Thousands of Australian students are expected to partake in 120 climate strikes happening around Australia tomorrow. While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made clear he's for "less activism in schools", the headmaster of Sydney's Newington College, Michael Parker, has other ideas...
Above Video: 'Strike 4 Climate Action' PubChat
Damn these Year Elevens. They come into my office asking me to support the climate strike. They tell me that it is their planet too and that they should be able to protest about what is the most important issue of their lives. They ask whether the school will stand up for them.
I don’t want to catch the political nuclear-grade hot potato that is the climate ‘debate’. I have a strategic plan on education to write and a Council retreat to prepare for. As well, I have always prided myself on being able to teach current affairs without my classes being able to work out which way I would vote in an election. I stay neutral and allow all points of view – sometimes to a fault. And, anyway, I am not a scientist.
But these kids say that they are probably going to live into the 22nd century and they are terrified about tipping points and a runaway greenhouse effect. They say that the climate science is overwhelming. They say that leaders in my generation are not doing anywhere near enough about it.
Heavily I consult my own conscience about climate science.
We teach our kids in Year Seven that the scientific method, whilst not irrefutable, is the best thing we have to work out physical truths about the world. We teach them that when there is a consensus amongst almost all reliable scientists, then they are probably right.
To prepare for the meeting with these Year Elevens, I have read the beginning of the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the ‘IPCC’ – a pretty reliable group of scientists). Their chief point is that that human-made effects are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century (SPM 1.2, p4). When they say ‘very likely’ they mean with 95–99% confidence.
Even more strikingly, the IPCC say ‘continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.’ That’s severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for the kids sitting in front of me – as well as my own children.
I think that accepting the reality of climate science is different to expressing political views. It’s a (pretty settled) opinion about a fact, not an opinion of evaluation. The IPCC may all be wrong in some bizarre mass hallucination or corrupt stitch-up job, but I very much doubt it.
But another climate strike?
I ask what’s going to happen when they want to march about immigration or abortion or any other issue. What’s to stop them marching out for that? They say I am committing a ‘slippery slope fallacy’ (damn those critical thinking lessons we teach them) and that climate change is different in kind to any of these issues because it affects the lives of everyone. Anyway, they say, all these other issues have all been prominent since the last climate change march and there have not been any student marches.
I point out the lessons that students everywhere will be missing – that they all need to be in school to get an education. They say to me that the very vision of Newington is for boys to make an active and positive difference in the world. Going on a march for climate fits the school’s vision better than one more regular day around the classrooms, they tell me. (Damn the school’s vision – I should have seen that one coming).
Why not Saturday? I say. Show your commitment that way. ‘It’s not a strike if it’s on a Saturday’ they say. They get passionate now. They say they have no voice, no vote, that those in power have deserted their generation. They say all that they can do to be heard is to stop doing the thing the government expects them to do that day – going to school.
This isn’t going well. What about ‘slacktivism’ I ask – kids who don’t care and just want to skip out of class. But they are ready for this one too. One of the boys says that he went to the previous march and that everyone he met was committed. Then they say that it is a chicken and egg argument – that going to a march is what will make some kids care passionately and then do more about it. (Damn those critical thinking lessons again). They point out that they have put their own money where their mouth is. They run the school’s sustainability and recycling groups.
They point out that the NSW and ACT Synod of the Uniting Church – the church with which we are affiliated – has supported the strikes. (Hmmm… damning the Uniting Church is going to be tricky). If the church can do it, why can’t their own school? they say.
I’d rather they went away. I’d rather get back to the school’s strategic plan and the Council retreat. But these kids are passionate, they are smart and they have thought it through. They have put their money where their mouths are and they are scared about their future. Students who have shown they care about this should be able to march about it. If their parents have allowed them to be absent to go to the strike, then the least we can do is give them the school’s support too.
Damn these Year Elevens. Because they’re right.
STATEMENT ABOUT THE CLIMATE STRIKE.
Newington College accepts the reality of climate science. We consider that climate change caused by humans is an urgent issue, particularly for young people. We understand the importance of student critical thinking and student voice in addressing this singularly important issue. We thus support the decision of our boys whose parents have given them permission to be absent to represent their views about climate change at the climate march on 20 September.