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Growing Up in the Climate Crisis

26 August 2020

Growing up in the climate crisis

My country is burning.

Ten years ago, this meant that the pavement was too hot to walk on when I was too lazy to wear slippers to put the bins out. It meant sausage sizzles and relatives drinking VB on the verandah. It meant that you could hear rain hiss as it touched the ground.

 Ten years later, my country is burning and the pavement is still too hot to walk on in the summer. But walking at all during the summer is unfathomable. No one has a sausage sizzle anymore under a total fire ban and state of emergency. There are no more VBs, and a rainy day is lucky, but it’s never enough to quell the smoke or fires.

Sweltering, dry summers are an Australian icon. The profuse sweating, the smell of sunscreen, and the burning sand at the beach are all a part of our identity. But in the span of four months, it has morphed to evacuations, poor air quality and growing fear. In the span of four months, an estimated 1.25 billion animals have been lost and 2500 homes destroyed.

Of course, this didn’t all begin last October.

I’ll be honest, I never understood climate change until I was 15. I knew that humans were polluting the oceans and the sky and the land but I couldn’t put a name to the disaster that was coming.  

It was in year 10, when I did a group project on how soil temperature affects plant growth, that it clicked for me. Within our trio of radish pots, tampered in temperature, only the unaffected pot grew.

I imagine a lot of kids went through the same experience. Born right in the middle of a crisis and to never notice until you’re taught. According to a 2014 survey by Millennium Kids Inc., 77% of young Australians aged 25 or less believed that schools need to do more to educate students about climate change.

So, what does it mean to be young and live just five hours away from the bushfires? It means that I’m one of the lucky ones, that I only worry about keeping my younger brothers out of the smoke. Like many people my age, I can donate if I have the money. I can raise awareness. I can volunteer. I can try to be energy conscious. 

“I turn off power sockets and electrical appliances whenever I can,” said Matei, age 19.

“Sometimes, instead of heating, I just wear more clothes.”

But, what does it mean to be young and have a future in Australia?

“I think a key part … is this overwhelming sense of responsibility,” said Jordan, age 18.

“We’ve been saddled with the responsibility of being the next generation of politicians, scientists, activists and workers who are going to have to find the solutions.”

Today, less than 10% of young Australians agree that the government is “doing a good job to save the Earth”. Hence, for many students, to be young and have a future in Australia means to take the fight for climate change into our own hands.

It’s no surprise then that an estimated 100,000 Australians gathered at the School Strike 4 Climate in Melbourne last September, inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s own school climate strikes at age 15.

“A lot of people may disregard the gravity of climate strikes and construe them as the youth’s flippant attempt to be truant, but it’s the fact that we have this privilege to vocalise our trepidation about the future that renders it so important,” said Sonia, age 17, who attended the climate strike last September.

“What initially compelled me to attend a climate strike was the indignation towards the Australian government’s insouciant response to the culminating environment crisis.” 

“It’s quite daunting but [it’s] also an amazing opportunity to reshape human civilisation into an ecologically sustainable affair,” said Jordan.

82.4% of young Australians believe that climate change will continue to be a problem in the future. Whether we solve the issue or not, I can’t help but wonder: what will “my country is burning” mean to the children we’ll pass the land onto next?


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