23 September 2019

Climate action march will empower change well beyond the protests

| Kirsten Duncan
Join the conversation

It was a thrilling, energised day. There was no violence, no arrests, protesters even took home their own garbage. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The climate change march on Friday attracted large numbers of protestors, but what is its lasting impact? Kirsten Duncan argues that the march will empower a generation at critical risk. David Murtagh says while well-intentioned, the protests are largely misdirected and it’s an exercise in manipulation.

On Friday my teenage daughter and I joined hundreds of thousands of school and uni students, workers, families, teachers, retailers, tradespeople, health professionals and everyone in between at one of more than 100 protests around Australia as part of the Global Climate Strike.

It was a thrilling, energised day. There was no violence, no arrests, protesters even took home their own garbage. And it was all organised by our children.

They faced down absurd and patronising comments by laggard politicians and vested-interest media that they should be in school getting an education. As many hand-painted signs pointed out, what’s the point of getting an education if our so-called leaders won’t listen to educated scientists and concerned professionals?

As the dust of our global gatherings settles and our endorphins and adrenalin dissipate, many participants might be wondering if the biggest global protest in history will make any difference.

I believe this protest is different. This coordinated action was led using social networking tools that did not exist even a decade ago. More than 2800 Australian companies led by Future Super pledged to conduct ‘not business as usual’, many of them forgoing a day of revenue to allow employees to attend the strike.

This broad coalition of strange bedfellows signals widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo and applies pressure on all aspects of government and corporate business from all directions of society and economy.

Each of the three global strikes over the past year has been bigger than the previous – this is a movement that is gathering momentum and expanding in scale, not fizzling out as objectors surely hoped.

Meaningful social change is messy, complex, contextual and contested, slow and unpredictable. It is not won by simple linear cause-and-effect actions but by the gradual chipping away of resistance, the building of new solutions and pathways until the critical mass of all those efforts combined becomes an irresistible landslide.

We are at a critical juncture. Fifty years ago when global warming was first recognised, it was a vague and distant threat with plenty of time to rectify it. Even five years ago scientists were largely talking in terms of consequences in 2100 and beyond.

But, what feels like suddenly, it has become a single decade, and 10 years is a period of time that even election-cycle-focused politicians can start to relate to.

Opponents will probably opine that the global climate strike was a stupid, naïve, empty gesture, ‘virtue signalling’ at best, a costly disruption at worst. But what those commentators don’t see is the growth of ‘power within’, ‘power with’ and ‘power to’ that the massive gatherings represent. This is best illustrated by a tiny 10-year-old girl in the Canberra march.

Carrying a hand-painted, politically satirical cardboard sign taller than she was, she raised her small voice, calling ‘what do we want?’, ‘when do we want it?’ while the crowd around her enthusiastically responded ‘climate action’, ‘now’.

That child will carry away a sense of personal empowerment and agency. She will share the experience of her practical lesson in democracy with her teachers and classmates and maybe inspire them to take positive action.

I agree with Swedish activist Greta Thunberg that more than hope, we need action. But she’s wrong about nobody doing anything. Certainly, we need far more action, but the scale of the strike has shown that there are rapidly increasing numbers of people who, in the words of the Lorax, care ‘a whole awful lot’, and I take optimism from that.

Kirsten Duncan is completing a Master of Climate Change at the ANU, with a focus on communication and social transformation.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I am glad kids are giving the government stick about climate change. The same criticisms they apply to them are the same that was dished out to kids who protested Vietnam. The government of that time were happy to send boys under 21 who could not vote to war.

If they lower the voting age to 16 as some suggest the government would be in for a rude shock.

I am with the kids as they will inherit the big mess when i and the current crop of short sighted pollies are long dead and gone. We only have the one place cutrently to live , clumate change is evident and we have a death wish

Capital Retro4:40 pm 09 Oct 19

Climate has changed over millions of years and it continues to change so how are faux-angry children with meaningless slogans going to change anything.

When they turn 16 the only thing on their minds are drivers licenses – voting for “action” against climate change” (whatever that means) will be a distant memory.

I don’t worry about what sort of planet we are leaving for our children.
I worry about what sort of children we are leaving for our planet.
Greta Thunberg, the finger-wagging mentally ill Swedish teenager, should be ignored.

Don’t you wonder: if a whole room full of heads of state and UN representatives agree with her, perhaps she’s right? Or do you know more than they do?

Well said , reasonably written, nothing nasty, just a lovely thought provoking comment.. Dear FHW, if you have any belief in that World Body the U.N, I have many Harbour Bridges to sell you. It’s raining in Canberra, hopefully N.S.W an$ QLD gets some.

rationalobserver10:03 am 24 Sep 19

The big multiplier in all things related to man made climate change is the human population. Start there.

We have a population of around 412k.
10 to 12k estimated at the rally.
It would appear not all the population were as interested as Kirsten was.

Capital Retro10:48 pm 23 Sep 19

Spot on MERC600.

The warmists’ predictions of tens of thousands of activists being there was another dud-prediction – just like “the 97% of climate scientists” have made about global warming.

Capital Retro6:03 pm 23 Sep 19

“You whiners and deniers believe the word of big corporations over science and yet have the audacity and nerve to say the strikers are the sheep, what a laugh”

While I will admit I do not believe that climate change is being caused by the reasons cited at the recent rallies that does not make me a “denier” which is a word associated with something factual and horrible.
I believe what I was taught at school about climate and that is playing out every day so I don’t see any cause for alarm.

And I do not believe that “big corporations” are spreading the “word” against science however “the science” is mainly based on false predictions which are promulgated by that un-elected quasi-political money-sucking conglomerate called the United Nations and accordingly, it is fair to say that the “strikers” are acting like sheep by their belief in UN dogma from that self-appointed sole authority on “climate change” – the UN are on the scare-mongering again today.

I hope that clarifies my position and you learn something from it.

Kirsten Duncan5:26 pm 23 Sep 19

The discussion in these comments illustrates that we need to reflect on our objectives and methods when striving for change – who are we attempting to persuade, to do what, and how are they likely to respond? Attacking people we perceive as enemies is rarely going to achieve harmonious outcomes. The point this article makes is that the effects of the strike are multiple and potentially far-reaching even if climate policy does not immediately address the asks of the strikers. David Murtagh’s article also makes some valid observations. What do the two articles agree on? Where is there common ground from which we could develop a shared pathway forward? That the climate is changing is a pretty good starting point. That there is some action happening to address it.
Everyone commenting here is right in some way – we do need everyone to adopt less consumptive behaviours, AND we also need massive systemic transformation and a fundamental reappraisal of our relationship with the planet on which we depend. Collaboration will get us a lot further than conflict will. Goodwill to all, fellow Canberrans.

Climate change alarmists should stop blaming us for causing the climate to change because we do not believe that we are changing the climate.
Yes, the climate is changing and always has. The ice-ages were caused by climate change (a cycle of global cooling/warming/cooling) and clearly humans did not cause the last ice ages because we had not evolved.
The climate change proponents will face ongoing resistance and hostility by foolishly blaming others for natural cycles..
Rather we should all do what was done in the 6os to reduce pollution as a real problem. Uncontrolled air, river, ocean and land pollution is bad for the environment and bad for humanity. That is logical, obvious and reason enough to enforce controls and cuts in pollution/carbon emissions.
So a change in tactics to get everyone on side against a common human caused problem (pollution) for the mutual benefit of humanity is a better strategy that turning on each other in a never ending blame fest.

Capital Retro5:14 pm 23 Sep 19

“Future Super pledged to conduct ‘not business as usual’, many of them forgoing a day of revenue to….”

That sounds like a serious breach of their trust deed so I hope the Australian Prudential Regulator is on to it. Glad I don’t have my pension funds with them.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.