Dear Grown-Ups, love Sian [April 1]
Which was your favourite protest banner at the recent student strike for climate action? Mine was the one that read ‘We’ll be less activist if you’ll be less sh*t’.
Some politicians reckon the kids should get back to school and leave the grown-ups to sort it out. Activism, they say, will lead them straight to the dole queue. I suspect what those grown-ups fear most, though, is that activism might lead to more activism – which might lead to change.
Back in 1990 I joined a delegation of nine young Australians chosen to attend a UN conference in London on protecting the ozone layer. The grown-ups had been pumping ozone-depleting chemicals into the stratosphere for decades and we needed them to stop before it all disappeared. At 25 I was the oldest member of the delegation. The youngest was a 17 year old schoolgirl in braces called Zanny Begg.
Together we wrote a speech pleading with the grown-ups to basically ‘be less shi*t’ about ozone depletion. Brave young Zanny stood up in front of hundreds of government representatives from all over the globe and delivered our speech. Then we all did interviews with the international media, pointing out that it was our generation who would suffer if governments failed to act.
Does this sound familiar?
Fortunately that UN treaty gained enough support to ensure that ozone-depleting chemicals would be phased out. And for many of the activists in our youth delegation, their London experience was the beginning of a lifetime of work for good causes.
One delegate called Bruce went to work in Canberra as a political advisor for the green-leaning Democrats. A Sydney delegate called Danny now heads up a successful solar electricity company in California. A Melbourne delegate called Adnan became a scientist and is now the Curator of Evolutionary Biology at Museums Victoria.
And if you’ve visited ACMI in Federation Square recently you might have seen a commissioned installation called The Beehive by a political artist called Zanny Begg.
No dole queues in sight.
The day after the global school strike for climate action the Secretary-General of the United Nations declared his support for the student climate activists. The Swedish schoolgirl who started the whole ball rolling, Greta Thunberg, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
My advice to the grown-ups: stop lecturing the kids and get on with saving the planet.
(This column was first published by Fairfax in March 2019)