School climate strikers win union support

The World Health Organization and United Nations scientists warn that without stronger action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will have ‘dire consequences’ for the health of humans and the planet.

Young people are calling on governments to do more with a global School Strike for Climate to be held on 20 September. Australian unions, including the NSWNMA, have voiced support for the action.

Sydney student Ambrose Hayes and his mother Deanna, a nurse and NSWNMA member, tell why they support the school strike.

The first school strike in November got me reading and thinking deeply about climate change. When I found out how big of a problem it was I decided I needed to do something about it, Ambrose told The Lamp.

Some people say extreme weather events like heatwaves, severe droughts and melting ice caps have been happening for thousands of years. But almost all climate scientists agree that human activity is causing these events to happen more often and more intensely.  

School strikes have got a lot of support because youth want politicians to act on things that are vital to their future. Having a rally in school time has more of an impact than a weekend event. It gets more media coverage and people notice it more.

In the end, it is our future at stake and we should be able to decide if we go on strike or not. My parents support what I’m doing as long as my school work doesn’t suffer. 

Mum is very supportive of lots of environmental issues. She’s always tried to have less waste at home and at her work and I’ve absorbed some of her attitudes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing because I also did a lot of my own research about climate change.

My school doesn’t want us to walk off the school grounds to go on strike because we are under their duty of care. If we are going to strike, the school wants us to get a note from our parents excusing us from attendance that day, which is fair enough. 

Students Strike for Climate has a Sydney core organising group of about 11 students and we meet via online video chat to share ideas about how to organise the strike. Most of the time we reach agreement by consensus and sometimes we have a vote. For example, we might vote to choose speakers for a rally if a lot of people put their names down to speak.  

It can be hard to get everyone together at the same time. We all have homework to do and some people have part-time jobs.

We also have electorate teams who meet their local MPs and do strike promotion and we organise monthly clean-ups. Last month, we did the Cooks River.

I’m also involved in organising at the national level where we have to deal with different time zones. It’s even worse at the international level – some of us have meetings at 2am. Internationally, our discussions are mainly about deciding on a common date for action. Also, updates on actions around the world and sharing ideas about making the campaign stronger.

Prime Minister Morrison said students need “more learning and less activism”. Well, I’ve learned a lot of new things and got a lot of opportunities from being involved in the strike movement. I’ve conducted a lot of media interviews and spoken about Activism 
in the Age of Climate Change as a member of a Sydney Science Festival panel.

Steve Price on radio 2GB called me a smart but confused 14-year-old and kept interrupting me when I tried to answer his questions but I think I got my message across. I’ve also had a lot of support from adults, which has helped me a lot.

Climate change threatens health of millions

Organisers of the School Strike for Climate have asked the union movement and other adult organisations to join them at marches and rallies on 20 September.

“While the school strike movement is, and always will be student led, the climate crisis affects us all,” the student organisers said in a statement.

Unions, including the NSWNMA, have responded with statements of support.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health – clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.

 He said the World Health Organization warned that by 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea 
and heat stress.

Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution, the WHO says.

The last school climate strike in March was attended by 150,000 students around Australia and more than a million internationally.

The students want politicians to take urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change by:

  • Rejecting new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani mine.
  • Replacing polluting sources of energy with 100% renewables.
  • Funding a “just transition” and job creation for all fossil fuel industry workers.