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Don’t shoot the young messengers

As someone who lives on this planet and a father who hopes my child lives on it long after me, I couldn’t not find the tens of thousands of Australian students who walked out of school as part of international protests over inaction on climate change powerfully uplifting. With everyone from the Reserve Bank to our intelligence agencies to the scientific community delivering blunt warnings of the threat posed by climate change, the Abbot/Turnbull/Morrison government’s refusal to stand up to their donors/owners in the coal industry is as self-servingly treasonous as David Cameron’s actions around the Brexit referendum.

I’m angry about it and I’m glad the youth of this country are too. And our government would do well to take notice. These students may be too young to vote in this year’s federal election, but many won’t be too young for the next one. Far from virtue-signalling, these protests have been an exercise in vote-signalling by soon-to-be voters, and politicians would do well to take note. Alternatively, they could choose to double down and condescendingly tell students to stay in school and let the grown ups worry about climate change.

It seems obvious which response would have been a more prudent long term strategy for any political party, but no prize for guessing which option our tin-eared government and its supporters in the commercial media took.

Let’s consider the dismissive and hostile treatment of student activists as ill-informed truants by conservative media and politicians. It was nothing short of disgusting. It belied an anachronistic belief that adults are always right and children are always wrong – that adolescents are too young and naïve to be treated with the same respect we would give to adults.

Repeatedly, airtime and column space has been devoted to the idea that children are too young to have formed and educated opinion and that they have been unduly influenced by others (like maybe teachers educating them about climate change, species extinction, etc). Students have been berated and denigrated, whilst being accused of disingenuously seizing a chance to skip school over an issue they don’t actually care about or even understand. Whilst these accusations don’t deserve much serious consideration- coming from politicians who have barely turned up to parliament in the last six months or from hack journalists who make a living from simplifying and misrepresenting complex issues- I’m in a generous mood.

So let’s consider the primary criticisms of these student activists.

1- “They should be in class.”

Now education is important. I believe that even if the Liberal government’s gutting of the public education system at both state and national level shows that they don’t. But education doesn’t just happen in a classroom. The education experience for school children includes learning in classrooms, in the playground and out on excursions. There are also many occasions in a school year where regular programmed teaching is halted for special occasions such as sports carnivals, performances and assemblies. Let’s not pretend that by missing a few hours of class this time they have jeopardised their future, but every other interruption is fine.

Moreover, children becoming politically engaged through taking interest in government policy is important in achieving a better informed society. By physically taking part in peaceful protest, students are experientially learning about democracy and political activism in an arguably much more meaningful way than studying its history.

2- “They don’t understand the issues fully.”

This is hilarious. Remember Tony Abbott saying global warming is probably good because some people find it hard to stay warm in winter? What about Craig Kelly blaming energy blackouts on renewable energy? Or Pauline Hanson diving in a healthy part of the Great Barrier Reef to prove the entire reef was not at risk of coral bleaching? If these illiterates are still allowed a platform to speak about climate change, why shouldn’t children who probably have a better understanding?

And climate change isn’t a bloody debate anyway. The science on climate change is as settled as the science of vaccines. Those who refuse to accept it are as stupid and dangerous as the anti-vaccers responsible for the resurgence of measles this year. Nor is it debatable that our COALition government has done nothing to address the worsening threat of climate change over the last six year- and in fact have done all they can to divert funding and discourage investment in renewable energy.

Don’t try to tell me either of those facts are too difficult for school students to understand. Even someone who writes for The Australian could probably understand them.

3- “They’re hypocrites because they use technology and vehicles that contribute to climate change.”

This is even stupider than the previous argument. Unless you have heard any of the advocates seriously advocating Australia’s immediate return to pre-industrial times, why would you expect them to do it themselves? Quite rightly, the activists are calling for policy that transitions our country towards renewable technology over the next decade. Moreover, it is wilfully disingenuous to suggest individual actors will address the problems of climate change through behavioural changes such as recycling and reducing their electricity consumption; unless these changes are mirrored by the private industries whose factories have exponentially greater impact on our environment than any private citizens.

But for all the conservative bluster and attempted intimidation, school students turned up in huge numbers and I want to credit their courage. For some children, arguing with authority comes almost as second nature, but for many others it is very difficult. The crude coercive tactics by adults of perceived power and influence would have been a test of courage for some to overcome. But the numbers at rallies around the country proved our students passed this test.


This article was first published on Quietblog

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  1. Roscoe

    It is ok for Melbourne school kids to have the day off for a horse race

  2. Michael Taylor

    You’ve said it all for me, Dave. My thoughts exactly.

    It’s amazing that with each small drop of logic you apply, the government looks more stupid.

  3. Keith

    The students on strike were a credit to their communities, schools and themselves.
    Conservatives protest so much on the basis they do not have answers to the passion presented by the students.

  4. terence mills

    The way things are going in the Liberal party, the last man standing is going to be a climate denier and any future Cabinet will be made up of right-wing coal spruikers : there are no moderates left in the parliamentary Liberal party, the extreme Right have taken over and this is a very worrying turn of events

    Remember Pyne just two years ago talking to the NSW Liberal moderates and saying :

    “I would say that our [the moderates] fortunes are pretty good at the moment. And most of your senior cabinet ministers – George Brandis, Marise Payne, yours truly – quite a few of us are very senior ministers in a Turnbull government.

    How wrong he was and how quickly the extreme right took charge.

    Morrison is paying lip-service to climate change concerns and won’t come out and say that a future coalition under his leadership will not fund new coal-fired power stations : it has got to the point where Morrison is so worried about his own future that he won’t even mention coal. But be assured that if the coalition are able to scam their way back into office they will find a way for the NAIF to fund a new coal-fired power station in Queensland.

    Good luck to the kids, I support them and am glad they are safe but the real protest will be at the polling booths in May.

  5. New England Cocky

    Funny how these comments from conservative politicians today are exactly the same excuses for inaction that conservative politicians used after Pig-Iron Bob Menzies invited Australia into the American imperialist in Vietnam for my generation. Menzies resigned his Australian Army Commission on the first day of WWI, and felt guilty about missing the War throughout his life, so much so that he committed my generation to vicariously assuage his conscience.

    It is about time a younger generation took up the political cudgels to demand a better democracy than presently exists because that is the way progress occurs.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Terence, these kids will be the ones who’ll eventually wipe the LNP off the political map.

    Note to Labor Party: start framing the 2022 election strategy around climate change action.

  7. DrakeN

    Michael T – Labor really needs to alter its whole approach to ‘economics’ voodooism and to societal matters in general.
    Being simply a ‘workers’ Party is not enough.
    Some evidence of forward thinking and initiative will be required to satisfy these well informed young people.
    Party politics will continue to be an anathema to many voters, as will the “Keep their Noses to the Grindstone” ideologies of post industrial society.

  8. guest

    Students striking in 100 countries across the world – and the Murdoch media thinks it is because of Oz’s education system infested with Marxist activists!

    The students did not learn about Climate Change from the Murdoch scribblers, who publish climate change denial daily. But Climate science is available world-wide and the evidence of global warming is visibly apparent.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Do you want some stupid? Here’s some from the POTUS tweeted overnight:

    How is the Paris Environmental Accord working out for France? After 18 weeks of rioting by the Yellow Vest Protesters, I guess not so well! In the meantime, the United States has gone to the top of all lists on the Environment.

    Oh dear.

    Someone needs to tell him that the Yellow Vest movement has nothing to do with climate change.

    And if he wants to take notice of protesters … how about the Climate Strike for starters.

  10. guest


    Writing this weekend, Paul Kelly has this to say:

    “Labor has far exceeded the Coalition in capturing the zeitgeist. Its unifying theme is the turn of Australia towards a progressive mindset in economic, social and cultural terms….

    “The zeitgeist is Shorten’s friend and Morrison’s enemy.

    “The evidence has turned into an avalanche since the August 2018 Liberal leadership crisis.”

  11. Michael Taylor

    You’re right, Drake. Come to think of it, at the Climate Strike I attended it was obvious that those kids trusted no political party or politician.

  12. Pilot

    The school pupils (they are not kids) have shown their collective maturity and I support them 100%. I was going to accompany my granddaughter to the Sydney event, but unfortunately she had not finished an assignment which had to handed in on Thurs. She was given 1 day. She cried and thought she’d let everyone (fellow pupils) one down. She was mature enough though to attend school, deliver her paper with dignity and showed true maturity.

    New England Cocky – mate we have to get together and have a beer!! I need to shake your hand (ya grump ol’ bugger, lmao!!) Feel free to drop me a line ptsdatexemaildotcomdotau (about 100miles south, but I got a license 🙂

  13. guest

    Right, so come elections 2022, no politicians from current parties , just independents? Or a new millennials party? Or even a millennials oligarchy? Benevolent dictator, anyone?

  14. Andrew J Smith

    Unfortunately there is a clear and longstanding crossover between Islamophobia or white nationalism and criticism or restriction of any real environmental action or regulation (unless it scapegoats ‘immigrants’ and ‘population growth’, wink wink). In the US, especially non mainstream media, is far more clued up on these interrelated issues, versus Australia’s media, from CounterPunch:

    ‘Hage argued, the climate crisis has come to present increasingly clear and present threats to elite privilege. It has done so in the main, he contended, through rude infringements of scientific fact and lived daily experience on the ideological mores that have upheld a world order of haves and have nots built on 500 years of colonialism….

    ……Which brings us back to this latest example of white supremacist terrorism in Christchurch. Nothing about this atrocity and the terrible loss of life is special, other than the fact that it took place on the same day as the latest round of climate strikes lead by secondary students. The contrast between the preoccupation with conspiracy and manufactured crisis and the very clear scientific understanding of climate crisis reflects with a unique conspicuousness the function of the former in dodging the reality of and constructing scapegoats for the latter.’

    Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism

    Of course it’s no coincidence that many in the fossil fuel related or corporate sponsored alternative environment or conservation movements (‘sustainability; etc. via Club of Rome) avoids real environmental action by having media focus upon blaming immigrants and population growth; another enemy is youth whom neither respect authority not their elders….

    The LNP, as Paul Kelly confirms, have lost much of their (self) assumed moral authority i.e. Christian Conservativism, waffling or avoidance on the environment, and ‘whiteness’ as an identity to be worshipped.

  15. Andreas Bimba

    I posted this just now on John Lord’s post on the same theme as I feel it’s relevant.


    The next ten years are critical in regard to global warming. The minimalist approach of the Conservatives or ‘Corporatists’ of this world means we would certainly overshoot the IPCC 1.5 deg C and 2 deg C warming limits and the earth would then stabilise at a much higher global average temperature when positive feedbacks such as methane releases from the Arctic begin to kick in.

    According to the recent PNAS report “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” even just meeting the IPCC emission reduction targets for the 2 deg C limit runs a significant risk of triggering positive feedbacks that would lead eventually to a hothouse earth with 4 to 5 deg C average global warming and sea level rises of 10 to 60m. Accordingly we must aim to stay under 1.5 deg C without overshoot to avoid such a catastrophe. {ref 2 & 3 below}.

    If the fossil fuel industry had its way and all current fossil fuel reserves were to be utilised without CO2 sequestration, which is too expensive anyway, then many positive feedback mechanisms would further increase warming and we would eventually transition to an even more extreme hothouse earth with global average temperature increases according to some sources estimated at up to a 9.5 deg C and in the Arctic temperatures increasing by an average of 15 to 20 deg C. {ref 4 below}

    A ‘hothouse’ earth with 9.5 deg C warming would result in the complete eventual melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, sea level rises of about 70m and the death of most life on earth including nearly all of humanity. Some microbes, weeds and pests may evolve to cope in such a world but all of the world’s complex marine and land based ecosystems would disappear over the next few centuries – for what? A few dollars for a few corporations that could just as easily participate in tackling the problem and implementing a global Green New Deal or something similar?

    Many major fossil fuel companies are still searching for more fossil fuel reserves especially for oil and gas but even for highly damaging coal, tar sands and oil shale reserves.

    Just think through these temperatures and also bear in mind that even if the world stays just under the 1.5 deg C global warming above pre-industrial levels limit – it is predicted that 90% of the world’s remaining reef building corals and most of their associated complex eco systems will die. Global surface temperatures have warmed about 1.1deg C since 1850 – with 0.8 deg C of that warming occurring since the 1970s {ref 5}. We all really should have acted decisively two to three decades ago when key atmospheric scientists like James Hansen warned the world with highly credible evidence back then {ref 6}.

    “According to the [IPCC Summary for Policymakers] SPM, in order to limit warming to 1.5C with “no or limited overshoot”, net global CO2 emissions need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach “net zero” by around 2050.” {ref 1}

    The fact that most of the electorate still do not adequately appreciate the urgency or gravity of our predicament shows our mass media on the whole is not doing its job and is clearly corrupt and sick. The fact that so many of our political representatives actively fight for even more investment in doomed fossil fuel infrastructure shows that our democracy is far short of where it should be and corporate money is still pulling the strings.

    Below are some highly credible articles or web pages on global warming that I think we should all read and understand:

    Ref 1.

    In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s special report on climate change at 1.5C

    Ref 2.

    Ref 3.

    Ref 4.

    Ref 5.

    Ref 6.

  16. RomeoCharlie29

    If Paul Kelly is writing something even vaguely dismissive of the LNP then the worm really has turned. Next thing Murdoch’s rags will be backing Labor, no doubt in the hope that all of the past denigration will be forgiven and forgotten. Don’t think Bill and the team will fall for it. Never forgive, never forget and get revenge, at least in this specific case, not generally.

  17. Florence Howarth

    I suspect we will see many of those kids working the booths election day. As Michael says most of the young people out protesting are not that interested in parties, left or right. Saying that, they seem to be favouring Shorten over Morrison. They are coming across as being articulate, on top of their topic. Not afraid to hold there ground. Very well mannered while doing so.

    Say what they like, our education system appears to be delivering, Delivering in the areas that Naplan doesn’t test. My observation as gran, great gran kids are taught to stand in front of school, giving a talk from kindy. Communication training is seen as important.

    The PM should be more concern about what they are saying, demanding than chastising them for having a few hours out of school.

    Every time they protest, the more they will become organised.

  18. My Life My Choice

    Well said, Dave Chadwick, in particular your systematic dismantling of the flimsy criticisms directed at these children. As you’ve rightly articulated these children are the voters of the future. This augurs well not only for Australia but the world. The greatest lesson any child can learn is to be curious, to be engaged, to participate in the political process via peaceful protest recognising this process determines every aspect of their young lives, and to hold their elected leaders to account when they’re clearly failing in their duty of care. Friday last these kids did just this and on a global scale in more than 100 countries. 30,000 children marched in Sydney, my home town. Well done, kids. So proud of you.

  19. David Bruce

    From my own research it appears we have missed the boat in terms of preventing climate change and our focus should now be on how to deal with it. As the kids who marched will probably have to implement whatever options are available, they have every right to demand action from the unlawful Australian Government!

    The idea of ignoring the two major political parties shows a degree of intellectual maturity too. With LNP we get national socialism and with Labor we get soviet socialism. Every Labor Prime Minister from Gough to Gillard was a member of the Fabian Society. Either way, the Australian people are the losers.

    The dreadful result of the callous acts in Christchurch bring to mind the meeting of the 5 Eyes intelligence agency chieftains at the Millbrook Resort at Arrowtown, near Queenstown on the south island, in April 2017. As Bill English, the New Zealand Prime Minister at that time said “One of the regular conferences that they have, we work with the other four countries, combating terrorism, protecting our citizens around the world. So it’s an arrangement that works well for New Zealand.”

    Seems it didn’t work so well for the Kiwi’s this year, or perhaps that is where the planning for the event took place?

  20. Alcibiades

    David Bruce

    With Labor we get Soviet Socialism ? Laughable.

    Indeed the lesser of two evils in a binary machine politics system … more like Neoliberal lite, with patchy elements of socialism. Hm ?

    The long gone ghosts of Soviet Cheka & subsequent KGB, would no doubt salivate at the corruption of our Rule of Law, ever expanding all-encompansing surveillance State, & arbitrary Ministerial discretionary powers over Aussies … that the Coalition has imposed upon us. All in the name of that nebulous, endlessly malleable catch-cry of ‘National Security’, in a supposed western ‘Liberal-Democracy’. Indeed.

    The five eyes indeed run false flag ops, however, a terrorist attack by a right wing extremist neo-nazi good ol’ white boy, absolutely apposite the carefully crafted ‘narrative’ in support of their goals for two decades now … is certainly logically not one of them. (see: AusNZ & global reaction).

    PS The UK BBC still cannot manage to describe him as a ‘Terrorist’ … hm ?

  21. Carol Taylor

    Alcibiades, I agree. Politics has moved so far to the right that it makes Malcolm Fraser look like a left wing radical. Labor is currently to the right of Fraser, hence to call current Labor ‘socialist’ is indeed laughable. This has been caused by decades of attacks especially divide and conquer, aided and abetted I might say by the current batch of Greens who see their ‘support’ defecting to Labor should Labor attempt anything progressive.

  22. Alcibiades

    @Carol Taylor

    Howards Liberals, for he purged & crafted the current 2nd & 3rd rate dregs of, declare & denounce deceased Malcolm Fraser, as a rogue leftist ! Malcolm Fraser, who once dismissively declared “Life was never meant to be easy”.

    Decades in conjunction with corporate MSM, as part of the obvious objectives & ‘narrative’ of the so called ahem ‘International Community’.

    Greens, IMV, scavenge where they can re vulnerable disaffected Labor seats, without considering the larger picture, ’cause what chance have they of winning Lib or Nat seats, though that is ever so gradually changing. Labor is not without sin on that score. In recent times, Greens only poll slightly better than One Notion. Yet are also constantly derided as dangerous extremists by the likes of Dutton & co.

    Shall never forget George Christensen displaying his inner Blackshirt, calling for 2 year imprisonment terms for protesters, under our egregious counter-terrorism laws.

    The Notionals stealing the only seat won last election by the coalition … a Lib held seat … mirrors the Greens.

    There is the formal Coalition, and then there is the informal coalition of Labor & Greens. Yet members of each are often at their coalition partners throats.

    Alas none of the ‘Parties’ can get past self-interest it seems.

    Despise whatabouterry, most often used by amateur coalition trolls masquerading as Greens. A two-fer-one trollin’.

    The Media is complicit in this also, by serially using false equivalence ‘narratives’ when one or the other party or member is caught out. Apologia, so all are tarred with the same brush & effectively few are held to account.

    Is it any wonder ~25% of voters, and growing, do not give their primary vote to either Liberal/National or Labor.

    What is One Notion ? Predominantly former disaffected & disillusioned Coalition & Labor voters. The proof is in their preference flows.

    Despair … Iceland is looking good.

  23. Andreas Bimba

    Carol did you just write that the Greens have helped push Labor to the right??

    Alcibiadis you wrote.

    ‘Greens, IMV, scavenge where they can re vulnerable disaffected Labor seats, without considering the larger picture,’

    So is the larger picture for the Greens and other minor parties and any independents to just disappear from politics and leave it to Labor and the LNP to fight it out? I think the Australian people get to decide these things and surely most want more choices, not to just flip a coin, and many Australians are very disillusioned with the duopoly. By the way the Greens if they held the balance of power will not help establish a LNP government so your larger picture argument does not apply as far as preventing the formation of a Labor government, I would have thought.

    Is there even one published Greens policy that is to the right politically of a published Labor policy? Of the hundreds of Greens policies on their website I don’t know of any. Maybe there is one but put all the policies on the table and see where on the political spectrum they all reside.

    Many progressive policies that Labor eventually adopted were Greens policies long before. For example ending negative gearing, a federal ICAC, marriage equality, a price on carbon – aghh how awful of the Greens, phasing out coal fired power and many more.

    Labor are still fiddling as Rome burns on preventing any new coal mines especially the Carmichael mega coal mine that could be the first of many. Labor still wants to be seen as ‘tough’ on asylum seekers arriving by boat which is code for state sanctioned torture and manslaughter of people guilty of no crime. Labor routinely supports every expansion of the surveillance powers of our security services and the shrinking of our civil liberties in the war on ‘terror’. Labor wants bigger surpluses than the LNP which means Labor chooses to have high levels of unemployed and underemployed just like the LNP when we can have full employment policies. The Greens have a fiscal policy of ongoing deficits of 3% of GDP which will reduce unemployment. Free trade agreements with everyone are still policy in the ALP just like the LNP even though this has destroyed most of our manufacturing industry. The Greens have a policy of Australian manufacture of New Energy Vehicles such as EV’s for example but Labor offers nothing just like the LNP. Animal welfare is little different under Labor than the LNP. The same applies to native forest clear felling. I could go on and on about Labor’s neoliberal policy direction over the last 40 years as well.

    Yes Labor are better than the LNP, often by a significant margin, but too often it’s just a choice between neoliberal team A or B.

    I really want Labor to win decisively next federal election as the LNP are truly appalling but all political parties should compete with each other and offer a meaningful choice to the electorate.

    If the Greens win a few seats from Labor, or even the Liberals, they are getting close in Victoria, that is the electors choice. With about 10 to 12% of the national vote the Greens VOTERS are entitled to 15 to 18 House of Reps. Greens MP’s, not just 1 as now. No wonder the LNP and Labor oppose the Greens democratic policy of proportional representation voting.

  24. Alcibiades

    Andreas Bimbas

    One passionately wishes for the removal of the venal Coalition. Worse than even the best day of Joh in QLD. Fervently vainly hope to see a few at least in gaol. That does not therefore mean one has to ignore Labors faults as the only possible or practicable alternative to form government. Any parties faults for that matter..

    Clearly you are triggered re the Greens. Good for you. Perhaps you may now wish to reflect on their faults, or not.

    Respectfully, please do not attribute to me words & views you have manufactured &/or extrapolated, that one never stated nor expressed.

    There are probably only about half a dozen to a dozen current & former individual politicians federally that one has any respect for, and they are spread across four parties and independents.

    Perhaps re-read the comment with fresh eyes in the cold light of day. Strawmen = no response.

    Alas none of the ‘Parties’ can get past self-interest it seems.

    IMV, the fundamental flaw in our ‘supposed’ democracy is our binary choice ‘rigged’ 2PP duopoly.

  25. Andreas Bimba

    Alcibiadis, I responded to Carol’s comment and yours, I don’t think I was creating a straw man argument. Most of what I wrote was to present a case why I felt the Greens help pull Labor and even the LNP in the progressive direction.

    I actually agree with nearly everything you and Carol write but when I see something that appears incorrect I might sometimes feel compelled to respond which is just like a debate.

    For example you just wrote you only have respect for 6 to 12 current or former politicians. That’s far more negative than my view so is another point of difference which is all fine.

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