all the facts; we know the statistics and we know what’s at stake. I striked from school because I realized that if I didn’t, no one else would do it for me. By taking this initiative I was unknowingly breaking away from the culture of stifling passivity that I found myself stuck in. I realized that the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude won’t cut it, not if what was at stake was my future and the future of all my peers. We cannot change ourselves if we keep walking backwards and young people have already paved the way for the next steps that we must take to ensure that we all have a future to look forward to. All that’s left is to take the first step forward and not look back.