We've spent the past few months asking young Australians what the climate crisis is doing to their lives. This is what they want you to hear.

When I first spoke to Hugh, a 15-year-old student from Gunnedah, a months-long drought was threatening to force his family to give up their farm, their livelihood and their home.

"If it doesn't rain in the next few months, we'll sell all our breeding cows and just have the young calves left," he told me at the time, back in March of this year. "We'll have to fatten them up and sell them. And then after that, we'll have nothing. If it still hasn't rained by then, we'll have to look for another source of income."

Between March and now, it did rain in Gunnedah – a "really good, refreshing" couple of inches – but it wasn't enough. "We were still selling cattle off just to keep on top of it," Hugh told me a few weeks ago. "And since then, we haven't had rain for two or three months now. So next year we're actually going to sell everything off and move to look after our uncle's shop in Queensland, just for the year while he goes on holidays. It's a bit grim."

Hugh isn't alone. Gunnedah may be on the front lines, but the climate crisis has already begun to touch all of our lives. For young people just starting those lives, the impending threats will have a particularly pronounced impact: the climate crisis will determine the course of their futures.

There are so many ways the impacts are already being felt. For Hugh and many other farming families, it's the drought. For Imogen, a sixteen-year-old student from Cygnet, Tasmania, the threat remains the bushfires that had just ravaged her community last time we spoke. Bushfire season has arrived early this year, and it terrifies her. "I know that I'm in a really rather privileged position, because I don't live right next to the water, and we're not somewhere that's going to get burnt down immediately, and we've got enough money that we can get ourselves out of a tricky situation," she told me. "But I know that a lot of other people around me are going to have the face the consequences."

Hugh (left) and Imogen (right)

Other young Australians are feeling the impacts in different ways. For Doha, a 17-year-old leading the School Strike 4 Climate in Adelaide, the future consequences of climate change are beginning to weigh heavy. "I think the most concerning thing is the displacement of communities," she told me in August. "Just the rise of climate refugees. Seeing an influx of people when we're not prepared for it, I think that's just not going to be good for anyone. And it really scares me, to think about that." The climate crisis has already begun to affect how she thinks about her career, and whether she wants to have children.

None of these impacts are particularly new; in the six months since I first spoke to Hugh, Imogen and Doha, the most concerning development in the climate crisis has been Australia's response to it, or lack thereof. In March, students around Australia held their largest School Strike 4 Climate yet, alongside an estimated 1.4 million students worldwide. In May, we saw a federal election hailed as the climate election, with record numbers of young people on the electoral roll. Optimism was running high. And yet at that so-called climate election, we saw the Coalition Government returned to power, with little to no climate policy to speak of. Since then, the Adani coalmine has moved forward, Australia has stood in the way of a Pacific-wide consensus on climate change, and we as a country have not taken any significant actions to mitigate the climate crisis.

That loss hit many of the school strikers hard. "We were like, it's obviously getting so bad, how could people possibly overlook this, just ignore it and prioritise something else above this pressing issue?" Doha told me.

"It was really difficult, seeing all this momentum we'd built up, and seeing how many people cared, and then the election hitting and seeing that the people who could vote were like ‘no, we don't care about what you think, we're just going to vote against you,'" Imogen agreed.

"It was really difficult, seeing all this momentum we'd built up, and seeing how many people cared, and then the election hitting and seeing that the people who could vote were like 'no, we don't care about what you think, we're just going to vote against you'"

"I like to try and stay positive and go ‘look how many people we have out there', but if I look too hard I think ‘what are we doing wrong? Why don't they care?'".

If you're, say, Scott Morrison, you might be tempted to cast Imogen and Doha and the other school strike organisers as an overreacting minority, out of step with the rest of young Australia. It's a convenient explanation for the March School Strike's failure to ultimately sway the voting public. It's also wrong.

Part of the problem here is that we know so little about how young Australians are really feeling about the climate crisis. The School Strike 4 Climate tells us they're worried, but not how that worry affects their lives. We have an entire generation staring down an enormous, unprecedented threat, and we have very little idea how they feel about that, what they're likely to do, and whether they have the numbers to succeed.

Earlier this year, we tried to answer some of these questions as part of our annual youth survey. For the past nine years, Junkee has partnered with research agency Pollinate to ask more than 25,000 young Australians about what matters most to them right now, and this year, the answer was resoundingly this: climate change.

Eighty percent of the young people we surveyed think that tackling climate change is very urgent. A further 16 percent told us it was simply urgent. As for what that urgency does to a young person, 77 percent told us that they’re either stressed a lot, or a fair amount, about the climate crisis.


The majority of young Australians we spoke to think the government is doing either nothing or very little to combat that urgent threat. The one thing young people seem to be divided on is the question of whether there’s still time to turn things around: 42 percent told us they were optimistic that we can still combat climate change, while 55 percent were not optimistic, and 3 percent were uncertain.

Part of that uncertainty stems from the fact that young Australians don't feel like their fears are being heard. More than half of those we surveyed said they don't think Australia's political parties listen to people their age at all, while the other half said they were listened to "a little".

Lucie was 11 years old when I first spoke to her, back in November 2018. At the time, she was the school captain of Sydney's Forest Lodge Primary School, gearing up for her first big school strike, feeling optimistic and ready to be heard.

Looking back on it now, after the election, she feels differently. "I don't think [climate change] got the attention it deserved," Lucie told me in August, pointing out that many of the election promises surrounding climate change are a distant memory. "All the claims about making climate change less of a problem in Australia, I think they're slowly slipping away."

"Right now, I don't think the government is doing a very good job of making it, like, a big problem – making it the big problem that it is, the crisis that it is," she said. "They're kind of thinking of it as a distant tiny little problem, almost like a pest that they just want to get rid of. They're not really treating it as a crisis."

"When I was younger, I was optimistic. Now as I've grown older, and I've done a little bit more research and I've learnt more about the world, I'm beginning to be pessimistic – is that the word?"

"Because yeah, I was really hoping that the government, somebody, would stop Adani by now. And I was really hoping the school strikes would get to the government. But they didn't, so we're coming back and we're showing the government that we won't give up."

Young People Aren't Overreacting – Here's What The Threat Of Climate Change Looks Like For Teens Today

Imagine you're a teenager in Australia today. You're in high school, or perhaps beginning university. The world is opening up before you, and the climate crisis is already beginning to destroy your life.

Professor Lesley Hughes is an ecologist and academic at Macquarie University, as well as a member of the Climate Council of Australia. Her research has been focused on the impacts of climate change for more than 20 years, and she says that to understand what the climate crisis will do to the kids and teens of today, we have to begin by looking what it's already done.

"The world has warmed on average about one degree, and with that one degree of warming we are already seeing measurable increases in both the frequency and intensity of the sorts of extreme climate events that really cause impacts – bushfires, droughts, floods, storms et cetera," Professor Hughes says.

"We've got the Brazilian Amazon at the moment burning. We've seen an increase, in Australia, in the length of bushfire seasons, so that we now only have one month of the year without wildfires. We are seeing sea levels rise, exacerbating storm surges in all our coastal areas. We are seeing an intensification of droughts, and an intensification of floods."

For young farmers like Anika Molesworth, these changes touch every aspect of her life, from her PhD studies in sustainable agriculture to her work, her home and her farming community. "It's becoming so extreme, our weather condition, that we can't continue farming as usual," she told Junkee.

In Broken Hill, where Anika lives, the drought is so bad that fourth-generation farmers have begun to sell off their land. It's making Anika acutely aware that she's becoming part of an endangered species.

"I think the general trend is that there's less young people going into agriculture," she said. "Definitely young people who have grown up on the family farm, they see that farming is a difficult career path. You are at the mercy of the weather gods."

"And with climate change, that presents an added layer of complexity. Where we are, we know it's going to become hotter and drier, that we will experience more frequent and intense droughts and dust storms, so how do we upskill young people and give them the knowledge and the capabilities to combat these changes? How do we give them the knowledge to be a part of the solution?"

Anika for now is optimistic, but it's also clear to her that the situation has reached crisis point. Alisdair Tulloch, a 27-year-old farmer from the Hunter Valley, feels similarly. As a grape-grower, he's noticed winters shortening dramatically, and harvest dates moving forward each year. Left unchecked, that kind of movement has the potential to wreak havoc with Australia's food supply.

"I think that people don't really realise just how much agriculture is in the crosshairs, and how much agriculture is put at risk by changes to the climate," Alisdair told me. He and his family are currently pouring resources into becoming the first carbon neutral vineyard in the Hunter Valley, in an effort to do their part to preserve their way of life. They don't have the luxury of treating climate change as a future threat.

"I think that the idea of it having consequences in the future… that ship has sailed already, to be totally honest," Alisdair said. "The serious consequences are now, we're adapting and dealing with what's in front of us."

"I think that the idea of it having consequences in the future … that ship has sailed already, to be totally honest. The serious consequences are now."

The serious consequences are also already in front of Georgia Behrens, a postgraduate medical student and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA).

"I think a lot of people picture climate change and think of drowning pandas and all those kinds of things, which is obviously devastating, but maybe doesn't feel particularly close to home," she told me. "So a lot of what medical students I work with do is just go out and talk to people about the fact that a heatwave puts your grandma at risk, that climate change means that there's mosquitoes showing up in all sorts of places, potentially carrying diseases that we haven't seen in those sorts of places before -- that climate change changes pollen counts, which means we ends up with thunderstorm asthma epidemics like the one we saw last week."

"People who are particularly vulnerable with their health — elderly people, people sleeping rough, young people – are just going to be made even more vulnerable by all of these sorts of things. I'm confident that as I progress into the early years of my medical career, I'm going to be seeing even more of that."

For young Australians who aren't yet feeling the impacts of the climate crisis, the clock is ticking. Looking forward, the world is on track to continue heating. At the very least, the increase in temperature will be 1.5 or two degrees, which is still significant. As Professor Hughes points out, we can't assume a linear relationship between warming and its consequences (for example, that 2 degrees of global warming means a doubling of current impacts). The actual relationship may be exponential, with each degree of warming increasing drought and bushfire risk by a much larger amount.

Even if we conservatively assume a linear relationship, that still means the bushfires, droughts, floods and storms we're already seeing will get worse. "What if we had a doubling, by 2040, of the sorts of impacts that we're already seeing?" Professor Hughes asks. "That's pretty significant."

And that's the best-case scenario: the smallest amount of warming, combined with the smallest flow-on impacts. In reality, Professor Hughes says that even if every country met its current Paris Climate Agreement commitments on time, we're most likely aimed at three degrees of warming, at least.

"That's three times as much warming as we've already had," she points out. "So if we multiply the impacts by three times, you can start to see that the young people of today are very, very rightly worried about their future."

Imagine again that you're a teenager today. As you get your first job, move out of home, start relationships, build a career, and consider whether you want to start a family, here's what will happen.

The climate will continue to heat. That heating will continue to fuel droughts and bushfires and extreme weather, drying out areas like the Murray-Darling basin, which we depend on for food. As the areas where we're able to grow food shrink, food will become more expensive. If the population keeps growing, food will become more expensive still, and cities will rely on desalination plants to provide water as catchments become insufficient.

And the population will keep growing, because climate change will render some areas of the world uninhabitable. Climate refugees will come from the Pacific Islands, which will shrink or be submerged entirely due to sea level rise. Climate refugees will come from less developed countries, which will be not be as well prepared to adapt to the changes to come.

People around Australia, too, will have to move. Farming in some regions will become untenable. "We will see in summertime absolutely catastrophic fire risk, right down the east coast and along the southwest and the southeast, where there will be places people are living now which will actually become uninhabitable," Professor Hughes says.

"We will be seeing much of our coastal communities and infrastructure having to be moved, to retreat back, because low-lying areas along the coast will be inundated and also subject to more storm surges. We will be seeing possibly the loss of great natural icons, like the Great Barrier Reef, like Kakadu National Park. The inland around Alice Springs will probably be too dry and too hot, potentially, to live in."

Even for those who are not forced to move, there will be consequences. "I think by the middle of the century, we might expect that in many parts of Australia, it will be very difficult to insure people's houses," Professor Hughes says. "Anybody living close to a coast, or in a bushfire zone, or in a flooding area, won't be able to insure their major asset."

"I know it sounds very catastrophic and very doomsday, but all of those scenarios are actually pretty well based in what we know about the science."

"I know it sounds very catastrophic and very doomsday, but all of those scenarios are actually pretty well based in what we know about the science."

And once again, the science is clear in saying that the world – least of all Australia – is not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 or two degrees. David Spratt, the research director of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration, believes that this fact isn't clear enough to policymakers, who underestimate the risks we're facing.

In an effort to change this, Spratt recently co-authored a report outlining the consequences of reaching three degrees of warming between 2050 and 2100. This is not necessarily the most likely scenario, but it's a possible one, and it helps illustrate what's at stake if we don't take urgent and drastic action.

In the media, this report was covered pretty badly, with headlines suggesting that climate change might cause the world to end by 2050. "I think in the age of clickbait there's always the tendency, particularly online, for people to adopt sensationalist headings, and that is unfortunate," Spratt says. The threat is not that climate change will end the world in 2050, but rather that climate change, if we do not act soon, will set us on several paths of no return by 2050, perhaps earlier.

By three degrees of warming, and indeed even before it, we will have passed a number of tipping points. Within the lifetimes of today's teens, we might see the irreversible loss of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, locking in multi-metre sea rise over centuries to come. As a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report demonstrated, even the difference between 1.5 and two degrees of warming would have an enormous impact on sea level rise, species extinction, the climate refugee crisis and food insecurity.

In short, by the time teenagers today are thirty, or forty, they will likely face higher living costs, more dangerous weather, the destruction of species and national treasures, a growing refugee crisis, possible national conflict or wars spurred by that worsening refugee crisis, and – if governments of the world do not take drastic action soon – the knowledge that worsening impacts are guaranteed and unavoidable for the rest of their lifetimes.

So, are young Australians misguided in feeling deep anxiety about what the climate crisis will do to our futures? David Spratt doesn't think so.

"That's a perfectly logical, reasonable, heartfelt response to the good evidence in front of us," he says. The kids aren't overreacting – it's the adults who are wrong.

The Climate Crisis Is Urgent. What Can Young People Do About It?

Incredibly, despite having a clear understanding of just how dire the situation is, young people haven't lost all optimism. If anything, the 2019 election result has galvanised 13-year-old Billie, who's helping organise the next School Strike 4 Climate in Townsville, to try even harder.

"It was definitely disappointing, especially in that we thought [the threat of climate change] was coming across, that people were understanding it and were being aware of it," she said.

"Obviously the election results didn't show that, but that doesn't dampen the amount of effort we're going to put into it, it actually increases it."

Indeed, the young people we surveyed this year are very clear on one point: the government must make combatting climate change a priority. Forty-six percent told us that even if responding to climate change is found to be very expensive or difficult, the Australian government should still make addressing climate change its first priority no matter the cost. A further 47 percent acknowledged that we should take costs into account, but should nonetheless make climate change one of our top policy priorities.

Those figures tell a very different story to this year's election result, which makes sense: many of the young people who are so worried about climate change are not yet old enough to vote. Those who are can't yet outweigh the vote of older Australians who will be dead before the more serious consequences of climate change arrive.

And so, many young people who don't feel heard by politicians are taking matters into their own hands – as Hugh told me, "I think if the people lead, the leaders will follow". The question now is how, exactly, to do that. There are so many different ways individuals can try to combat climate change, and without a combined approach it's hard to gauge what kind of impact they'll have.

After all, what’s the most useful action a single person can take to slow the rapid destruction of the world they live in? Most of the young people we surveyed have already reduced their own plastic consumption, adopted reusable bags and cups, and increased their recycling, and those who haven’t say they plan to do so. Close to 60 percent of young people have also actively reduced their fast fashion purchases.

At the end of the day, though, these individual actions need to go hand in hand with government action. Fewer young people are doing the work to make this happen: only 26 percent said they have attended a protest, and only 20 percent have written to a politician.

The young people I spoke to for this story all had different ideas about what kind of individual actions are most helpful. "Probably going vegan, and stop buying or participating in fast fashion," Doha told me. Hugh disagreed, pointing out that going vegan without taking other action leaves embattled farming families like his in even more of a bind.

"It's difficult to try to convince people to keep eating meat," he told me. "I understand that they're trying to do all they can to save the environment, but yes, it would have detrimental effects to us if everyone just stopped eating meat." Rather than cutting out meat entirely, Hugh suggested that people consider seeking out sustainable meat, like grass-finished beef farmed in an environmentally low-impact way by local farmers.

Anika and Hugh also both pointed out the ways Australian farming communities, the red meat industry included, are already taking serious steps to take on climate change. It's not a choice for them; they've been living on the front lines for years. Whether it's by planting trees, installing solar panels or hosting wind turbines on their land, many Australian farmers are doing their best to offset their emissions and preserve their way of life.

"Sometimes people like to point the finger at the meat industry and say you know, that's the environmental villain, if you get rid of the meat industry then we've solved climate change," Anika told me. "It's not as simple as that. There is also some terrific work being done within the red meat sector. Like, Australia's red meat sector has set an ambition, a target, to be carbon neutral by 2030. That's incredibly impressive – that whole sector of agriculture has set itself that target."

When so many individual actions have complex and unintended consequences, then, how do young people who want to do something decide what the best something is? "In terms of individual actions that a person can take, that's for that individual to decide," Anika told me. "Not everyone can ride a bike to work, not everyone should not eat meat. Some people actually need those micronutrients found in those protein sources, so I'm not going to say do one thing or another to anyone – that's for individuals to decide."

"I'll always fight, I'll always go to the strike. I'll never miss out on one. I'll always be thinking about climate change and how we can stop it, even just in the little ways."

Still, there are general guiding principles that can help when deciding what action to take. As David Spratt puts it, the task is to work out "who wields power in this society, and how can we get under their skins?"

"I think what the student strikers are doing is pretty much on the right track," he said. "To understand the evidence and the issue as it really is, to not go soft on the evidence, to face it straight on, which is exactly what Greta's done. The second thing is to organise, to organise in public, and to organise collectively and together. There's power in numbers."

"Look, there's no one single easy action," Professor Hughes acknowledged. "Climate change has a multitude of causes, everything we do contributes to gases going into the atmosphere, so there must be a multitude of solutions."

"I think voting for the party that has the best climate policy is the absolute number one thing to do. Joining with groups to make your voice amplified is another incredibly important thing to do. And to be more demanding, frankly."

"And yes, there's all the other things like reducing meat consumption, and getting your parents to buy an electric car, and putting solar panels on and batteries and all of that sort of thing. That's all really important, but the single most important thing is to demand leadership."

"I usually say there's three actions," Anika told me, when I asked how she thinks individuals can find a way forward.

"Firstly, to use your consumer power, as in put your money towards goods and services that are doing right by this planet. That's looking at where your bank is investing your money, your superannuation funds, your energy, all of that. Understanding what, as a consumer, you're actually putting your money towards."

"My second point is always use your political influence: no party should not have strong climate and energy and environmental policies. And climate change cannot be a political football. So I would encourage people to speak with their local government, and their federal government, and actually demand that these strong policies are into place."

"And then I always say amplify your voice. As in, speak with your local radio, your newspaper, write blogs. Flood the news feeds with what is going on with climate change – but also more importantly, what can be done about it."

"Because the actions and the opportunities are so incredible, and they're exciting, and they offer income security and job security and healthier air to breathe, and all of this. And people should be aware that if we change the way we act in this world, there are so many benefits."

There are, indeed, so many benefits. It's not melodramatic to say that in the case of climate change, we have everything to lose if we do not act, and everything to gain if we do.

The next global school strike is coming up on September 20, and while many of Australia's original school strikers are beginning to see just how difficult this is going to be, they're not backing down. They know their futures depend on it.

"Right now I'm not going to jump into the big roles of this climate strike -- everybody's having their time to shine, I've had mine and maybe I'll have another time to shine," Lucie told me, explaining that her first year at high school is taking a front seat right now.

"I'll always fight, I'll always go to the strike. I'll never miss out on one. I'll always be thinking about climate change and how we can stop it, even just in the little ways."


Lucie will be at the Sydney #SchoolStrike4Climate on September 20. You can find your local strike at https://www.schoolstrike4climate.com/.

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