Climate action march will empower change well beyond the protests

Kirsten Duncan 23 September 2019 45

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.

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45 Responses to Climate action march will empower change well beyond the protests
karnakd9 karnakd9 6:49 am 09 Oct 19

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 Retro Capital Retro 4:40 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.

Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 4:14 pm 08 Oct 19

Climate strike held during school holidays when kids would have to attend on their own time

Acton Acton 1:39 pm 26 Sep 19

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.

    FHW FHW 8:04 am 30 Sep 19

    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?

    Rob Lewis Rob Lewis 5:58 pm 08 Oct 19

    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.

Richard Willcoxson Richard Willcoxson 1:16 pm 26 Sep 19

Due to the current governments stance on climate change it won’t have any lasting impact. Kids don’t vote so the pollies aren’t bothered by them

Hayden Rosewarne Hayden Rosewarne 6:39 pm 24 Sep 19

rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:03 am 24 Sep 19

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

MERC600 MERC600 9:55 pm 23 Sep 19

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 Retro Capital Retro 10:48 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.

Greg Hedger Greg Hedger 9:21 pm 23 Sep 19

I believe we need to change the way we do things, like make and use energy. I attended the rally as a grandfather, not with any of my family but as a concerned Australian. This sign I saw at Glebe Park says it all.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:03 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.

Christopher Mawbey Christopher Mawbey 6:01 pm 23 Sep 19

A waste of time when China's increase is larger than our total emissions. Get on to them.

    Grayson Slater Grayson Slater 7:01 pm 17 Oct 19

    Yep that's right Chris. Lets not set an example or lead the way. Lets just wait for someone else to shine the light. I wonder whether Galileo felt that way or why anyone ever bothered to provide women the vote. To be honest its people like you that soften the pain I feel that this species we belong to might just experience extinction. My only remorse is that we will destroy this planet for every other species as well. Its just greed and self interest the only things we can actually lay claim to evolving beyond all other species we share this planet with.

Kirsten Duncan Kirsten Duncan 5:26 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.

    Acton Acton 9:23 pm 23 Sep 19

    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 Retro Capital Retro 5:14 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.

Colin Wilson Colin Wilson 4:57 pm 23 Sep 19


    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 3:19 pm 24 Sep 19

    Utterly ridiculous that school kids should have to protest to protect their future. Shame on the LNP.

Bill Bloxham Bill Bloxham 4:13 pm 23 Sep 19

We are all doomed

Brownie Brown Brownie Brown 3:43 pm 23 Sep 19

They are a joke. They don’t practice what they preach, so how can they be taken seriously

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 4:07 pm 23 Sep 19

    How do you know they don't practice what they preach?

    Sharon Patrick Sharon Patrick 6:03 pm 23 Sep 19

    Rob Jamieson how do u know?

    Danny Fox Danny Fox 6:21 pm 23 Sep 19

    How can your average protester practice policy change that:

    1. Commits Australia to 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030,

    2. Stops new coal, gas and oil projects, and

    3. Funds a just transition for all fossil fuel employees and communities?

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 4:13 pm 08 Oct 19

    Rob Jamieson it seems they don't even care enough to protest on their own time during school holidays

Brent Carlisle Brent Carlisle 3:33 pm 23 Sep 19

Have to agree with David Murtagh. You just have to follow the money to understand what is going on.

    Peter Marshall Peter Marshall 4:07 pm 23 Sep 19

    The money? Are you for real?

    Brent Carlisle Brent Carlisle 4:12 pm 23 Sep 19

    Peter Marshall just do some research.

    Liam Bourkaggio Liam Bourkaggio 4:13 pm 23 Sep 19

    The money from the coal industry drives parliament.

    We've followed the money, now we're demanding change

    Brent Carlisle Brent Carlisle 4:21 pm 23 Sep 19

    Liam Bourke

    Danny Fox Danny Fox 6:13 pm 23 Sep 19

    How much are you willing to bet that the stupendously wealthy coal barons are right, and the moderately wealthy scientists are wrong? The planet?

    Anna Cohen Anna Cohen 7:52 pm 23 Sep 19

    Brent Carlisle I prefer the other take too. I can’t find it on Facebook to share though.

Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 2:34 pm 23 Sep 19

Ali James we have photos of this sweet girl!

Tim Cole Tim Cole 2:23 pm 23 Sep 19

Wait until they get to vote in 3 years time

    Neenie Baines Neenie Baines 2:27 pm 23 Sep 19

    Tim Cole it’s going to be great!! The more young people voting the better!

    Michael Bourke Michael Bourke 3:24 am 24 Sep 19

    They can, Neenie. After they turn 18.

Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 2:11 pm 23 Sep 19

If every single protester was actually practicing what they preach I wouldn’t find these “protests” so amusing. Maybe a picket outside their local multinational corporation head office or Chinese embassy would be more to the point. In order to be 100% correct in their ideal, they would be naked, living off grid completely, and walking everywhere. Not to mention the abstinence from any and all electronic devices. They might actually have to learn to write with a pen!

    Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 2:22 pm 23 Sep 19

    Michael penmanship and calligraphy are almost dirty words these days mate....😂

    Danny Fox Danny Fox 6:18 pm 23 Sep 19

    How can your average protester practice policy change that:

    1. Commits Australia to 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030,

    2. Stops new coal, gas and oil projects, and

    3. Funds a just transition for all fossil fuel employees and communities?

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 6:44 pm 23 Sep 19

    Dumb logic. This campaign is aiming to get change from our political leadership. I'm not going to stop driving a fossil fuel car right now but want the GOVERNMENT to facilitate an environment where other options are viable.

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 4:07 pm 08 Oct 19

    Rob Chalmers why the government? If these options were financially sustainable they would be implemented by private industry.

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 6:20 pm 08 Oct 19

    Natalie Grey Governments are by the people for the people, ideally. Private Industry, especially large multinational fossil fuel extraction companies are for the shareholder and the multi million dollar performance bonuses for the CEO and the board. Their goals are short term and financial. On the other hand Governments are supposed to act on behalf of the citizens best interests. When we are at war we look to the government for leadership. Our armed forces will kill and be killed on behalf of the Government and the people. We look to Government to make laws to deliver medical and hospital assistance, welfare including old age pensions and laws to protect us in the workforce against .....private industry. If you accept climate change is real, only a government with significant support from the people can achieve anything meaningful. A change to cleaner forms of energy will require Government support through taxes, your and my money. The Government puts considerable money into many things for the good of all of us. This is one thing any Government should be doing.

    Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 8:14 pm 08 Oct 19

    Rob in theory your ideology is correct. Unfortunately many if not all governments perform more like corporate entities rather than being by the people for the people as you put it. The people may decide who goes into parliament, but unfortunately not much can be done once they’re actually there.

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