For Australia, an island continent where over 80 percent of people live within 50 kilometers, or around 30 miles, of the coast, and the country’s way of life depends on the ocean, the implications are heavy.
And yet, rather than debate the substance of the risks, we’ve instead seen an intense back and forth about who is carrying the message. With young people coming to the fore of the climate change movement in recent months, most notably the 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, some have wondered: are the kids alright?
Much has been made by some commentators of the anxiety some children now feel. Adults, they argued, are poisoning children with panic. “I think we’ve got to caution against raising the anxieties of children in our country,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this week.
But is it really anxiety, or is it something else?
It’s worth noting that climate change activism in young people is not new: as a teenager 10 years ago, I remember campaigns and flash mobs aimed at raising awareness. The fact that those protests led to so little change, especially in Australia, suggests that what’s bursting forth now is not so much anxiety as frustration and outrage.
The dissonance between slow action by politicians and increasing urgency from scientists has meant that young people are not speaking in the language of anxiety as much as forceful anger.
“You all came to us young people for hope,” Ms. Thunberg said, her voice emotional, in an instantly viral speech at the climate action summit. “How dare you? You have stolen my childhood and my dreams with your empty words — and yet I’m one of the lucky ones.”
It was a sentiment found also in some of the young protesters here in Australia. “It’s unfair that we pretend we own the planet but we won’t take actual responsibility for any of the actions we’re having that are affecting other things that live here,” said Jemima Grimmer, 13, at the climate strike in Sydney last Friday. “I’m angry that I have to be here.”
Mr. Morrison did not attend the climate action summit, or the protests he criticized. But in a speech to the United Nations on Wednesday, he said Australia was on track to surpass its Kyoto commitment by 2020 and was doing its part to address climate change. Children, he added, had a right to optimism.
But again, we have to ask: Is optimism really the right emotion based on the facts at hand?
The Climate Council said Australia’s targets were among the weakest of developed nations and that given greenhouse emissions have risen for the last four years, the government was trailing on the global stage, leaving local and state governments to take up the cause. (Something we’ll keep reporting on.)
Mr. Morrison’s call for optimism also comes at a time when scientists are expressing even more urgency in their warnings about climate change — and as flooding, drought and bushfires have pushed Australia to the brink of a “penny-dropping moment” about climate change, said Amanda McKenzie, the chief executive of the Climate Council.
“Perhaps children would feel more optimistic if he started to take the problem of climate change seriously,” Ms. McKenzie added.
Over the last year, she said, concern has deepened: thousands of people have written in to the Climate Council asking,“what can I do?” For many, protesting is one of the answers.
“Organizers estimated the turnout to be around four million in thousands of cities and towns worldwide,” we wrote in our front-page article about the global protests. “It was the first time that children and young people had demonstrated to demand climate action in so many places and in such numbers around the world.”
So what comes next?
Tell us, what emotion (or emotions) are you or your children feeling about climate change? And what if anything are you compelled to do about it?
Tacey Rychter contributed reporting.
CreditAlana Holmberg for The New York Times
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… And Over to You
Last week, our correspondent Jamie Tarabay wrote about how rugby became a touchstone for her while living abroad. Other readers felt the same way:
“I was in Hong Kong watching the Rugby World Cup in 2003 with my son, then six years old.
When Jonny Wilkinson kicked that drop goal in extra time to put England ahead, I jumped up, hands on my head, screamed: “Oh no!” I crashed back into the sofa and it smashed to pieces!
We had to get a new sofa.
Luckily the new sofa is much better quality and I’m sitting in it now as I watch Japan beat Russia in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup 2019. My son, now 22, thinks it’s All Blacks, England or South Africa. I like Oz …”
— Peter Forsythe
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