Waggers or future leaders? Students skip school to fight climate change

Student climate strikes have seen a tidal wave of support, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison's calls for "less activism".

Student climate strikes have seen a tidal wave of support, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison's calls for "less activism". Photo: Getty

Students across Australia will skip school en masse to protest inaction on climate change, drawing both praise and criticism from pundits and politicians.

“We are school kids temporarily sacrificing our education in order to save our futures from dangerous climate change,” School Strike 4 Climate organisers said of the Friday protest.

While former Gillard government education minister and longtime environmental activist Peter Garrett applauded the students, some politicians and conservative pundits have slammed them as shirkers.

The patronising idiocy of climate-deniers is contemptible,” Mr Garrett said on Thursday.

“As a former federal education minister I applaud the many courageous young Australians who will be out in force tomorrow.”

‘Fight climate change with diet change’

Among Friday’s protesters will be Melbourne high school student Charlotte Currie, 17, one of thousands of young vegans around the world joining the climate strike under the Million Dollar Vegan banner.

The campaign urges people to “fight climate change with diet change” by ditching meat and animal products.

Ms Currie became vegan after learning about “the link between between climate change and animal agriculture”.

“I decided that the knowledge I have learned should be shared with the world and we should make the change to a more sustainable lifestyle to decrease our negative impact on the earth,” she said.

Climate change protester Charlotte Currie, 17. Photo: Supplied

A report by the United Nations Environment Program released this week warned that humanity is at a crossroads, with human activity damaging the planet so badly – exacerbated by climate change – that it will “increasingly put our health at risk”.

People must adopt plant-based or low-meat diets in order to save the planet, the report said, recommending taxing meat in order to accelerate a change in habits.

If we don’t change to a more sustainable way of life, the impact on the earth will become irreversible,” Ms Currie said.

The last student strike in November drew the ire of Prime Minister Scott Morrison who told students to “be less activist” and stay in school.

However, Ms Currie believes it is “imperative” for young people to lead the discussion on climate change “because we are the future generation that will have to live with the consequences of the actions we take now”.

It is “deeply frustrating” to see influential political leaders “trying to silence the truth and passionate people trying to make a difference”, she said.

“Nothing has ever been achieved by sitting in submission, and activism is the answer. The more people who band together for a common goal the louder our voices will be.”

Praise and backlash

Students protest at last year’s climate strike. Photo: Getty

Among the critics was conservative businessman Maurice Newman, who argued in an opinion piece for The Australian that the student protesters were “mere pawns in a bid to undermine capitalism”.

“Children have become the latest weapon in the arsenal of anti-Western activists, designed to keep pressure on wayward politicians in advanced economies whose enthusiasm for Paris emissions-reduction commitments is visibly waning,” Mr Newman said.

On Twitter, right-wing pundit Daisy Cousens called for striking students to be punished.

“Will some responsible parent/teacher PLEASE step in and punish these children for wagging school?” she said.

Despite some vocal critics, there was also a strong groundswell of support for the striking students in the lead-up to the protest.

Author and social commentator Jane Caro said she was “delighted young people are taking action on behalf of their future, our future and the future of our planet & every living thing on it”.

Comedian ABC host Charlie Pickering had pointed words for those mocking and chastising the students.

To the ‘grownups’ trolling them in the media, maybe you should think about how embarrassing it is that children have to demand that you to grow up and act for them instead of fossil fuel companies,” Mr Pickering said.

Friday’s strike follows November’s ‘Strike 4 Climate Action‘ which saw thousands of students rally around the country.

The protests are part of a global movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg, who began skipping school to protest outside parliament against Sweden’s lack of action on climate change.

The student protest movement has now spread to more than 70 countries, with Friday’s global protests expected to be the largest yet.

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