‘Why should we go to school …?’
The end of November saw a remarkable occurrence. In a week of raging bushfires in Queensland and rain-induced chaos in Sydney, some 15,000 students walked out of school and rallied in 30 cities and towns across Australia for the School Strike for Climate Action, calling for an end to the delays from government on effective climate change policies.
Students rejected comments from Resources Minister Matt Canavan that children should be in class learning science, not at a protest learning “how to join the dole queue”. “Why should we go to school when you won’t listen to the educated?” read one sign. In response to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s charge of “schools being turned into parliaments”, Adelaide organiser and year 10 student Deanna Athanosos said, “If you were doing your job properly, we wouldn’t be here.”
Amongst the debates about whether it is appropriate for children to strike, the merits of a hands-on education in civics, and what drives social and political change, there are other pressing questions. How long can stereotypes of climate change activists persist, with an increasingly diverse movement? Is it acceptable for parliamentarians to refuse to meet with our children? And when so many feel the need to walk out of school, is it not finally time to respond with real action to protect their futures?
There is more to come, starting with the March for our Future rallies on December 8. “We’ll keep striking for climate action after summer holidays and in the lead-up to the federal election,” said Sydney organiser Jean Hinchcliff, 14. “We’re also meeting with federal MPs asking them to stop Adani, say no to new coal and gas projects and commit Australia to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.”
It is not only to politicians that growing numbers of students worldwide make their pleas. Speaking at a rally in Helsinki, 15-year-old Stockholm student Greta Thunberg, who inspired those who organised the strikes in Australia, said: “To all of you who know but choose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent the catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change itself, your silence is almost worst of all. The future of all the coming generations rests on your shoulders.”