It’s a spectacular Friday in early autumn. The leaves haven’t started changing yet but the weather has softened after a very tough summer.
With my parents and their dog, I wander through the walking streets, past the shut merry-go-round and the funny metal sheep statues that buck and run in Garema Place. We can hear the sound of the crowd ahead of us. Somebody is tapping a microphone and making testing noises.
I expect to feel pretty at home here. My husband and I have been “doing things” about climate change for a long time. We have 7.5kw of solar panels shared the between the roofs of our house and garage. Our house is well insulated, north-facing and pretty small (by Australian standards) for a family of four. We have one fully electric car and one plug in hybrid electric. We like that a visit to a petrol station means we have to stop and think about where the petrol cap is, we like that we are so out of touch with petrol prices that we are genuinely shocked at the expense when we have to buy some.
Nearby, a group of school kids hold up a sign that reads “Keep our planet clean. It’s not Uranus.” Over on the other side, near the stage is a placard saying “I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea.” And way up the back I can see a big one saying “It’s so bad, even the introverts have turned up” I giggle at the humour and my parents and I point things out to each other.
The rally starts. From where we are standing, we can’t see much. The kelpie sits quietly at my Mum’s feet, ears against her head, chin on her paws. The voices are normal rally-type voices but soon I realise that these girls are only 17 and they’re running the whole event. Different kids are invited up to speak. One boy is only 12. They all speak confidently and with conviction. They are honest to the point of bluntness about the mess their generation is facing. But they are not hopeless and they are never rude.
I listen to all their stories, their facts, their wisdom. They are wise. To my surprise, tears prick my eyes and I swallow, a bit embarrassed. I find myself overwhelmed with a desperate sense of how much needs to be done. These kids can’t even vote – that most basic of democratic rights. But here they are appealing to their government with every possible means they can muster.
Up on the stage, a young girl is singing a Missy Higgins song, accompanying herself with a guitar. I let the music wash over me and ponder my situation. We have two young kids. It is for them that I came today. I know that the future is important to me. Why am I so moved by this rally?
At home, we modify how we talk about things. Our daughter is prone to worrying so, although we explain to the kids why we think solar panels and electric cars are good and important, we are careful not to be too frightening in how we frame our own fears about Climate Change. But here are kids who know as much as we do and they are expected to get up every day and go to school as though (borrowing Greta Thunberg’s analogy) the house wasn’t on fire.
I imagine being one of those kids – sitting in school trying to concentrate on maths while secretly wondering if my life after 40 will be worth living anyway. Maybe having kids won’t be a practical choice for this generation. I imagine trying to study for end of year exams and knowing that maybe, by the time I’m 34, Sydney airport might be underwater. Imagine going to footy practise with your mates and wondering if they will all suffer from food shortages because the farming areas are impacted heavily by changing weather conditions.
The next to take the stage is a young girl whose parents are from Bangladesh. She has cause to worry that her ancestral home won’t even exist anymore. Her relatives in Bangladesh may be among the first in wave after wave of environmental refugees.
After the rally, my parents and I have lunch together at an outside table (with the Kelpie at our feet). Dad’s eyes look moist. I can’t tell if he was affected by the rally or if it’s some other cause but I wouldn’t blame him if they were rally tears.
The next few days, I find I am moody and uncomfortable. In the car one day my husband says “Are you okay?” I say “I’m feeling a lot of pressure to be vegetarian.” He says “From who?”. And I say “From everybody who cares about climate change.”
Since then, we have changed a lot more about our lives. We have changed where and how we shop, we are changing our diet, and we are even more careful about reducing plastic than we were before. But perhaps most importantly (for my comfort) I have tried to be more politically active. I have written lots of emails to politicians. I have joined groups. I have volunteered to do things that I always stopped short of before because of them being way outside my comfort zone.
I once went to an assertiveness workshop run by Susan Jeffers. Her book is called “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.” I call on everybody to go to a Strike For Climate Rally, whether you give a shit or not.
Those kids feel the fear and do it anyway.
They have been handed a tough gig and I’m sure I don’t know anybody who could square up to it better.