Features Australia

Gen Activist

A network of Green groups are mobilising our children for the climate wars

9 February 2019

9:00 AM

9 February 2019

9:00 AM

The strike by schoolchildren to halt climate change is on again for Friday, March 15. If you are five years old and reading this, gird your loins or trainer pants, according to one website that encourages climate activism from ages 5-17. The official kids’ strike page considers more savvy older kids, at age 7, to be ready for the renewables and Stop Adani crusade. The Schoolstrike4climate site says some students will strike not just on the Friday but for a week or a day per week, or ongoing.

The strikes are inspired by the one-girl Swedish strike of Greta Thunberg, 16. She told a TED talk on December 12 that because of politicians’ inaction against fossil fuels, she suffered depression at 11, stopped eating and talking and lost 10kg. She says she was later diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and ‘selective mutism’ – meaning that she only speaks when she thinks it is necessary. Greta needs our symapthy, not a global megaphone. Instead, she took the stage at the UN climate fest at Katowice, telling delegates they were immature for leaving climate burdens to children. She turned up again (by train) at the Davos conference in January, telling well-heeled and applauding attendees they were sacrificing priceless planetary values ‘to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.’

Australia’s previous school strike week from November 30 generated positive pile-on from a mostly complaisant media. Fiery claims like Greta’s were bruited by a 14-year-old spokesgirl from Castlemaine, who told a Spring Street rally: ‘If we continue to live the way we do, then by 2050 climate scientists predict that half a billion of the 9 billion who will be living on this planet will survive. The chances that I will survive that are very low and the chances that everyone and everything I love will survive that are practically impossible.’

The renewed kids’ strikes are part of the assault against the Coalition in the 2019 election, plus the Adani coal project in Queensland. The March 15 organisers blame global warming for local heat waves and (strangely) for flash flooding in cities, and in their rallying email claim, ‘Half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead.’ They write, ‘We are in the thick of the climate crisis. Prolonged drought is crippling farming communities. Catastrophic bushfires and severe cyclones are threatening people’s homes. Heatwaves are sweeping the nation.’

The anonymous authors don‘t mention Queensland’s un-drought conditions or the late-January cold snap of minus 50 degrees Celsius in the US Mid-West, colder than at the South Pole (-30 C).

All strike text is in ad agency dialect. So who’s writing the script? The kid organisers say some parents, teachers, friends and supporters are helping but it’s all student-led: ‘After all, when we’re not striking we’re at school for at least 6 hours per day.’ The kids or ersatz kids also ask adults to ‘put deniers in their place’, deniers being ‘just a noisy shrinking minority’. The reality on strike leadership shows Victoria’s green backers of the strike all formally cross-linked but prone to run their own races.

The media-savvy Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), was official helper-in-chief for December’s strike. But it’s now on a near-invisible profile to preserve the kid-power narrative.

AYCC is a registered charity with 70 staff, 1,000 volunteers and a budget of $2.9m. It got $310,000 from grants last year, likely via taxpayers. AYCC executives, a decade past teen-hood, specialise in prose like this from National Director Gemma Borgo-Caratti: ‘Coal companies are using big money to silence everyday voices and hold us back from climate action. Even as communities pick up the pieces after a bushfire or sweat through another 45 degree day, fossil fuel companies are profiting from making this problem worse. It is sickening that fossil fuel companies are allowed to donate millions to our politicians… Companies with such a clear vested interest should be banned from donations that influence politics’.

AYCC big backers include the Purves Environmental Fund, run by aged-care/radiology tycoon Robert E. Purves. In 2017 the fund allocated $746,000 jointly to the AYCC, the Climate Council and two other green groups (2016: $1.3m). Another backer is the Kimberley Foundation (from the Just Jeans tycoon clan).

Non-charity GetUp! with 60-70 full-time staff had $8.4m revenue in 2017. GetUp! provided links to the kids’ December strike teams in 26 cities. GetUp! director Alex Rafalowicz is a co-founder of AYCC. The co-founder of AYCC, Anna Rose, is married to GetUp! founder Simon Sheikh. And so on.

AYCC and GetUp! are signed on with top-level charity Environment Victoria (EV), with 50 years campaigning experience. EV’s latest report shows 21 staff and $2.74m revenue, mainly via fund-raising. From 2016-17 it ceased accepting government money. EV lists about 110 partners. They include the Trades Hall Council and the Electrical Trades Union; hard-liners 350.org and Greenpeace; nearly 20 city councils; Uniting and several other churches; Anglicare, Brotherhood of St Laurence, and Smith Family; and Melbourne, Swinburne and RMIT universities. EV is also campaigning to get the voting age lowered to 16 (non–compulsory), and for 14 and 15 year-olds to start enrolling. EV says, ‘It is in this [high school] environment that the most positive voting experience can possibly take place.’ EV campaigned for 12 years against what it called Australia’s ‘oldest and dirtiest’ Hazelwood power station, which shut (or ‘stopped polluting’) in March 2017. EV’s annual report said, prematurely, ‘As we predicted, Victoria has adapted well to the closure of Hazelwood power station’. The report described Victoria’s risk of blackouts as ‘non-existent’, no comfort to 200,000 blacked-out Victorians on January 25 and all Victorian households averaging $500 added electricity cost for the day, payable on lay-by.

EV has spun off an entity Repower Australia dedicated to 100 per cent renewables by 2030. Repower lists among key partners AYCC, GetUp! and 350 Australia. Its home page, which still promotes the December strike, pictures supporters as young as about eight. Its hellfire prose damns greedy power polluters hoarding profits from making people sick and poisoning the planet.

Victoria’s green spiderweb illustrates why conservatives are in a sorry state. Immersing oneself in this Green success story is like entering a post-sane era. Only a placard from the previous kids’ strike lightened my mood:

‘Sorry I can’t tidy my bedroom, I have to save the planet’.

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