BY Charlene Goulesque
On Friday March 15th, through a massive global strike, youth made history by letting politicians know that they would not let them destroy the planet. The School Strike 4 Climate, against climate change inaction, was supported by Fossil Free UNSW.
Increasingly popular, the demonstration for a safe climate has gathered young people in over 100 countries worldwide, with no less than 150,000 students across 60 locations in Australia.
Fossil Free UNSW protested on the Kensington campus at 10:30 am, before joining the Sydney #SchoolStrikeForClimate planned for noon in front of the Town Hall building this Friday, March 15.
Also known as #FridaysForFuture, the student movement was funded by 16-year-old Swedish Greta Thunberg. It rallies school kids and teens rightly worried about their future on a planet whose temperature is rising at an alarming rate.
Indeed, global warming will have a worse-than-expected impact on “the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty” – warns the 2018 special report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC).
The consequences of the current 1.5°C global warming are already being felt on the climate and so the environment.
In Australia, fires and droughts have been more extremes than usual, the state of Queensland was hit by record floods, the island state of Tasmania sees its climate changing, the corals of the Great Barrier Reef keep dying…
“Few parts of the continent have not experienced extreme weather in recent months,” said Lesley Hugues, climate scientist and Distinguished Professor of Biology at Macquarie University, in The Guardian.
Friday afternoon, the protesters in Australia have been calling for three climate actions: The end of coal, the end of Adani coal mine, and 100% renewable energy by 2030.
In Sydney CBD, the crowd of thousands was reunited. The strikers, composed of young people but also some adults, remained on the street despite the occasional rains, raising their signs, yelling, chanting slogans, and gleefully bouncing a giant inflatable Earth above them.
“When I say student, you say power! Student!
Several student leaders spoke, as well as Australia’s Indigenous representatives (an ‘Acknowledgment of Country’ was said), and Clover Moore, Australian politician and Lord Mayor of Sydney supporting the cause.
14-year-old speaker, Harriet O’Shea Carre, said:
“We’re sick of being ignored. We’re sick of our futures being turned into a political football!”
A blend of joy and anger animated the crowds. Joy in front of the massiveness of the event, bringing hope for a brighter future. But anger against those who deny climate change and destroy the home planet, against the ‘fools’ such as Scott Morrison and his ministry – applying the denial of climate change as a policy for their immediate personal gains and using fallacies arguments to support their position.
“The activists’ groups, and the groups who support different causes tend to be about good reasons, and the truth, and science, and evidence. And the groups they opposed are often about maintain the status quo, maintaining the rights, and maintain the privileges.” The arguments are “less rational and more visceral for groups who want to maintain privileges” explains Michael L. Kent, Public Relations Professor at UNSW.
Despite the urgent need to take action for our survival, the reality of climate change is hardly accepted among politics, the media, and the public: The climate is changing, but we are not.
Experts agree that human psychology is the main reason for the characteristic inaction facing climate change.
Kari Marie Norgard, associate professor of sociology at the University of Oregon, argues, in an article, that two phenomena constitute the ‘culture of denial.’ The more obvious is the ‘literal denial’; it is the sceptics rejecting scientific facts on climate change. The second phenomenon, more omnipresent, is called the ‘implicatory denial.’
The ‘implicatory denial’ happens when the threat of climate change is understood by the public but does not result in individual or collective actions; the knowledge around the environmental issue is not enough for people to change and adapt to a new reality, because of human psychological barriers.
Robert Gifford, professor of psychology and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, classifies these barriers into what he calls the seven “dragons of inaction.”
For Norgard, the lack of information is more about our “emotional response” than the environmental issue itself. It is our emotions that lead us to inaction.
Indeed, climate disruption creates anxiety which results in inertia and detachment from the public. A phenomenon that is amplified by the political discourses denying climate change, and confusing people’s minds.
The expert in sociology advocates that informing about the psychological barriers is crucial to “act beyond the sense of helplessness, guilt, or fear.”
“People are all too aware that their own efforts, and those of their communities, will not really make a difference” – says a 2016 Oxford Journal.
A 2008 research outlines that the creation of social norms would then be more powerful to engage people, instead of just explaining the impacts of the environmental issues.
(Jack) Wei Wei, 24 years old, is a master student in Public Relations and Advertising at UNSW. He did not join the School Strike this Friday, he explains:
“I care about climate change, but I was in class today, and I could not afford to miss it. Fees are expensive for international students. I understand the urgent situation, but it’s a pity, my master is my priority…”
Jack, however, wanted to support the movement. He had even met Fossil Free UNSW last semester, when he was writing a general feature about their 36-hour chancellery occupation (October 2018).
Therefore, like many other university students, the focus is on courses. Some professors even warned their students not to miss classes to go to the protest; they would miss the day’s work and therefore lose marks.
Giancarlo Bourke, 26 years old, did not have class during the demonstration.
Final year student in Bachelor of Commerce (accounting) at UNSW, he follows the global movement since last year. Giancarlo joined the protest against “Adani mine and in support of a greater push from the government to adopt renewable energy.”
This is also last year that Anna Hiu-Yun Ho, 18, started being really concerned about the environment.
First year of Advanced Science / Law at UNSW, she has attended two Stop Adani marches, volunteered with Conservation Volunteers Australia for three days during her holiday, and did a Solidarity Training day held by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
Anna has recently joined Fossil Free UNSW, seduced by their specific and practical goal for the environment. In that respect, she was at the strike, making her own way after her morning lecturer. For Anna, this was a breath-taking day:
“It was so exciting to see the massive crowds.”
Would young people be changing the world, taking care themselves of their future? Time has passed since Greta Thunberg stood alone to combat climate inaction. The young activist has just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Professor Michael L. Kent
Anna Hiu-Yun Ho
(Jack) Wei Wei
Ipcc.ch. (2019). Global Warming of 1.5 ºC —. [online] Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.
Gifford, R. (2011). The dragons of inaction: Psychological barriers that limit climate change mitigation and adaptation. American Psychologist, 66(4), pp.290-302.
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Morton, A. and Smee, B. (2019). Floods, fire and drought: Australia, a country in the grip of extreme weather bingo. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/feb/10/floods-fire-and-drought-australia-a-country-in-the-grip-of-extreme-weather-bingo.
Nolan, J., Schultz, P., Cialdini, R., Goldstein, N. and Griskevicius, V. (2008). Normative Social Influence is Underdetected. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(7), pp.913-923.
Ross, L., Arrow, K., Cialdini, R., Diamond-Smith, N., Diamond, J., Dunne, J., Feldman, M., Horn, R., Kennedy, D., Murphy, C., Pirages, D., Smith, K., York, R. and Ehrlich, P. (2016). The Climate Change Challenge and Barriers to the Exercise of Foresight Intelligence. BioScience, 66(5), pp.363-370.
Sydney Environment Institute. (2019). Implicatory Denial: The Sociology of Climate Inaction — Sydney Environment Institute. [online] Available at: http://sydney.edu.au/environment-institute/blog/implicatory-denial-sociology-climate-inaction/.