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Climate action march will empower change well beyond the protests

Kirsten Duncan 23 September 2019 102

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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102 Responses to Climate action march will empower change well beyond the protests
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

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

Daniel Evans Daniel Evans 6:05 am 24 Sep 19

The only change that will occur will be feeling of self satisfaction of accomplishment by lemmings...

Humans cannot affect the climate or weather.

    Jacqui Owen Jacqui Owen 3:35 pm 24 Sep 19

    Daniel Evans 300 years ago over 8 billion hectares of the worlds 14 billion hectares was covered in vegetation, transpiring, capturing carbon, an integral part of the water cycle of our planet. Now, today there is roughly 3 billion hectares covered in vegetation and so much covered in concrete heat sinks.

    Grayson Slater Grayson Slater 6:54 pm 17 Oct 19

    In 1800 the Human population was under 1 Billion. Now it is approaching 8 Billion in just over 200 years later With this comes an ever increasing demand to feed, water and house these people - never mind the pollution and the toxins our artificial existence demands yet you can't accept that maybe, just maybe we've had an impact?

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.

    Daniel Evans Daniel Evans 6:09 am 24 Sep 19

    Greg Hedger 😂🤣 a big difference between being taught how to think and what to think. You may have seen several articles from different media outlets talking about the high level of increase in homeschooling. Many intelligent people are sick of seeing their children brainwashed with social justice instead of the 3 R’s..

    Greg Hedger Greg Hedger 3:29 pm 24 Sep 19

    Daniel Evans bit like that?

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.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:44 am 24 Sep 19

    Christopher Mawbey while proudly burning Australian coal

    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.

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

Bushman Jammo Bushman Jammo 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 Bourke Liam Bourke 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.

Andrew Inman Andrew Inman 3:27 pm 23 Sep 19

Love all the spurious arguments from deniers. It's not about living off grid and wiping your butt with leaves. It's about reducing emissions in a practical way and campaigning to end needless destructive uses/sources of energy such as coal. A lot of boomers and boomers just triggered by kids who know more than them

    Jacqui Owen Jacqui Owen 3:38 pm 24 Sep 19

    Andrew Inman we're beyond that now, still has to be a part of action but we are into negative feedback loops now and heat is also a major issue. Revegetating is what we need to do now and quickly.

Jenny McInnes Jenny McInnes 2:34 pm 23 Sep 19

Ali James we have photos of this sweet girl!

Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:26 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

    Tony Salafia Tony Salafia 8:53 pm 23 Sep 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick never let the truth get in the way of a good scam

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.

Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:13 pm 23 Sep 19

It lost all credibility for being on a school day. If they held it on a weekend it would have been taken more seriously by all the deniers out there, who will now just dismiss it as a good ol' fashioned bludge day.

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 2:17 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod which is in fact the answer that numerous students gave when asked why they participated. That and the fact that some of them were bribed with full marks on an assessment simply for taking part in the protest

    Michael Blythe Michael Blythe 2:20 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian that’s exactly what it was. Any excuse for an early weekend....sort of explains the mentality of many of these so-called protesters.

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:22 pm 23 Sep 19

    Natalie Grey fake news, that’s a lie dreamt up by coal supporters do your research please

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:28 pm 23 Sep 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick which only holds credibility due to the choice of day. It cannot be denied. They have a point.

    Louise Rogers Louise Rogers 2:29 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod who gives a rats about what the deniers think?

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:33 pm 23 Sep 19

    Louise Rogers Because otherwise it's just talking to ourselves and having no effect? To suggest this is to confess to self congratulation rather than a genuine desire for change.

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:33 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod I cant speak for other protests but in Canberra I would go so far as to say for every student there was an adult on grounds. A lot of offices and my peers gave their employess the option of the afternoon off or attend, a great majority attended. This is real sacrifice, some offices I know have over 10 staff that’s serious dollars. It is my opinion having been there, (not playing keyboard warrior) that the students in attendance were the truly passionate and invested students that wanted to activate a change. At the very least most there would be happy with a bloody serious discussion about the problem rather than a government that presumes that we are all happy to just pray to a sky fairy for some rain!

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:34 pm 23 Sep 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick excellent sentiments.

    However perception is nine tenths of everything.

    A school day will be perceived as a bludge day, no matter what anyone says.

    So impact will amount to precisely zero.

    Tammy Glass Tammy Glass 2:36 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod it was 3 hours on a Friday afternoon.

    Isn’t taking Friday arvo off to rebel against the system the Aussie way?

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:37 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod nope disagree, a weekend just has others saying, “took the easy option when it doesn’t cost you anything”. If that is your issue, you can’t see the Forrest for the trees!

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:39 pm 23 Sep 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick well conduct a poll of deniers and see if this had any effect. If it did I'll eat my socks.

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:41 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod perception isn’t 9/10s of anything, don’t you thinks it’s crazy we live in a world that you believe values perception of an action over. peer reviewed science, repeatable experiment based science around cause and effect. Let’s not beat around the bush, at the true core of the issue is DOLLARS. Those that deny the science really just don’t want to spend or deplete any of theirs!

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:44 pm 23 Sep 19

    Yes it's crazy but science has repeatedly proven that humans are not rational actors. Take it up with science, God, evolution, whatever.

    Meanwhile for change to occur human nature is what it is.

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick Daniel J. Fitzpatrick 2:44 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod it’s not about convincing deniers, never was. It was about putting on show that a lot of people want change. Change often has to be fought for, you can’t tell me that the protesting for woman’s rights was about convincing those that didn’t want them that it’s the right option. It was about showing those people the momentum had shifted and whether they like it or not this is what is happening!

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:45 pm 23 Sep 19

    Daniel J. Fitzpatrick " it’s not about convincing deniers, never was. It was about putting on show that a lot of people want change"

    So it's either a pointless show or a contradiction then?

    Fighting people just annoys them and makes them double down even more.

    So either way you're proving the point that none of this was about any actual positive change.

    Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 2:48 pm 23 Sep 19

    Yet nobody blinks at a day off for a bloody horse race

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 2:57 pm 23 Sep 19

    Stephen Matthews is the horse race for positive change?

    Louise Rogers Louise Rogers 3:06 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod many climate change deniers will never change their minds regardless of the evidence. The protests were aimed at people in power who believe in climate change but aren’t taking action for one reason or another. I studied climate change at uni 20 years ago & have changed the minds of quite a few people over the years but I won’t wear myself out trying to convince those who will never come around. The weight of belief these days is in climate change & that action needs to be taken.

    Kim Uriarau Kim Uriarau 3:36 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod The significance of Friday is that Greta Thornburg sat outside Swedish Parliament. That's the Movement. It is what it is. I remember when teachers would strike for pay rises and I don't remember anyone telling them they should have gone on a Saturday..

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 3:38 pm 23 Sep 19

    Kim Uriarau I'm just suggesting it would have held more credibility. That's all.

    Andrew Kimber Andrew Kimber 3:39 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod having a strike on a weekend? 🤔

    Kim Uriarau Kim Uriarau 3:42 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod You know what we should be doing? A full on Occupy movement.. Why be civil and limit it to one day a week.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 3:42 pm 23 Sep 19

    Andrew Kimber yes, and call it a march. Big deal.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 3:42 pm 23 Sep 19

    Kim Uriarau and how will that bring about positive change?

    Kim Uriarau Kim Uriarau 3:46 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod attention goes where energy flows..

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 3:51 pm 23 Sep 19

    Kim Uriarau sounds great. I look forward to seeing the measured impact from that.

    Liam Bourke Liam Bourke 4:10 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod "a school day" so many adults showed up.

    It wasnt a "school day", it was a day that politicians actually notice because it was in the "work week"

    Liam Bourke Liam Bourke 4:11 pm 23 Sep 19

    Natalie Grey show us the evidence of those claims

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 4:13 pm 23 Sep 19

    Natalie Grey proof of that, I highly doubt it.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 4:19 pm 23 Sep 19

    Liam Bourke "It wasnt a "school day", it was a day that politicians actually notice because it was in the "work week" "

    Those same politicians and shock jocks now dismissing it for precisely this reason.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 4:21 pm 23 Sep 19

    Marc Edwards that's great, if a single denying politician comes around do let us know.

    In the meantime Alan Jones an co are having a field day with a school day "strike".

    Kim Uriarau Kim Uriarau 4:22 pm 23 Sep 19

    It was the last day of term. Past exam time. And most of my teacher friends went to support them.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 4:53 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod it’s ok because the future for those politicians looks very dim, much like Alan Jones and their meager redneck followers input into society

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 5:08 pm 23 Sep 19

    Marc Edwards like the ones that just got re-elected due to a resounding failure to convince voters in key marginal electorates? Oh, those ones.. OK.

    If they can elect governments they can't be as irrelevant as some here have dismissed them as (while admitting they have no intention of ever trying to convince them, as "fighting" is more fun).

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 5:21 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod fortunately the older generation and those farmers are learning the hard way that voting for the LNP hasn’t and never will fix the environment that they rely on. And yes those quiet older Generations will die off, and these younger generation will need to fix it all. It will never be self centered red necks

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 5:26 pm 23 Sep 19

    Marc Edwards um many of those key swinging voters were young un and underemployed people, people with families, people suffering generational poverty and disadvantage.

    All the assumptions rolling out here are suggesting why the last election was such an embarrassing marketing failure.

    Why Bob Browns Caravan of Courage actually increased support for the government.

    Way to read a room.

    I know it breaks a few hearts here but we live in a democracy. And yes that means people who don't agree with you vote too (oh the horror).

    While it's all swell and all to throw parties and fight people, the last election proved this strategy won't work.

    Good luck with it though.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 5:38 pm 23 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod you do realize that underemployment is an LNP idea to assist their mates to greater profit margins, the right don’t assist workers, youth or elderly. It just shows how gullible right leaning voters are. It’s never what’s good for the country but what’s good for my pocket

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 5:51 pm 23 Sep 19

    We might live in a democracy, but anthropogenic climate change doesn't care if we vote for it or not. It's happening, and politicians on all sides won't be able to ignore it for much longer. The more noise we make now, the sooner we can convince the folks in the middle to take action.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 5:55 pm 23 Sep 19

    Marc Edwards that's nice. But it's the marginal voters with no jobs and generational poverty you need to convince (not me), or propose economy growing realistic options. Just "fighting" those we disagree with, with no proposed alternatives or compromise, rarely convinces them.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 5:57 pm 23 Sep 19

    Hannah Zurcher that's nice Hannah, but until we move to a totalitarian regime controlled by everyone who agrees with you, we have to convince people.

    Unless you are a suggesting we should throw out democracy.

    And action means compromise, not just "fighting" people as someone above actually confessed to be their true desire.

    Otherwise we would have *all* options on the table including nuclear.

    Poor people need jobs, and energy. Unless you propose we take away their right to vote?

    Sharon Patrick Sharon Patrick 6:03 pm 23 Sep 19

    Natalie Grey really? I would like to see the proof of that.

    Sharon Patrick Sharon Patrick 6:04 pm 23 Sep 19

    Tammy Glass many people gave up their wages for that time off.

    Hannah Zurcher Hannah Zurcher 6:19 pm 23 Sep 19

    Did You Properly Stretch Before Making That Reach? I dunno how "this fact is something politicians need to consider and we're trying to make sure they're actually aware" is advocating for ecofascism but maybe my feeble mind missed that

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 6:38 pm 23 Sep 19

    On the weekend wouldn't have worked as there are not enough buses on a weekend to transport the people to Civic. As it was, the R6 bus I arrived on was so full that five or more bus stops were passed and people left waiting at the bus stops. Being a week day another bus would have been along in 15 minutes; but on a weekend only after 30 mins; that is if the weekend bus arrived at all. A week day was much more practical for transport.

    Greg Hedger Greg Hedger 9:27 pm 23 Sep 19

    Louise Rogers I’ll pop this here again

    Natalie Grey Natalie Grey 4:04 pm 08 Oct 19

    Ian McLeod this is what happened when they held one during the school holidays

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....😂

    Andrew Inman Andrew Inman 3:30 pm 23 Sep 19

    Why protest the Chinese embassy? They're investing a lot more than us into renewables and their per capita emissions are far, far less than our disgraceful level

    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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