By KIERAN FINNANE
“As the temperature rises, so will we!”
It was among the stirring messages from the School Strike for Climate leaders in Alice Springs this morning.
Some 200 of their peers filled the lawns outside Flynn Church in the mall, supported by 300 to 400 adults. That is a sizeable turnout for this town and the mood was elated even while the messages were sombre.
Four young women, (pictured, from left) Ruby Eldridge, Erin Wallace, Jordyn Kindness and Lucy McCullough, led the proceedings, passing the microphone between them. They are local high school students who have joined the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
“We are hoping to empower our generation, hoping history is not written for us but by us,” they said.
They described Australia as at the frontline of climate change, with prolonged drought, flash flooding, catastrophic bushfires, severe cyclones and heatwaves. And just at this time, when climate solutions should be ramped up, governments want to open up to new coal, oil and gas projects, “putting all of us at risk”, they said.
In Alice Springs seasonal temperatures are already on average one degree C warmer in summer, 1.5 degrees C warmer in winter. In these increasingly dry and harsh conditions, management of bushfires will become almost impossible.
This is one way that climate change is affecting us directly.
They referred to a new report to be released by the United Nations on the expected displacement, under 1.5 degrees of warming, of 200 million people due to rising sea levels.
This is due in the main to the mining and burning of coal, oil and gas, they said, calling on our governments to move beyond fossil fuels and build a sustainable economy based on renewable energy.
Instead, governments are actually helping companies like Origin Energy open the floodgates to new oil and gas projects, including fracking right across the NT, repeatedly acting against the wishes of traditional owners.
They called for a halt to new oil, coal and gas projects, and for action on “powering transition”, creating good, safe and meaningful work for everyone, a “just transition so no one is left behind”.
“What do you think?” they asked to resounding cheering and applause.
They were followed by Rita Tomlins and Vanessa Farrelly (pictured below, Vanesa on the microphone) of the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, the first of its kind, which works in association with the AYCC.
Rita described their vision for strong communities powered by renewable energy and called for a total ban on fracking shale gas in the NT.
It would irreplaceably damage country, she said, poison its groundwater, pollute the air, destroy sacred sites.
Communities have the right to have the final say about such projects on their country, and native title law is not strong enough for them to do that, to protect country from mining corporations and greedy politicians, she said.
Vanessa told the crowd about Seed’s campaign against Origin Energy, the largest and first to want to frack in the NT.
She described the risky processes involved and said Origin Energy want to use Territory lands as an “experimental guinea pig” for fracking in Australia.
She called on the students to write pledges to the CEO of the company, to “keep up the pressure” as Seed activists are, outside company offices in the capital cities every week.
With chants of “It’s our future!”, “Get it right!”, everyone moved in closer for a group photo, before moving off up the mall, along Parsons and down Hartley to Braitling MLA Dale Wakefield’s office. Some of them had written messages they delivered there and the lot kept up their rousing chants as they marched.
“I say climate, you say justice, climate, justice, climate, justice!”
“Boo, it’s hot in here, too much carbon in the atmosphere.”
“Climate change is not a lie, let’s not let our planet die.”
Along Stott Terrace, as traffic whizzed by, a group of male students from OLSH struck up a new chant: “If it’s not that far, don’t drive your car.”
I asked one of them, Joshua Graveling, why he thought the girls had been in the lead, and how the guys were feeling about it the issue.
He laughingly conceded, “They’ve done most of the work for us,” but he and his friends were “trying to have that backing voice for them” and the movement is about everyone: “It’s our future, my kids’ future, we’re the future of this land.”