World News

Australian Students Stage School Strikes Over Climate Change Inaction

Posted November 30, 2018 1:48 a.m. EST

MELBOURNE, Australia — As wildfires raged across the country, a heat wave again threatened the Great Barrier Reef and a mining giant announced it would push ahead with a huge coal project, thousands of students across Australia quit school for the day on Friday to protest government inaction on climate change.

The students — ranging in age from 5 to 18 — came from more than 200 schools to demand that the federal government block construction of the Adani Carmichael coal mine, block any new coal or gas projects and require 100 percent renewable energy use by 2030.

“I am here because I am terrified,” Harriet O’Shea Carre, 14, told a crowd of thousands of student marchers outside the Old Treasury Building in Melbourne. Protesters spilled out onto the road with signs saying “civil disobedience requires no permission slip” and “don’t be a fossil fool.”

O’Shea Carre, an organizer of the march and a student from Castlemaine Steiner School in Muckleford, about 70 miles northwest of Melbourne, predicted dire consequences if the government failed to act on climate change.

“I cannot bear the thought of losing the people that I love, when it could have been stopped,” she said of climate change. “And it can be stopped, but not for much longer.”

Another organizer, Milou Albrecht, said she had been inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old girl in Sweden who since September has spent every Friday sitting in protest outside Parliament in Stockholm.

“I realized that I could do the same,” said Albrecht, 14, a schoolmate of O’Shea Carre.

Thunberg tweeted her support of the students.

With the help of their parents, climate activists and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Albrecht, O’Shea Carre and two other students from the same town, Callum Neilson-Bridgefoot, 11, and Tully Boyle, 15, created a campaign video and set up a website and Facebook groups to publicize the strike.

Albrecht said she was astonished by the number of students who took part.

In Melbourne and Sydney, organizers estimated that about 8,000 students participated, and hundreds more joined the effort in other cities and towns. And earlier this week, an estimated 1,700 students protested in other parts of the country, including more than 200 who showed up at Parliament House in Canberra, the capital, to demand answers from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

On Monday, Morrison told senators that he did not condone the strike, because students should focus on “more learning” and “less activism.” He said he did not support “schools being turned into parliaments.”

The resources minister, Matt Canavan, was more pointed, saying students “don’t learn anything” by marching.

“I want kids to be at school to learn about how you build a mine, how you do geology, how you drill for oil and gas,” he told the local news media.

While the students did not manage to meet with Morrison, they were able to discuss their climate demands with members of the Green and Labor parties.

“We have seen parties listening to us, so we do have hope,” said Maiysha Moin, 17, an organizer from Fintona Girls’ School in Melbourne. “We’re part of a democracy; you can’t just ignore us because we’re younger,” she added.

Organizers said the students were joined by teenagers in Sweden, France, Norway and Finland who also skipped school in support.

In Melbourne, the students left the Treasury building’s steps to march through the busy city center. Some passers-by looked on, bewildered, as the strikers chanted, “The youth are rising, we’re not compromising.”