How 2019 became the year of the climate strike – and mass demands for action

Protesters at the December 11 "Sydney is Choking" rally demand more action on climate change.

Protesters at the December 11 "Sydney is Choking" rally demand more action on climate change. Photo: AAP

Thousands of students, parents and workers from across Australia united in a mass climate strike in September, demanding urgent action on global warming.

At least 2000 businesses allowed employees to take Friday, September 20, off to join in 110 city and regional locations, as protesters marched in the streets across the country and gathered in parklands, holding signs including “Stop Adani” and “Stop drilling in the Bight”.

The climate strikes – which were mirrored by more mass crowds in cities around the world – were inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. In 2019, the lone protests she had started outside the Swedish parliament sparked a growing global movement that has drawn in millions – and helped lead to her being named Time magazine’s person of the year.

The movement started to gain momentum in Australia In November 2018, when thousands of school students went on strike. They followed that up with a mass global day of action in March.

September’s rally, however, also drew hundreds of thousands of protestors from all walks of life. Office workers, tradies, artists, grandparents, doctors and baby boomers joined in demonstrations calling for urgent action on global warming.

Melbourne drew the nation’s biggest crowd – organisers said about 150,000 people attended the rally in the Victorian capital’s CBD alone.

Among the diverse Australians to attend was Koo Wee Rup Secondary College student Ethan Lewis, 14, who travelled more than 70 kilometres to Melbourne with his family to attend.

“I want to see animals thrive and I want to be able to go to the Great Barrier Reef without it being bleached,” Ethan, a member of his school’s environment club, told The New Daily in Melbourne.

“I want to be able to have those experiences for future generations and to preserve our Earth.”

His brother Hunter, 12, said he was there because he wanted to “have a better future” and to ensure we have a “bigger range of species”.

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The Lewis family travelled to Melbourne for the #ClimateStrike protests. Photo: The New Daily

Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College student Annie Stephens, 17, travelled from Geelong to Melbourne to rally with her friends.

“I’m here because the government is doing nothing about climate change and I just feel like it’s time that we step in and actually do something,” Annie told The New Daily. 

“I made this sign this morning on my bedroom floor.”

Thousands of people aged 50 years and older also turned up en masse to show their support.

Janice Miller, 57, a support worker at sustainable food centre Cultivating Community, said she was at the rally to support Australia’s youth.

“I want to get more action on climate change from leaders and I want to support the young people who started this,” Ms Miller said.

“It’s their future, even if I might not be around for it.”

Long-time climate activist Carol Henderson, 53, said she was inspired by the large number of student activists pushing for change.

Turtles Against Climate Change member John McDonald, 64, said he was particularly concerned about the effect of global warming on our turtle population.

“Turtles are already threatened by climate change,” Mr McDonald told The New Daily. 

“The sand is getting so hot where they’re hatching that some of them are dying just as they’re getting out of their nests.

“The beaches are being washed away and the [Great Barrier] Reef is being destroyed too.”

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Cultivating Community members at the rally. Photo: The New Daily

However, the mss rallies didn’t have everyone’s support. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack slammed them as a “disruption” to schools and businesses, arguing students would learn more at school than at a rally.

“I think these sorts of rallies should be held on a weekend where it doesn’t actually disrupt business, it doesn’t disrupt schools, it doesn’t disrupt universities,” Mr McCormack said.

But the comments didn’t stop the students – or their parents, grandparents or teachers from marching.

Nor has it stopped the momentum. On Wednesday, December 11, thousands more gathered in Sydney to continue to demand climate change action as the devastating bushfire crisis rolls on across NSW.

One police officer estimated there were more that 7500 people outside the Sydney Town Hall. Some wore the face masks many Sydney-siders have donned to cope with weeks of smoke haze, while others brandished signs reading: “Denial is not a policy”, “Less debate more climate action”, “For my grandkids” and “Climate change is a public health emergency”.

Marcus James, from Sydney, said climate action was an issue across all sectors of politics and he felt a moral obligation to attend.

“I cared about the issue for quite a while but I think having the bushfires reach Sydney is very, very – I suppose it makes it quite lurid,” he said.

“It’s right in your face and you’re breathing it in.

“I think it highlights that climate change and bushfires and natural disasters around the world but especially in Australia, doesn’t discriminate and it sort of affects all sectors of the population.”

Elise Vohradsky, from Western Sydney, said she was motivated to attend after seeing smoke shroud the city on Tuesday.

“I went outside and couldn’t even see anything, like it was just smog,” she said.

“There’s so much loss and devastation – and not just the people, the cities but the environment, the animals.

“At least I can turn up and be part of a visual representation of how many people aren’t cool with this.”

Babette Robertson, who grew up in an area of the NSW mid north coast, that has been hit by the bushfires, said her family had been spared but their friends had lost homes.

“It’s so devastating. I just find myself crying some days … and dad just sends photos every day and it’s just so heartbreaking,” she said.

She accused the government of ignoring the science of climate change and said she hoped she would be heard and people’s concerns would be acknowledged.

“They don’t listen to us,” she said.

-with AAP

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