30 000 students and members of the public gathered in Sydney on Friday as part of a global strike against inaction on climate change.
The USyd contingent to the strike gathered outside Fisher Library at 10:30 am, with students chanting, “Green jobs are the way, that’s why we’re on strike today.”
The growth of the Spreading the Climate Strike movement in recent weeks spurred on a congregation of over a thousand staff and students.
A total of 60 classes expressed solidarity and support of the strike, with students leaving lectures and tutorials early to participate.
“In order for a just transition, everyone must be able to get involved in climate action, which can only be done through grassroots activism. Climate action must be the product of Indigenous, scientific and community knowledges,” said Alev Saracoglu and Alex Vaughan, the SRC Environment Officers.
Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence informed staff earlier this week that student participation in the strike would not incur penalties for any participants across the university.
“Climate change hurts disadvantaged and oppressed people the most and destroys the one environment we have to live in — we must act urgently!” the student group, Stop Adani at USyd, told Honi.
Among other banners and signs representing student groups at the strike stood representatives of the National Tertiary Education Union.
NTEU USyd Branch President Kurt Iveson stood beneath a banner reading, “Let’s make climate change ancient history,” and spoke at length on how the climate strike was a “union issue, a kid’s issue and a student issue.”
“This event is possible due to the pressure put by school students. They are demanding answers to those questions and they have our support,” said Iveson, his words being met with loud applause.
Student speakers noted the enduring power of striking, making reference to on-campus student protests in the past such as those staged against the Vietnam War.
“When you build student power you can win… this protest is happening in almost a hundred countries around the world. This is a global movement we’re a part of,” said the speakers.
Activists also spoke about the responsibility of governments and corporations, with one student decrying an apparent lack of accountability from these institutions.
“We face a system backed by the biggest corporations and governments around the world… a system of profit that doesn’t care about the planet.”
The strike began marching down Eastern Avenue just after 11 am, continuing with chants of “we need renewables” and “renewable power is a right, students and staff unite and strike.”
Guided by road closures and a police escort, the strikers marched down City Road, up Broadway to combine with a contingent of UTS students, and then along George Street to join the main schools strike at Sydney Town Hall Square.
Led by student speakers from across Sydney and regional NSW, the crowds were made up of school and university students, children and members of the public.
“We want to stop Adani, stop the use of coal and gas and switch to one-hundred percent renewable energy by 2030,” said Danielle Villafana-Pore, a Fort Street High School student and one of the student MCs, identifying three key goals from the recent United Nations report and the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.
“We don’t have time for the government to be fighting over whether climate change is real…we have 12 years to stop the worst impacts of climate change.”
Over 100 countries were said to have been participating in the climate strike, with strikes occurring in 60 cities and towns in Australia alone.
“I support your strike as an elected representative and I support your strike as a former teacher,” said Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney.
“Your generation and successive generations will be the ones dealing with the impact of global warming… you are concerned, you are fearful, and you are angry.”
Danielle Villafana-Pore spoke at length about how her local community in Western Sydney is being overlooked by the political system.
“I am furious that key politicians representing Western Sydney are not prioritising climate action…[they] have an obligation to ensure our futures are safe.”
The speakers further addressed the negative impacts of government inaction, noting the increasingly extreme weather conditions across the globe, such as Cyclone Oswald in 2013 and the Kerala flooding in India last year.
“By 2050, the world is expected to have one billion climate refugees… the environment is not a price we pay for economic growth,” said Western Sydney student speaker Adrian.
A host of student representatives from the Pacific Islands spoke passionately at length about the importance of the movement to them.
“I am fighting for the Pacific Islands because I want my relatives to explore the islands my travelling ancestors founded,” one student said.
This group delivered a message concurrent with that of all the other high school-age speakers — protesting in favour of climate action was a way to make their voice heard, given they are not old enough to vote.
“As high school students, most of us cannot vote… but we still need to make a vocal statement from an environmental and humanitarian perspective,” said student protester, Charlotte Van Leeuwin.
The strike concluded on the message that immediate action is imperative, encouraging protestors to contact their local MPs and vote to be on the “right side of history.”
The speeches discerned that political change is reliant on the longevity of the movement itself and bringing the discussion to the politicians and institutions that are able to enact it.
“Make it loud and clear that politicians need to represent your views and take climate action now,” the speakers said. “This is about acting and recognising we are in a crisis and finding a way to stop it.”
The movement for action continues, as Clover Moore also announced a new “climate kick start event” on 27 March at Sydney Town Hall, where students can learn more about climate advocacy.