Do you remember this game? The call-and-answer goes like this:
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Ruth stole the cookie from the cookie jar. Who me? Yes you! Not me! Then who?
It seems appropriate to choose the title of a children’s singalong game for this blog. I feel compelled to write about the current groundswell of young people protesting against the lack of action being taken on climate change by governments and corporations around the world.
On the 10th of February we attended an event at the National Sustainable Living Festival entitled ‘Schooled: Students striking out for the climate’. We wanted to listen to what younger people had to say about the state of the environment and whether they felt there were any cookies left.
The four speakers were: Marco Bellemo
Northcote High School, VIC, Yr 12
Fort St High School, NSW, Yr 10
Castlemaine Steiner School, VIC, Yr 9
Hoppers Crossing Secondary College, VIC, Yr 12 graduate
The ‘issue’ that stood out most for me is kind of obvious, and yet it hadn’t really hit me until I was sitting under this dome on Birrarung Marr. The students are not eligible to vote and yet it is their future that we are currently messing with. A member of the audience wanted to know how we can help support them. All students agreed that the first thing we can do is to show up to the next student strike on March the 15th.
Jean Hinchliffe, the representative from NSW, cited Greta Thunberg, a 15 year old Swedish student, as her inspiration for organizing the march in Sydney. There is definitely something about Greta that causes one to feel inspired, and I’m saying that just from following her on Instagram. Interestingly, Greta’s first few posts attracted an average of 600 ‘likes’. After being interviewed by the Australian edition of the Guardian, that jumped to 10,000. Following on from her TED Talk and being interviewed by a range of different media outlets, her posts now attract up to 90,000 responses and hundreds of comments.
On Tuesday night we joined a full house at Cinema Nova in Carlton to see Youth Unstoppable, one of the films being shown at the Transitions Film Festival. The film was directed by Slater Jewell-Kemker. Shot over eight years, starting when she was just 15 years old, Jewell-Kemker documents the highs and lows of the Youth Climate Movement. We were left with much to think about. One thing that struck me was the involvement of young people from many countries around the world. Jewell-Kemker noted how difficult it was to keep the faith, and that many of the friends she had met along the way had dropped out of the movement, although a handful have remained committed throughout those years. It’s hard enough for adults to keep up the energy and determination required for this level of activism.
The three person panel assembled for the Q&A after the screening consisted of a representative from United Nations Association of Australia, Graham Hunter, the climate change program manager, as well as a representative from the Youth Climate Movement, and a young woman who had attended many of the UN Climate Change conferences but was now working for an environmental group. This time the audience was mainly populated with younger people. It was interesting to see Marco Bellemo in the audience. We had been impressed by his views and his ability to share them eloquently when we saw him speak at the ‘Schooled!’ panel earlier in the month. His question cut through the ‘feel good’ mood that was in the air.
George Monbiot, in an article about the student strikes, published in the Guardian on the 20th of February 2019, asserts, “Drawing on the successes and failures of the past, we must help young climate strikers to win their existential struggle. This one has to succeed. It is not just that the youth climate strike, now building worldwide with tremendous speed, is our best (and possibly our last) hope of avoiding catastrophe. It is also that the impacts on the young people themselves, if their mobilisation and hopes collapse so early in their lives, could be devastating.
Many of the issues that people feel passionate about have resulted in street marches and other forms of protest. These marches are a dramatic way of showing that ‘the people united will never be defeated’. And while the excitement and media coverage of a march is likely to fade out sooner than the organisers might hope, the challenge is to refuse to give up. Such complex matters will require many more marches and greater levels of action. It’s not alright for my generation to consider passing on the baton. Everyone is needed for this chapter of our history.