Why we should all follow Greta Thunberg's lead on climate change

The Courier Comment - Mary Debrett
Rosa Varga Miller pic Lachan BenceENERGY: Rosa Varga-Miller speaks to the crowd at the Ballarat student climate strike. Pictures: Lachlan Bence

On March 15 this year more than 1.5 million children, young people and their supporters protested for urgent action on climate change. 

That it has taken 16-year-old student Greta Thunberg to ignite that sense of urgency so many feel, into popular action, is primarily testament to her clarity of vision and direct approach.

To those politicians who say children should be in class and not trying to tell political leaders what to do, Greta replied: "Good, we want you to talk to scientists.'

A once lone protester, whose solitary stance outside the Swedish house of parliament struck a global chord, Greta is now inspiring millions to follow her example. 

She has cut through the mainstream news media's muddled messaging on climate change, something that few have achieved — petite and earnest, refreshingly lacking affectations, she's a teenager who tells it like it is. 

In the last few months she has addressed: the UN Climate Summit, COP24 in Poland; the Davos global gathering of wealth and power; Berlin's film world glitterati; and won the Prix Liberté worth 25,000 Euros — which she passed on to four climate action groups — as well as being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But why, when we have a host of talented science journalists and communicators — many working within the mainstream media — has it taken so long for climate change to get this kind of attention?

It seems the younger generation in taking their lead from Greta, are following what common sense tells them. 

They have grown up with climate change, with meteorological records being broken year after year with increasingly extreme temperatures, floods, bushfires and cyclones. 

The doubt fostered by deniers finds little purchase among this generation, which knows that climate change is here and happening now. 

While older generations have turned away from accepting the worst, presumably hoping it won't happen in their life time, youth are seeing their future disappear before their very eyes.

Their collective survival instinct has been triggered. While older generations have turned away from accepting the worst, presumably hoping it won't happen in their life time, youth are seeing their future disappear before their very eyes.

Acceptance of the science of anthropogenic climate change has finally become commonplace. 

But achieving carbon neutrality within 11 years, the deadline identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in order to contain global warming to 1.5ºC, will be very challenging.

While most media coverage of the topic tends to focus on state and federal government, there is arguably more happening on the ground at the local level. Many local communities have been moving on renewable energy for some time.

In May 2017, the Municipal Association of Victoria — the peak body for 79 local governments in Victoria — passed a climate emergency motion, with 77 per cent support. 

In November 2018, the City of Ballarat endorsed this statement of climate emergency, and by March this year, 423 councils around the world representing 36 million citizens had followed suit. 

At Ballarat council's April meeting last Wednesday, councillors voted unanimously to endorse the carbon neutrality and 100 per cent renewables action plan by 2025. The plan was developed by council, staff in consultation with several community groups, notably the Regional Sustainability Alliance of Ballarat and the Ballarat Climate Action Network, and drew on considerable local expertise.

Other ground-breaking projects are under way in this region. North-east of Ballarat, the Hepburn Shire, with the help of its community-owned windfarm, plans to be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy by 2030 — Australia's first zero-net emissions community, while nearby, Daylesford is already Australia's first zero-net energy town.

On Sunday, April 14, following the lead set by students in March, many Ballarat citizens will join in the Walk Against Warming around Lake Wendouree to show support for action on climate change — at the personal, community, state and federal government level. This is a nonpartisan issue.

It is now a matter critical to human well-being and to the well-being of our community, as confirmed by Ballarat Council's endorsement of the MAV statement of Climate Emergency.

As Ballarat student protest organiser Rosa, channelling Greta, said at the March protest in Deakin Place: "I don't want you to hope, I want you to panic. The house is on fire."

Mary Debrett is a member of the BREAZE board.