When the pandemic swept over the world early last year, millions of Australians and billions more around the world took shelter in their homes. As students in our early 20s, for us that meant studying from home, behind a screen. As passionate climate activists, COVID-19 also meant taking action against our government’s grim climate policy had to take place in the virtual world.
Right as climate action was gaining enormous, mainstream momentum in Australia – in the wake of 2019’s devastating bushfires, and as Greta Thurnberg was inspiring us all in her powerful address to the UN – the 2020 #SchoolsStrikeforClimate rally was derailed.
Having attended the first major #SchoolsStrikeforClimate protest in Sydney in 2019, which saw around 80,000 people attend, it was disappointing to have the strikes paused. But tomorrow, we are back and ready to hit harder than ever. And the fact that two years on we are campaigning and asking for almost exactly the same things, motivates us to fight harder than ever.
We are Margaret and Olivia and we are both students from Sydney. As young activists, we’re hitting the streets today to demand three things from the Australian government: no new coal, oil and gas projects, 100% renewable energy generation, and to fund job creation and transition for fossil fuel workers.
Striking is important because it forces the climate issue onto the public agenda and into the media, and sparks conversations between parents, friends, teachers and politicians that force a re-evaluation of the climate crisis.
One of the silver linings we observed through the pandemic and lockdowns of the last year was that it seemed as if the environment began to heal. For a brief moment we felt hope. Perhaps seeing these beautiful images of clear water in Venice and blue skies in New Delhi would help everyone realise that our planet is something we can’t afford to lose. But as we’ve emerged out of COVID-19 here in Australia, into what we thought would be a new normal, it appears that very little has changed.
As young people, it is shameful that we have to lead the charge on positive change that will heal the environment and steer us away from that point of no return that is eerily close. Every year, we hope that it will be the year where decision-makers in government harness their empathy and instincts to preserve the human race, and turn around Australia’s grim policy against renewable resources and emission reduction.
For a country that has the potential to be one of the most progressive and ahead-of-the-curb nations when it comes to climate change, last week’s federal budget was particularly saddening.
Alarmingly, gas seemed to be a big winner in the Morrison government’s 2021-22 budget, with the government announcing new funding of $58.6 million to go towards fast-tracking pipelines, gas field trials, gas production and storage projects, A further $30 million was allocated to early works on a new gas generator in Port Kembla. Let that sink in.
And yet, there was nothing new announced to support the renewable energy sector. In fact, the word “climate” appears in only two items in the entire 197 pages of budget paper number two, which lays out the proposed spending measures for the next four years.
The government has proven themselves unable to deal with climate change in any meaningful way. It has been demonstrated time and time again that shifting to clean energy will boost the Australian economy and assist the planet. We have the capacity to move to net zero emissions by 2050, but the government doesn’t have the willpower.
We are living amidst a climate emergency, and environmental reform must be prioritised. As youth activists with charity for girls’ equality Plan International Australia, we know that the climate crisis has a greater impact on some people than others – especially in less privileged areas and marginalised groups. Its impacts go much further than just rising temperatures and floods. In addition to degradation of agricultural land, reduced crop yields, and a rise in food prices, economic instability, internal displacement and exacerbation of existing health inequities are all driven by climate change
Climate change has a particularly negative effect on children. Climate change exacerbates disparities that already disproportionately affect girls and women, such as lack of education, inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, increased child, early and forced marriages, early pregnancies, violence, and human trafficking. But there is a powerful solution: education. Education is everything: It is the key that unlocks doors. Unleashes potential. Unlocks dreams. And when a girl receives an education, she is offered not only options for her future but also opportunities to change the world. Education for girls is one of the most powerful tools for achieving a climate-just world. But it is also the most overlooked by our global leaders and decision makers. This must change.
Young people all around the world recognise the true depth of this issue, and the urgency in needing our government to take action now. Today’s youth are well-informed, socially aware, and inspired. We want to see change in the world we live in, we want our voices heard and we need to have a say in the policies and decisions that are directly affecting our lives, presently and in the future. There is a new generation of voters and if they want to win us over, the government needs to heed the concerns we deem most pressing. This crisis is only going to continue and intensify, and it truly is now or never.
Since the majority of students do not have the right to vote, striking is one of the most important methods we have to ensure that our voices are heard. While many people believe that students should not skip class, missing half a day does not have a huge effect on education. Freedom of speech and democracy unquestionably includes the right of students to stand up and protest against climate change, a burden that will fall disproportionately on today’s youth. School strikes demonstrate that students recognise problems in the world, have cultivated empathy and proposed ways to address these concerns through direct interaction with the community around them.
And that’s why today, you’ll see us out in force, banners held high, on the streets of Sydney – just as our peers are in Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, Geelong and right around this nation of ours. #SchoolsStrike4Climate isn’t a group of young people playing politics, but an example of our generation fighting against apathy and complacency on the issues that affect us today. We urge you to join us.