Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Climate Action; Our Obligation

Climate Action; Our Obligation

Veronica Hester

Year 11

For a long time, we were walking through a fever dream. We'd been feeling felt some kind of discomfort, but we let it build. Then, it exploded. The first biggest youth movement of the 21st century was born; School Strike for Climate.

I'm a school striker. With that Sydney rally in November, I broke out of my fever dream - but I'm not free yet. Being aware of a problem doesn't mean it's gone.

Apparently, I'm an activist now. I do speeches at rallies. I've written opinion pieces. I do behind-the-scenes organising that's made me decide not to be a manager. I've seen in the ins and outs of how it all works; there's no mystery any more. People of all ages look up to me. I'm a leader.

So some people are very surprised when I say that I'm not interested in climate change. Climate change matters to me; but the issue itself is boring and repetitive. It mainly encompasses problems like soil quality, water availability, and weather patterns. But under our deadline of 11 years or less to rapidly cut emissions, we need a feeling of obligation. Passionate or not.

I have a friend who makes excuses; who doesn't realise the same obligation I do. When I look in their eyes, I can see a mindset that many people have - people who are kind. People who don't comprehend the suffering they allow to happen. In that kind of situation, expressing my pain isn't helpful.

I see it from the detached perspective of an epic. I'm facing inevitability; a tragic person who is the opposite of what they're doing; a person filled with biases and attachment. Perhaps, filled with deep fear.

I'm a little human up against gods. In this part of the story, I'm in the uncomfortable position where I haven't accepted my fate.

My future will loll back into a fever dream. A dream where people will suffer. It won't be us; not at first. The poorer countries, who were really beginning to develop, will fall right back down again. Agricultural yields will fall, and most pollinators will disappear. Many will starve, especially those who lived off their land. Some will lose all of their freshwater. Diseases and temperatures will increase - pensioners and children will suffer the most. The environment will become more and more dysfunctional. So will the economy.

At that point, there'll be nothing anyone can do; and I'll have to watch it happen. I'll remember that friend and our conversations; and I will finally accept a dead-end.

But we're not there yet.

Climate action matters to almost every student I know. It doesn't matter whether they're academic, sporty, blokey, whatever - they realise there isn't much time. They know climate change will be the decider of everything. They're not all 'activists', but they've all got some activist in them - and they are definitely not dreaming any more.

Soon, I'm hoping I can rest. I hope that our government will stop being the world's largest exporter of coal, and the 15th highest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. I hope we will have a 100% renewable energy target, which, according to policy expert Professor Ross Garnaut, we could reach in less than 10 years.

I hope I can breathe a long sigh, and no longer have to be an activist. But first, everyone has to keep going.

We can't accept a fever dream yet.