The Politics    Friday, September 20, 2019

There is no planet B

By Russell Marks

Protesters at the the global strike for climate in Brisbane. © Dan Peled / AAP Image

#ClimateStrike’s calls for action gain momentum

In the 2007 Morris Gleitzman story, “Give Peas a Chance”, Ben sparks a global strike of school-aged children when he refuses to eat his vegetables until the world’s weapons have been destroyed. It’s children’s fantasy, but of a new kind, concerned with the future of the world that children will soon inherit.

But when adults can’t change the world, perhaps children can. Students across Florida and then other states walked out of classes in February last year to demand change to US gun laws, following the deadliest massacre in an American high school yet. Students from 2600 schools then staged mass walkouts across the US in April to mark the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School.

And then against a backdrop of record summer heatwaves and forest fires up to the Arctic, on August 20 last year 15-year-old student Greta Thunberg sat alone with a banner on the cobblestones outside the Swedish parliament. The banner read skolstrejk för klimatet – “school strike for climate” – and passers-by were bemused. But she returned every Friday, with a growing number of fellow strikers.

Thunberg has since become the figurehead of a new global movement of students demanding climate action. She has addressed politicians in parliaments and business leaders at Davos. And she has inspired massive protests.

In Australia, a small group of year-8 students from Castlemaine in central Victoria took up Thunberg’s example, organising a month of protest last November under the “School Strike 4 Climate” banner, culminating in the first national “Big Walk Out” at the end of the month. “We think kids should be in school learning,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in response to a question from the Greens’ Adam Bandt about the pending Big Walk Out. “That’s what they should be there doing. And so what we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.”

The idea that schools should be sites of passive learning rather than activist change is in keeping with Morrison’s preferences: that politics get off the front page so that politicians can simply do their jobs on behalf of his “quiet Australians”, who don’t want any fuss. But fuss is exactly what striking students aim to generate, alarmed at Australia’s notorious recalcitrance on climate action amid ever more dire warnings from scientists. Specifically, the students want governments to stop approving new fossil fuel projects, to shift to energy sources and exports that are 100 per cent renewable by 2030, and to fund a just transition.

School Strike 4 Climate used what they called Morrison’s “lecture” to mobilise students, who walked out of classes across Australia on November 30. More rallies followed – including those under the #StopAdani banner – before the global Climate Strike on March 15 (following Facebook’s brief removal of posts promoting the event). Today’s strike precedes of the United Nations’ first Youth Climate Summit in New York tomorrow and then the secretary-general’s Climate Action Summit next Monday (which Morrison is notably not attending despite being in the US).

In contrast to other iconic mass protest movements – the Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War during the 1970s; the rallies against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – #ClimateStrike continues to gain momentum. Beginning with the Australian Education Union, more than 30 unions have endorsed the movement here, along with more than 2500 Australian and multinational businesses and organisations who have signed up under the “Not Business As Usual” solidarity banner.

#ClimateStrike is the first global protest movement organised by high school students. In Australia, this is particularly remarkable, because this is a generation that has never seen strike action: “reforms” beginning with the Accord have reduced the number of industrial strikes since the 1970s by 97 per cent.

Conservatives are increasingly upset by the students’ activities. But as millions of students, teachers, parents, workers and bosses are expected to rally across the world during 24 hours of rolling strikes (with organisers estimating that 300,000 participated in Australia today), hope is building – hope that teenagers can be the catalyst for the political transformation scientists and environmentalists have been urging for decades.

“If you were writing a script, you’d consider having Scott Morrison meet with Donald Trump on the day of the international climate strike – and then you’d reject it as too grotesque to be believable.”

Columnist Jeff Sparrow on the sheer absurdity of the world’s two main climate recalcitrants meeting today while global protests echo around them.

“People are free to have their views, but my personal opinion is that students should be at school during school hours.”

Federal Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor today, urging 15-year-old Josh O’Callaghan – who asked him what he thought about the possibility that climate scientists could be right about the developing catastrophe – to think about his priorities.

Scott goes to Washington
Tomorrow, Scott Morrison will be received in Washington on a state visit. It highlights his special relationship with Donald Trump and his difficulty with Beijing. Paul Bongiorno on Scott Morrison’s trip to Washington.


The score that 15-year-old Siobhan Sutton can expect on her maths test today, after her academically selective Perth Modern School refused to authorise her absence to attend a #ClimateStrike event, despite Siobhan’s mother giving her permission.

Trade and regional security will be the concerns at the top of Scott Morrison’s agenda when he becomes the first Australian prime minister since John Howard to be invited to a state dinner at the White House. The UN can handle the climate stuff over in New York, apparently.

The list

“‘You’re not alone,’ Nyah Shahab says, before grabbing her bag and heading back out to finish her exam prep for the day. ‘Before I got involved in the strike movement I was constantly overwhelmed with the feeling of anxiety about climate change. But if you look around, just look at how many people care and how many people aren’t going to let this continue to happen.’ This is the generation that is choosing not to accept the theft of their future gracefully. They’ll be less activist when things are less shit.”

“Patience could seem as if she is in need of rescuing. She isn’t. She’s quite capable of taking care of herself and when she sees an opportunity to make a drug deal of her own, she’s in. Breeding will out. Cayre is droll and without illusions about human nature. That she describes the lives and crimes of the petty drug dealers without social-working them is bracing.”

“Is it any wonder innocent bystanders hold politicians in such low esteem? It is all the more curious that the Morrison government voted 10 times against integrity and accountability in the Senate and the House of Representatives this week. Not only did they vote against a Greens bill to set up a strong, independent national integrity commission, they applied the gag in the house and sent the bill off to the never-never.” 

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

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