Help from fracking campaigner, or orchestrating students?


2621 Nicole Pietsch OK
NOTE correspondence between Nicole Pietsch, giving her account of what happened,  and Alice Springs News Online editor Erwin Chlanda.
Nicole Pietsch, a prominent activist against fracking, was directing the chanting by students participating in the “School Strike 4 Climate Action” in Alice Springs yesterday.
While taking photographs and possibly videos of the group, Ms Pietsch (pictured at the rally) said “shall we say no fossil fuels three times? … Say no fossil fuels … Why don’t we do climate actions now? … Really loud”.
The group followed her leads (see video at bottom).
There has been much discussion about the possibility of the world-wide school strike movement being exposed to influence from established pressure groups. In fact, earlier in yesterday’s rally a mother drew attention to that in a short speech, which was followed by articulate presentations by several young people. (This article is not to suggest that they do not genuinely hold the views they expressed nor that they do not have reason to do so.)
And yesterday’s The Australian newspaper, under the heading “School students’ strike: adults organised climate rally” reported: “A school strike today promoted as a ‘student-led protest’ by thousands of children skipping classes to attend climate change rallies around the nation has been organ­ised by a network of adult activists from climate campaign organisations.”
Ms Pietsch is the Strategy and Communications Manager of the influential Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC) which, according to its CEO Jimmy Cocking, has 350 paid up members.
Triangular yellow “No Fracking” signs were prominent in the rally.
2621 School Strike 4 climate 8 OK
Mr Cocking, when asked whether the students were being taken advantage of said they were being “supported”.
NEWS: Ms Pietsch was telling them what to say and how to say it and how often to say it. She is guiding them. She was giving instructions to the supposedly independent student protesters.
COCKING: The adults there were giving support. It was the first time [the students] have done this sort of stuff. It’s important to do it safely.
NEWS: There was no safety issue. They were standing on a lawn. There was no traffic.
After speaking to Ms Pietsch and returning to our phone call, Mr Cocking said he had been told she had been asked by the group “to lead the chant for the photo so they can get some good footage for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition … for their purposes.
“She is a communications person. She was taking [the photos] as official photographer for ALEC but also on behalf of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition because they asked for that support,” said Mr Cocking.
NEWS: Who in the group asked Nicole to do what she was doing?
COCKING: It was the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the group of young people who are involved in organising [the rally].
NEWS: Specifically who made the request to Ms Pietsch?
COCKING: I don’t know that specifically. It was someone in the group organising [the rally]. Specifically? I don’t know. That’s just what I was told just now.
NEWS: I would like to know who specifically it was that [who made the request].
COCKING: It was one of the young women involved in organising it.
I requested a name so I could coroborrate the claims.
Mr Cocking said he did not know any name, has provided no further information but said that ALEC wasn’t involved in organising the rally.
We texted Ms Pietsch at 8.27am today asking for the identity of the person who made the request to her but there has been no response at the time of publication. We will report it if and when we receive it.
We have also contacted one young person who was at the rally and he said he is not aware of any arrangements with Ms Pietsch.
We have left messages for two others who were at the rally.
Meanwhile the national daily describes the Australian Youth Climate Coal­ition as a non-profit company registered as a charity with an all-adult board and 68 adult staff.
“The AYCC was set up a decade ago to mobilise young people on climate action by Anna Rose, an adult activist and the wife of former GetUp national director and Greens candidate Simon Sheikh,” writes the Australian.
“Mr Sheikh was listed in the AYCC’s 2013 constitution as one of its 16 full members, along with Ms Rose, with voting rights to elect the group’s board.
“The adult-controlled AYCC has extensive links to other clim­ate action and anti-Adani groups with large campaign budgets, ­including the Sunrise Project, GetUp and Greenpeace.”
Ms Pietsch has been referred to in the Alice Springs News Online in 15 reports since August 2013, mostly in connection with anti-fracking activism.

UPDATE Sunday, March 17, 11.32am

A member of the rally organising committee, Jordyn Kindness, says the committee had not been “talking as a group” about requesting Ms Pietsch to direct the photo shoot, and she is not aware that anyone had approached Ms Pietsch.
Ms Kindness says the group wants the strike to be seen as an initiative by students, acting in collaboration with other groups to deal with “something that will affect all of us” and making their voices heard.
“This is not about adults manipulating students,” she said this morning when asked for comment.

UPDATE, 10.17am 18 March 2019: Ms Pietsch has given her account of what happened and Alice Springs News Online editor Erwin Chlanda has responded. We drew attention to this at the head of this article earlier on 18 March.

UPDATE 9:40am March 27: We have changed the word “manipulating” to “orchestrating” in the heading of this report. A reader has suggested the change because it more clearly reflects the facts. We agree with him.




  1. Gees … this aricle is pathetic. Those kids were in the streets, on strike, like in the rest of the world.
    They did the step to get out in the street.
    Fossil fuels leads to climate change.
    What does it change to have someone asking them to say something on video? She is not manipulating them, these kids are not stupid. AS News always looking for drama.

  2. So despite most of the kids I know going there as a result of their own agency (and not even knowing who this lady is), she manipulated the kids? What do you think they were there for?
    To support fracking and the Adani coal mine?
    According to this article it would appear that as soon as Ms Pietsch told them that fossil fuels are bad they somehow changed their opinion and started marching blindly in protest.

  3. What is this rubbish? But seriously, that’s some hard hitting investigative journalism right there!

  4. In what has been an International backlash by young people who want to secure a safer environment for their future do you really feel like putting forward accusations of manipulation against a person who is supporting these young people is the best use of your platform? Low blow Erwin.

  5. Hi Laurie May and “Marie”, thank your for your comments.
    The story makes the point that Ms Pietsch’s action may compromise the independence and resoluteness of the students’ actions described in our report the day before.
    I am still looking forward to a reply from Ms Pietsch to the question I put to her.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  6. Oh dear Erwin. Presenting News. Both sides of the argument. How terrible are you (tongue in cheek).
    The people who are supporting guiding and manipulating should be ashamed of them selves.
    Most still a utilize carbon / fossil fuel based lifestyle.
    Dis Ms Pietsch attend and partake in any of the organising meetings? Did ALEC do likewise?
    More to the organisation of this event than meets the eye.

  7. This is one of the best news stories that has popped up on my screen in a long time.
    My advice to the students would be to maintain your sense of outrage and to question the motives of all who are trying to co-opt that outrage, whether they be the pollies telling you to stay in school or the choir-masters leading your chants.
    And be assured of this: The world you will grow into will not be the same as the world into which you were born.
    Turbo capitalism and the ongoing rape of our planet will see to that.

  8. It is important to highlight that the protest was a student initiative regarding a very important topic.
    The aim of the protest was to express our concerns to the government that, while we can all play a role to minimise our impact to climate change, we dearly wish the government to consider the longer-term ramifications of their decision making and the potential disastrous impact it might have on the global climate.
    The students came together under the nationwide student movement, but we would also like to thank all who provided support, including the adults that attended as well as the Arid Lands Environment Centre. 
    But we are concerned that our efforts might be minimised by stating that the protest was organised by adults, who were using students as a vehicle to address climate change.
    For us as students, we do not believe this to be the case.
    Our message is simple; we are united in our concern about climate change and we want the Australian government to know.

  9. @ Phantom: No one manipulated those kids, you are insulting them. You can question to what extend they were aware of the problems, ask if they are willing to sacrificed few things in the daily life, but not criticize their judgment.
    Youth need leaders / showing examples, it does not mean they are idiots.

  10. Oh Jordyn please, of course it was organised by adults. And Get Up and similar groups are the ones promoting it.
    A far move effective way to go would be spend a whole week studying the topic, looking at the tried and failed climate agreements, why world leaders have pulled out and why the targets are unrealistic, explore the falsities and discredited arguments of Al Gore et. al.
    And develop a real solution that can be sent to the CSRIO and then study their response.
    I suppose that it is good that they could show they are concerned about climate change, like we all are, but I know protesting in the street, with disrespectful, silly slogans obviously developed by adults will achieve what exactly?
    Each kid putting something intelligent on Facebook would have more reach.

  11. Wow. Way to undermine the intelligence of these kids AS News. If I were in Nicole’s position I wouldn’t be validating this sad little article with a reply.
    If your concern was the co-opting of the opinions of these kids why are you focussing on the adults who were in attendance. There were a bunch of kids there. I’m sure at least one of them would have had a chat.
    [ED – There are three students quoted and pictured in Friday’s story.]

  12. To those Alicians who profess outrage at the claim that the student Climate Change protest was a political stunt organized in this Federal election period:
    I strongly suggest that the Political Stunt Deniers read Peta Credlin’s critical expose of the nationwide push into our schools by GetUp! strategy that was published in the Sunday Herald Sun.
    Of course you PS Deniers will turn tour nose up at Peta and News Limited. However, Peta knows those in the halls of power on Capital Hill like few media commentators do.
    One thing she does extremely well is to thoroughly research her topic for factual data. And she presents it fearlessly, without worrying what anyone thinks. A Warrior Woman in a Man’s World.
    In every protest march there are the passionate foot soldiers and behind them the organizers and manipulaters of the populist masses.
    In this case the school kids and behind them the adult Greens and GetUp! and political adult activists that Peta so accurately identifies and nails.
    Alice is part of it. No different from the rest of Oz.
    The passion of kids Kids manipulated by savvy adults pushing their so called “progressive” agenda in the causes that will get rid of all who think differently, “conservatively”, from all seats in the Parliament at the coming election.

  13. What a strange angle for this article. I attended the rally and was impressed by the speeches, the turnout, and the witty banners made by the young people of Alice.
    Let’s not forget that we’ve just had the hottest summer on record (again), an unprecedented number of days of 40C in Alice and large parts of the country were recent ablaze or flooded.
    The climate has already changed and I’m so glad these fantastic young people are on the streets making their voices heard, with or without adult supporters.

  14. Exactly what Ben Allen said. This is a manufactured load of rubbish to help this newspaper create a debate. Talk about co-opting the message, Alice Springs News Online.

  15. Erwin, this is an appalling article. You’ve fallen for and run with the deliberate smear campaign of the fossil fuel companies who have sought to undermine the youth climate movement by suggesting “the world-wide school strike movement being exposed to influence from established pressure groups”.
    I am deeply frustrated to see you push this line.
    The Australian article that you cite has been roundly discredited. Anna Rose has had nothing to do with the AYCC for many many years. The organisation has a principle that staff have to leave the org once they turn 30. It was such a rubbish industry spin piece I can’t believe you use that to back up your claims.
    One and a half million young people around the world have called for action on climate change and rightly so. We need urgent action to arrest the devastating impacts on our natural world – and all of our lives.
    As someone who has recently left Alice Springs, in large part due to the increasing climate impacts, I am devastated to see this beat up “in the public interest” rather than a questioning of our political “leaders” about what the hell they are doing to respond and prepare for the horrors to come.
    All my solidarity to the kids – thank goodness you are providing us with a spark of possibility in these dark times. And three cheers for all the adults, parents, teachers and orgs who have got behind the kids.
    We must rise.

  16. While transportation and agriculture are the biggest contributors to global warming, ALEC decided to turn this into just another protest against fracking. Well done.

  17. Nah Erwin, that’s not what you’re doing. This isn’t news. You’re attempting to undermine (poorly) a movement and making it pretty clear you don’t believe these kids have agency on their own without adult manipulation.
    [ED – If you had read our reporting with any kind of attention, you would have realised that the students’ right to act free from unsolicited intervention underpinned our entire coverage. Erwin Chlanda, Editor]

  18. NEWS: Ms Pietsch was telling them what to say and how to say it and how often to say it. She is guiding them. She was giving instructions to the supposedly independent student protesters.
    OK, but if no-one had led the chant it would have been a cacophony and whingers would have said: “Could this have been organised better?”

  19. @ Alex Kelly: You don’t seem to have read our coverage with the attention that would justify this critique.
    First, there is no need to preach to me about climate change reporting. I have been doing it for decades. The list of our independently-researched reports relevant to this region, on fracking, energy policy, renewables, the impacts of wildfire to name some of the subject headings, and the quoting of a broad scope of comment, is as long as my arm.
    Second, the students’ right to operate without unsolicited interference from other organisations underpinned our entire reporting of the school strike.
    It is a fact that allegations are abroad that the movement is exposed to influence and those allegations are made by Australia’s national daily plus other media. Far from “falling for” these allegations or “pushing” them, I treated them as part of the background against which local events unfold.
    On the face of it, the actions by Ms Pietsch on Friday, without being invited, looked like playing into their hands.
    In fact late this morning, as we are reporting, the ALEC CEO said it would have been better for a student to do the directing of the chants, not an ALEC employee.
    My coverage was true, in the public interest, based on evidence, and produced including the appropriate right of reply.
    Erwin Chlanda, Editor.

  20. @ Local 1: Simply put, condescending comments like yours are what drives young people to strikes.
    The contempt shown for people’s action highlights their feeling of being unheard.
    Speaking of the CSIRO, what are your opinions of the job cuts that have occurred there, particularly in the climate science division?
    While I somewhat agree with the sentiment that many climate deals, such as the Green new deal suggested in America are idealistic and ineffective, action must be taken.
    However, I think your comment here is more to show your superiority rather than suggesting any credible ideas.
    I also agree that slogans aimed towards Scott Morrison are childish BUT there is no denying that the Liberal party have not done enough.

  21. As parents of the generation who will inherit this planet destroyed by capitalism’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, it is our duty to educate our offspring on their power to create change by having a voice.
    Having a voice is central to true democracy.
    Adults cannot be demonised for educating their children to participate in a global movement, for teaching our kids how to be leaders.
    The change starts within, not with nit picking the involvement of adults in their children’s lives, especially when the stakes are so high.

  22. It seems obvious that this group were used to push additional protesting at the same time.
    I would be interested in knowing how many of these people / kids practice what they preach and do things at their own homes to limit their effect on the climate?
    When they go home turn the split system on, fire up their computer games, iPads and munch on lollies with plastic wrappers lying around.
    Good on them for protesting their beliefs. I only hope they were their beliefs and not those of others.


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