After travelling for an hour from outside of Melbourne, I reached the Treasury Gardens at about 12.05pm to concerted cheering from thousands of young voices. On the train teenage boys and girls from various local high schools in the northeast suburbs of Melbourne were working on signs they had made from pieces of cardboard, and discussing with each other what they should write. At least they were thinking more cogently about climate change and its causes than many of their elders ever have. All twenty-three students from my daughter’s year 10 class attended with their teacher’s blessing.
Speeches were being given from a raised dais at the Old Treasury Building in Spring Street, though the content was impossible to hear, except for the common theme that they demanded their voices be heard. Such speeches were punctuated by music from some bands that were playing as directed entertainment. At all times the environment was enthusiastic, with the students beginning to realise that together they do have some power to influence their destiny.
I did not witness any politicians in attendance, even though the demonstration was being held virtually next to the Victorian State Parliament. However, there were many elderly types like myself, with one sign reading ‘Baby Boomers against Climate Change’ or something similar. Some of the signs held up by those of older generations did indicate the intergenerational nature of the problem of dealing with cleaning up the mess their kids and grandkids have inherited. Quite a number of unions and environmental groups were also represented.
A consistent message running through many of the placards and signs was the complete disdain for coal, regarded as one of the principal symbols of what climate change means. As a substance that is both polluting, highly visible – thanks to our Prime Minister’s escapade in parliament – and directly associated with carbon emissions, it was a good choice to focus so much on its destructive role in changing the climate. None of the signs alluded to energy pricing – so beloved of the LNP – focussing on the sources of climate change and the need to take drastic action.
Two questions remain: will this kind of demonstration influence the legislative decision makers, and will the Australian Youth Climate Coalition continue as a kind of pressure group that will mobilize students of all ages? As for the first, neither the LNP or the ALP will acknowledge explicitly the truth of what the students are saying: indeed the conservative response, entirely predictable, has been that the students should not have gone on ‘strike’, that their education takes precedence over this kind of activity. Of course, this kind of strike is definitely a form of activity and teaches students about how grass roots politics works.
The second question is equally difficult to answer. This is the second widely publicized act of climate resistance the organizing group has managed to mount and hence shows there is some continuity of plan. To this we must add that the expertise students of this age have in social media means they will easily be able to communicate with each other and organize in a manner not available to their parents and grandparents. And this also gives them a capacity for publicity more conventional politicians could only dream of. Expect more of these groups as climate conditions worsen.
Dr Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher, College of the Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University.