Amendment of the Climate Change Act will offer a future for young people

Dec 9, 2023
Rows of pump jacks silhouette and oil barrel drums against a sunset sky with deliberate lens flare and copy space. These jacks can extract between 5 to 40 liters of crude oil and water emulsion at each stroke. Image; iStock/ronniechua

Since the industrial revolution, the health damage done to young people by fossil fuels, from the boy chimney sweeps to the household gas cooker amounts to negligence. Do we care?

In 1842 British Parliament passed a law prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 14 to climb into and clean chimneys; children as young as four were used for narrowed areas in the chimney. The soot and tar scraped off was inhaled to cause long standing respiratory disease and rubbed into their skin causing painful scrotal and other cancers.

The Act was largely ignored and it required the appearance of Tom the child chimney sweep in the 1863 novel ‘The Water-Babies’ by Charles Kingsley that brought public action into the situation and in 1875 licensing and police enforcement succeeded.

In Australia stoves using gas from coal “town gas” commenced in the late eighteen hundreds and “natural gas” 50 years ago. Since then little Toms (and their sisters and parents) in houses with gas stoves or gas heating have been breathing pollution present in gas.

This is a health hazard by causing asthma or exacerbating existing asthma and many other diseases recognised in Australia for over a decade. It is a huge burden on health services, time off school and work. Minister Bowen rejects a ban on gas in the home and so ignores the health impacts. 

The government’s response to the problem of health is apparently “Shush”, for gas is vital to the economy. Indeed, fossil fuels have reigned supreme in the economy since commencement of the industrial revolution. Currently the British Medical Journal reports the world’s polluted atmosphere causes 5.1 million avoidable deaths annually, ignored by governments.

How can we recognise the rights of children who will suffer a deteriorating life under advancing climate change? An amendment to the Climate Change Act will soon be discussed in the Senate.

This Bill requires decision makers to consider the wellbeing of current and future children when making certain decisions that are likely to contribute to climate change, including decisions that will increase Scope one, two or three emissions.

Surely this must be the opportunity for the Senate to recognise that young people can help in solving the currently insoluble and not have to march in the streets to be heard? Many recognise the mess we, their parents and grandparents have made of their life support systems and young people deserve to be heard. The Senate must consider how this involvement can be achieved.

The young people of School Strike 4 Climate demand…100% renewable energy generations and exports by 2030; the funding of a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and their communities; net zero by 2030 which means no new coal, oil or gas projects including the Adani mine.

And yes they think of others even in their distress – the fossil fuel workers.

The third demand of no new coal, oil and gas projects is easily understood by them—the renewable energy surge is reducing emissions but this is being ablated by continuing fossil fuel burning which will delay any net zero. In turn this may be one of the factors in causing unstoppable climate change; yet the government continues. Methane is the most potent greenhouse gas and a first step is to immediately stop new developments.

Already many young people have developed the knowledge and drive to be leaders. Their growing brains show plasticity which enables them to see the facts to create a safer world and resist the current mind set of “progress” as economic growth, prosperity, consumerism which is wrecking the planet.

The young can see that our government (and many other governments) is the Emperor in Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The weavers play on the Emperor’s vanity by saying the suit is only visible to people who are clever and competent. The people saluted the Emperor in his naked glory and it required a little boy to call out – “but mummy the Emperor has no clothes on”.

Today the government’s clothes should be effective climate policy based on science.

A young person has the brain capacity to recognise the Emperor’s feeble explanations of our rising Scope 3 emissions from fossil fuels. e.g. “others need the gas” “if we don’t provide the gas, others will” the drug dealers defence. The standing of the government is reduced. The truth is that Scope 3 allows government to export gas for considerable income to help balance our budget and prepare for the next election.

The Raw End of the Deal for Young People

The UN Rights Committee 2023 details States’ obligations to address environmental harms and guarantee that children are able to exercise their rights. This encompasses rights to information, participation, and access to justice to ensure that they will be protected from and receive remedies for the harms caused by environmental degradation and climate change.

Senator David Pocock’s Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill will bring some justice to their needs and should be supported.

But it is also vital to humanity’s future that we ask what education and participation does the government offer to our children about the degrading environment, and how are they brought into decision making when many of them have the minds to contribute?

To reduce the voting age to 16 is an urgent need to bring participation by the young. Furthermore the presence of more young people with a mission could improve the functioning and behaviour of Parliament- which is often unacceptable according the Speakers Lecture. 

Schools education on climate change and environmental collapse has been neglected till recently but now we have a New Curriculum which is a significant advance but does not yet answer the many questions asked by young people and does not yet indicate the many other topics relevant to climate change

University education is being analysed by the Accord but mention of climate change is minimal and to date there are no proposals for widening teaching to the sustainability of the planet. All the Universities should ensure that new students in all disciplines should first have a common 3 month course on climate change, sustainability and the environment. Their learning would become disseminated throughout the community.

The young are increasingly suffering from mental health problems from anxiety over climate change and the perpetration of misinformation and disinformation on social media. They are told to get back to school to be educated towards a good job in an economy, which some of them recognise as a threat to the natural world.

Dear Members and Senators,
The long parliamentary break is due; please consider meeting some of the young people active in climate change in your constituency office. I have explained in this article why this would be helpful. Please also consider urging your Party to finance a social media for the young where there can be interactions on climate change and related matters. The benefit would be huge.

And please read the the UN document on the rights of children and climate change.

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