March 15th: Schools Protest for Climate Action
Words by Austen Hunt and Thandi Bethune from the USYD Walk-Off Organising Committee
On March the 15th, students around the globe are walking out of class to demand action on climate change.
We are facing a climate emergency requiring a rapid transition to renewable energy to stop runaway climate change. The movement’s aim is to pressure governments and businesses around the world to address the impending climate crisis with scientifically proven solutions.
The wave was kicked into motion by the actions of high-school student Greta Thunberg who skipped school to protest the Swedish Government and to demand that actions be taken to address the challenges posed by climate change. Initially standing alone, Greta’s protest seemed to fall on deaf ears, yet she has persisted and returned to the footsteps of her parliament every Friday since September, 2018.
Greta’s cries for climate justice have since spread across the world, inspiring and challenging people to take a stand. Speaking in front of the United Nations COP24 Conference, Thunberg called out politicians tendency to “only speak of the green, eternal economic growth because they are too scared of being unpopular”, keeping us “moving forward with the same bad ideas which got us into this mess”. Her actions have inspired children in 51 countries including Australia join in on the action which is now known as the SchoolStrike4Climate.
The forerunners within Australia, Harriet O'Shea Carre and Milou Albrecht, showed this movement had traction in our home country. The two girls initially protested in the regional centre of Bendigo, Victoria. Their actions have empowered school kids across the nation through their actions and endorsement of the SchoolStrike4Climate.
On November 30th, 2018, thirteen-thousand Australian school students went on strike, seeking to challenge the entrenched position of the Federal Government demanding they take climate change seriously and create real solutions to the climate catastrophe we are facing.
The Australian government failed to appease this protest, instead opting to condescend and belittle the voices of the students. The response of members of cabinet has proven beyond any doubt that their allegiance lies not with the Australian people, to whom climate change is a real and terrifying threat, but with the mining and fossil fuel corporations, whom are unapologetic as they destroy our planet. It is clear that the government’s coal-friendly attitude will not shift on its own, making the need for protests and industrial action crucial. The extent to which the government feels threatened by this can be in the hostile remarks made by key representatives of parliament such as Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who shrugged off their efforts, asserting that “The best thing you learn from going to a protest is how to join the dole queue”.
These sentiments were echoed by the current prime minister, Scott Morrison, who stated that “what we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools”.
Building on the success and momentum of the first strike the school students have called another, asking university students and unions to join them. The response in universities has been significant, with hundreds of students and staff across Sydney rallying to support the SchoolStrike4Climate.
Members of Solidarity, the National Unions of Students, the Australian Student Environmental Network, and Environmental Collectives across various universities met with organisers of the SchoolsStrike4Climate to establish university contingents to the rally and build a consensus of demands. The result of which has been to demand that the government facilitate:
1. A transition to 100% publicly owned renewable energy in Australia by 2030
This demand recognises the need for investment in renewable energy to rapidly reduce our carbon footprint. The reluctance of Australia’s energy retailers to modernise energy generation, instead seeking to protect their coal consumption, is the main opposition to need divestment. A government investment and a commitment to de-privatising energy is needed to achieve a change in the energy sector.
2. A just transition to green jobs for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
This demand recognises that the war on coal can easily translate to a war on workers. We need a just transition with 300 000 green jobs guaranteed, unionised employment and retraining for workers involved in the fossil fuel industry with no reduction in pay and conditions. This demand can be met by taxing corporations and ending the $11 billion annual state subsidies to polluters.
3. No new coal or gas developments, including putting a stop to the Adani mine.
This demand recognises that as pollution from coal is the largest contributing factor to global warming we must stop it at its source. Australia is the world largest exporter of coal and sixth largest exporter of liquified natural gas. Without significant interference by a mass climate movement, the Australian government will continue to pollute and destroy the land. Their blatant disregard for the science which supports the unsustainability of fossil fuels can be seen through their commitment to the hugely unpopular Adani mine. The Adani mine is set to become Australia’s largest coal and gas mine, the construction of which would have irreparable environmental repercussions.
As the movement grows so do the attendees. The University of Sydney will be joining the walkout on the 15th of March, supported by the SRC and the National Tertiary Education Union, who have voted not to penalise students for attending the rally instead of their classes. The USYD coalition continues to grow as over a thousand students have already signed a petition showing support for these demands and forty-two classes have passed motions agreeing to attend the strike. Many NTEU teachers will be striking with them, making the need for student support and attendance paramount. On Friday March 8th, the USYD Walk-Off Organising Committee delivered a letter to Vice Chancellor Michael Spence requesting he send a university wide email to students and staff endorsing the strike and fly a flag of support on strike day. On Monday March 11th, the VC sent out this email, supporting the strike action and declaring no student or teacher would be penalised for attending the strike. It is through the hard work of student activists and mass support from students and teachers that such action was made possible. Through continued mobilisation and organisation, and the expansion of the movement through workers and unions, we will be able to apply this same pressure on the government and win the demands needed to end climate change.
The school children have lead the way, however if we are to create a force strong enough to fight the fossil fuel companies and their government allies it will require wide-spread workers support. In Belgium one of the country’s biggest union federations covering thirty percent of unionised workers has declared it is going on strike on March 15th. In Australia a wide range of unions are showing support by pledging contingents to the strike. If their commitment grows into taking industrial action there will be a real chance of ending climate change.
The contingent from the University of Sydney will be rallying at 10:30 AM on Friday the 15th of March. Students and staff will meet at Fisher Library and march to Town hall where they will join the SchoolStrike4Climate.
See facebook links for more information or to get involved!