'Stop patronising us': Govt must engage young people on climate with empathy

‘Instead of patronising us, the Government must engage young people with empathy on the climate crisis before it’s all too late’

On the first of January 2020, as Australia was up in flames, I was caught inside a house near Bega on the south coast of New South Wales that was fringed by wildfires.

All I could see out the windows was smoke and the fires were so close that the sky had turned an apocalyptic, bright orange hue. It looked like something straight out of a sci-fi film. A surreal, Mars-like landscape. 

Thankfully, my family and I made the decision to head straight back up the highway to Sydney to safety. We drove silently for hours, horrified as we passed stretches of burnt bushland. Many were not so lucky. 

As we all know, the fires that ravaged our country that summer have gone down in history as some of the worst we’ve ever faced and made news headlines around the world.    

Some want to put this extreme weather event down to a freak situation or poor fire management, but this is climate change at work. And the reality is, my generation and those that come after me are going to be facing far more intense and damaging fires.  

Children worldwide will experience up to 24 times more extreme weather events in their lifetimes, compared to older generations, unless we urgently cut emissions. In Australia, children born in 2020 can expect to experience four times as many heatwaves, three times as many droughts, as well as 1.5 times as many bushfires and river floods, under current trajectory of global emissions. This is terrifying. 

Yet we are not consulted by power holders at all. In a Plan International survey of more than 1,800 adolescents and youth from 37 countries, an overwhelming majority (84%) of participants said their government’s efforts to include them in policies to tackle the climate emergency is insufficient, while only 6% thought they are about right.  

I used to be proud to call myself Australian, but it has been infuriating to watch our Government’s response to climate crisis – the most pressing issue of our times. 

From the holiday to Hawaii that our Prime Minister decided to take as our country burned back in that early summer of 2020 the Government embarrassing us on the global stage at COP26 in Glasgow these last few weeks – I feel ready to jump ship. 

Australia’s policy response to climate change was ranked last in an assessment of 60 countries released at the climate summit. It was the only country to be given a big fat score of zero on climate policy. Let that sink in. 

We live in such a beautiful country, where nature and the landscape around us is such an important part of our identity – especially for Indigenous Australians. As Aussies, we love to head to the beach, or camping, or hiking, or even out to a nice winery – whatever takes your fancy. And even if we don’t love these outdoorsy activities, we’ve definitely participated in them. That is all part of being Australian.  

I am so disappointed as I watch our lack of commitment to climate action.  

But there is hope. As a young woman, I am incredibly inspired by the way that Greta Thunberg has and continues to speak out on climate change. Even though she is younger than me, it makes me feel like maybe there is a chance that young people will be heard, that we won’t just fall into the cracks until it is too late to change anything.  

That is exactly what I see happening in Australia. Young people are coming out in hoards, protesting our right to believe that the world that we and our children and grandchildren will inherit will be a beautiful one, that isn’t tainted by greed and ruined by climate disaster.  

Over the past few months, the youth activists at Plan International Australia have been meeting with politicians across the spectrum on why girls’ education is one of the most powerful and simple – yet overlooked – solutions in solving the climate crisis.  

All around the world, girls are pulled out of school early due to poverty. These millions of young girls are wasted potential. If those girls were able to go on to secondary education or to tertiary study, it would mean a generation of young women uniquely placed to respond to deal with the specific climate issues – whether bushfires or typhoons – that are facing their nations.  

Learning from a young age about early warning systems, and lifesaving response and adaptation actions to extreme weather events can save lives. 

As a recent Plan International Australia report detailed, educating girls in STEM, for instance, allows them to develop skills to lead a low carbon economy, drive innovation in climate resilience and green technologies. This could be an enormous help to the most climate vulnerable communities in the world, such as Kiribati and Tuvalu. 

I had the pleasure of meeting with my local member: Independent MP Zali Steggal. Zali has been an absolute powerhouse in the face of our seemingly immobilised government when it comes to climate change. Not only did she unseat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his electorate of Warringah, but she has also been a passionate advocate for climate change from the beginning. 

Zali was attentive to the messages that we put forward, and she listened with respect and understood that young people have good things to contribute to politics and the broader cultural spheres of our nation. Some of our other meetings demonstrated that other politicians are not taking the voices of young people seriously. 

The Australian Government must step up and prioritise and invest in educating girls around the globe – and yet, many of the politicians we met with seemed to patronise us. 

This year’s COP26 was Australia’s chance to redeem itself, and it has been an epic failure. Our government – which lacks the diverse representation required to address the critical issues our planet faces – is not making the right choice for future Australians.  

Its endless and relentless focus on economic gains over real human existence is frightening.  

I am a film graduate, and sometimes I think that everyone in cabinet should be forced to take a drama class to learn about empathy.  

Our government is already billions of dollars in deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and both sides of the political spectrum have learned from this circumstance that the economic deficit is sometimes necessary to stimulate the economy, and make things right.  

They were willing to do that when it was the emergency of COVID-19, so why not now with the climate crisis?

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