After years of apocalyptic headlines and government intransigence on climate change, the sight of thousands of high school students packing Sydney’s Martin Place last Friday provided a jolt of much-needed hope for the future. Armed with loudspeakers, and some incredibly creative posters, the strike — which also took place in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Coffs Harbour, Bendigo and other city centres — represented part of a global surge of student-led climate change protests.
It also caused a surge of righteous fury among conservative politicians and commentators; a feeling that was not shared by most Australians who are more worried about climate change than ever, and increasingly are in favour of more renewable energy. Here’s a selection of the responses from those who chose to take a stand against the children advocating for their future:
Stay in school, kids!
Prime Minister Scott Morrison began the attacks earlier in the week, declaring that he wanted “more learning in schools and less activism in schools”. The responses from his party would only get weirder.
Just a day after referring to the Adani Group (annual revenue US$11 billion) as a “little Aussie battler”, Queensland Senator Matt Canavan declared that the errant children should be learning about the wonders of geology at school, instead of protesting. “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue queue. Because that’s what your future will look like,” Canavan told Sydney radio station 2GB.
Canavan said students should instead learn how to build a mine, which he described as “one of the most remarkable science exploits in the world”. Unfortunately for the former resources minister, geology hasn’t appeared on a curriculum in NSW or Queensland for more than a decade, and its closest analogue, earth and environmental science, does not teach students how to build mines.
Meanwhile, NSW MP Craig Kelly took a break from desperately fighting to save his job to weigh in, saying that students should have given up junk food instead of striking. “If they’re really serious they should make a commitment — no ice cream, no hamburgers and no trips to the Gold Coast for schoolies because of all the emissions from airplanes,” Kelly said.
Check the science, nerds
Commentators who have built entire careers railing against the perceived erosion of free speech attacked the students for failing to buy into their own brand of climate denialism.
The students’ biggest crime, according to Andrew Bolt, was that they dared listen to the 97% of scientists who agree that anthropogenic climate change is on the rise. “At the heart of this protest was a deep ignorance, shielded by an impenetrable and arrogant sense of self-righteousness,” Bolt said.
Over on Sky News after dark, Rowan Dean pointed to some graphs (and a picture of an iguana) and argued that the students should be more concerned about global cooling.
Meanwhile in The Australian, Australian Catholic University academic Kevin Donnelly (who was once retained by tobacco giant Philip Morris to design educational programs about peer pressure), argued that the strike was just the latest development in a long-running neo-Marxist conspiracy to control Australia’s educational institutions and indoctrinate our children.
Naughty, naughty children!
But perhaps the saddest genre of right-wing response were the ones that condescendingly thumbed their noses at the misbehaving students. Queensland Senator James McGrath took great mirth in a sign which misspelt “jealous” as “jelous”. “Perhaps these children’s teachers and parents might like to refocus their attention on the three Rs, of which rioting is not one of them,” McGrath said in a Facebook post.
Others, like Bolt, couched their outrage in wowserish concern about the students’ use of naughty words. In a widely mocked tweet, Ten Daily sports editor Anthony Sharwood chastised the students for use of vulgarity, while also referring to them as “naughty stupid kids”. He has since walked back the criticism, but not before writing a story about it.
But perhaps the most bizarre contribution was that of Herald Sun columnist Tim Blair, who argued, in a thinkpiece that touched on the Normandy Invasion and European jazz that the students should be exposed to ridicule and public humiliation. In a separate blog post that could only be described as hysterical and juvenile, Blair went on to call the student activists “hysteria babies”.