climate change protest school strike kids students
(Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

Last week provided a glaring contrast between the shoddy, deeply dispiriting politics-as-usual of 2018 and the hope that things might somehow improve.

First, there was the Adani announcement about its Carmichael project, which it insists will now go ahead in scaled down form, although whether it does or not still remains to be seen. The Carmichael project has long reflected everything wrong with Australian politics and its political system: an incompetent minister, a corrupt multinational, known for its Labor-connected lobbyist, its large donations to political parties and its ability to exercise direct influence over political leaders, which is proceeding with a scaled-down version of its coal project because it isn’t commercially viable.

Well-known for a blatant lie about the number of jobs it will create, the project in its scaled-down form is being sold with more lies about its employment benefits — now, at 1500, apparently larger than when the project was several times bigger. And climate denialist Coalition politicians — even greater recipients of fossil fuel company donations than Labor — cheered on a mine that will produce 27.5 million tonnes of coal a year, an output that even at that lower level is completely inconsistent with preventing deeply economically damaging global warming that will inflict massive damage on Australia and its region. Even the lie about India needing coal was trotted out again. 

While politicians and business were celebrating the announcement of an extraordinarily damaging expansion of Australia’s addiction to coal, thousands of schoolchildren were taking to the streets to protest against the government’s climate denialism and rejection of any need to curb Australia’s massive per-capita level of carbon emissions. For these kids, the issue of climate change is real in a way that it isn’t for the Matt Canavans and Scott Morrisons of the world: they will work in, and raise their own kids in, a world materially poorer for our failures. The new National Climate Assessment — from that den of lunatic environmentalists, the US government — warns of $US700 billion a year in costs to the US economy alone by 2090 — a year I and most of you reading this will never see but easily within the lifetimes of the kids on the streets on Friday.

Inevitably, climate denialists and conservative politicians railed against the children (politicians attacking kids is always a good look) with Scott Morrison declaring that there was some sort of distinction between learning and activism. That’s a strange, 3 Rs idea of education that it consists of children being passive recipients of information rather than being encouraged to develop critical thinking skills — something there’s far too little of in an education system focused more on economic outcomes rather than developing effective and engaged citizens.

As it turns out, however, the kids are being more economically rational than the fossil fuel industry-controlled politicians. The most absurd thing about our failure to action of climate change now is that the costs of such action are relatively cheap — indeed, given the experience of two years with a carbon price, probably barely noticeable — compared to the growing costs of climate change. 

 “We’ll be less Activist if you’ll be less Shit” read one sign carried by the thousands of protesters. It’s a good deal, but our business-as-usual politicians are incapable of meeting their end of it.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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