Under a black felt hat my sweet-faced niece stood to one side of the climate strike and quietly took in the surging crowd bristling with placards. A little older than the school strikers, at their age Lucy had also missed school because of climate. Her primary school burned to the ground in the Black Saturday fires whose 10th anniversary we observed last month. She lost her home, neighbours, her dog—everything but one teddybear she called Derrida.
On the cusp of adolescence the underpinning of Lucy’s emotional infrastructure was blasted to smithereens. My little niece has since valiantly navigated the rocky road to adulthood against the blight of PTSD. It is hard to imagine the trauma. Her home filling with insulation fumes as the flames licked the ceiling. Her mother hosing them down, standing on the table she and her little sister cowered under, shrieking above the deafening roar, ‘You Are Not Taking my Children’. The wind change that meant they could get out without incinerating—tested by their Dad’s palm against a windowpane—took out more than 20 people on the ridge above.
At that time the dots between such unprecedented ‘extreme weather events’ and climate change were not being joined. Indeed they were deliberately disconnected by those withholding this critical information on climate science—information that may have saved lives in the Black Saturday fires. CSIRO climate scientists—summarily sacked by the Howard and Abbott Coaliphate governments—told us these firestorms, capable of killing 173 people an hour up the road from a CBD, would recur every 3-5 years in Southeast Australia under only a 2 degree rise in temperature.
Since then thousands of school age kids in our country have suffered loss of home and or their family’s livelihood through fire, flood, cyclone and drought. Upended already by climate change they are becoming a generation deprived of the indemnity of peacetime guarantees—that the certain turn of seasons will not harm them or obstruct their lifeplans.
This intergenerational pact, of each generation working to secure a better future for the next, has been torn up by a handful of fossil fuel oligarchs and the coal-fondling polliticians who answer to them. As George Monbiot wrote in a message to the young climate strikers, ‘We have lived as if your lives had no importance’, worshipping at the altars of what he calls a cannibal economy.
Lucy’s face did not betray the anger it should. For what she surveyed at the climate strike rally was heartening and hopeful. There have been dozens of global climate rallies and over a decade of blockades, lockons and actions of every description. But none with the moral authority of the democratically unrepresented youth who will inherit the unfolding catastrophe of more rapid and severe climate change than any of us envisaged when her home was lost.
The rally was electrifying. On the way in kids on the tram climbed up the hand rails like monkey bars. Others hunched over cardboard with sharpies making signs that read, ‘We already have a Uranus, we don’t need another Crap Planet’ and ‘It’s so Bad even the Introverts are here’.
When we arrived rally marshals waved us forward, ‘There are more people coming’. Blazers with piping, ponytails with ribbons, hemmed tunics and braces mixed it with dreadlocks, bumfluff, shaved heads and stick-and-pokes. They didn’t stop climbing, on statue plinths, up traffic lights, on hotel sills, up lampposts. Tram shelter lids wobbled under their outsized feet up the last blocks of Bourke St.
They were irrepressible, doing little hip wiggles to ‘What Do We Want’ and with the band reverberating a rally doof, they shrieked at the pitch of a Beatle’s concert. They snaked through the press holding hands, chains of them under colourful placards strung overhead like Tibetan prayer flags.
Bearing sprigs and branches of Eucalypt and bamboo they brought the bush to the city, some of it grown in the permaculture programs of the high schools they’d walked out of that morning—like the one Lucy’s parents took to running in their postfire lives.
Officeworkers politely shrugged back to their buildings clutching their lunches. Shopkeepers stood in their window displays, hands in pocket, smiling at the half-pints with curly mops and oversized sunnies leading the chant. Pavement lunchers stood and applauded, indeed some adults so wanted in they had squeezed into uniforms and stood in the pack grinning cheekily under their apocryphal baldness. The Spartacists loped through not getting any takers for their last-century hardcopy papers.
700 rallies like this in over 100 countries mapping out the inbuilt intersectionality of this youth movement. I’m guessing hundreds of thousands of profile pics changed in the aftermath all over the globe. Here in Australia the Adani mine was the coal face of the protest. ‘Adani are the Mafia’, one placard read.
They will keep going out, and start staying out. As they swell in numbers they will strategise and hunker down on bridges and major thoroughfares, shutting down the conduits of the cities and the carbon economy they were built on. They will disrupt our lives as we have theirs. And among them, growing in numbers, will be climate victims like my niece, who already know what’s a stake for all of their lives into the future. When their anger erupts we will answer to them and we’ll be lucky to get off with a detention. This movement of truants will expel the Coaliphate from their office towers and cut off their lobbying lifeline to the government. They have it coming, and it is.