Why Regional Teens Need Their Voices Heard On The Climate Crisis

Young people in regional Australia have already grown up with bushfires, floods, drought, and more. They fear what's coming next if the climate crisis continues.

Regional Youth Climate Change

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More than 40,000 kids, teens, and adults rallied across major cities to speak up for the planet last Friday. The School Strike 4 Climate movement is an outcry against the environmental disaster the next generation will have to face — yet, young people outside metro areas are growing up and living with the devastating impacts of climate change already.

A 2017 survey by the Climate Institute found that 90% of people living in rural and regional Australia say they’re dealing with natural disasters and extreme weather events heightened by climate change.

Since the findings were released, Australia saw three cyclones, a flood, and three bushfire incidents including the 2019-20 season that took 33 lives and 3000 homes.

15-year-old Mackenzie from Gippsland, Victoria told Junkee the bushfires in Bunyip two years ago had a lasting effect on them.

“Bushfires are something that have always been talked about, and I’ve always been taught by my parents what to do if there was to be one, but actually having to be evacuated has an everlasting impact.”

Even now, the ripples of lost farmland, bushland, and property still loom over their community.

“All natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe due to the climate crisis,” Mackenzie said. “This does worry me about what more could happen in my local area, and if next time, there will be enough time to evacuate at all.”

“I want people to know that climate change is destroying habitats, native animals are dying. The land of First Nation Australians is being destroyed. Homes are being lost. Lives are being lost. It’s only going to get worse.”

Patrick is a 17-year-old from Port Macquarie, a coastal town near the Hastings River in NSW. He spoke to ten thousand activists at the Sydney climate strike on Friday, May 21.

Like Mackenzie, Patrick’s hometown was heavily impacted by the recent bushfires. He described Port Macquarie being surrounded by five major fires at one point, closed roads, and still going to school despite the unbreathable air quality.

“Climate change matters out here. As a farming community, my friends and family see firsthand the impacts of climate inaction,” Darcey said.

“During the fires across Australia, Scott Morrison told us from his resort in Hawaii that he was doing all he can, that he doesn’t have a hose, and he doesn’t sit in an all-powerful control room,” he said. “But what have you done a year later? Nothing.”

It was only two months ago that Port Macquarie was then hit by extreme flooding where homes, businesses, and paths were buried in debris and water. Patrick recalls livestock from kilometres away washing up dead, and schools closing down to repair the damage.

“And what do we hear from the government? Silence. We were told it was a once-in-a-hundred year storm,” Patrick said.

Off the back of what they’ve seen and lived so far, young people are continually disappointed in the government’s lacking response to climate action.

“Each time I see the government spending money on more things that are destroying our home, it’s a stab in the heart.”

“Each time I see the government spending money on more things that are destroying our home, it’s a stab in the heart,” Mackenzie said on the continued investment of public money on the gas industry.

Patrick called out the hypocrisy of Scott Morrison’s claim that future generations will “thank global leaders” for what they’re doing for the environment at a US virtual summit in April, when less than a month later, the federal budget recommitted billions of dollars to the fossil fuels.

“Well, the young people of this country do not thank you. We see right through you and we demand better. Because we have the most at stake,” Patrick said. “What we see right now is a glimpse of what we’ll be facing for the rest of our lives if we do not act.”

17-year-old Darcey lives in Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s electorate of Riverina in NSW. They told Junkee the continued investment in fossil fuels doesn’t represent the needs or wants of McCormack’s constituents.

“Climate change matters out here. As a farming community, my friends and family see firsthand the impacts of climate inaction,” Darcey said.

“So when local member [McCormack] stands up and complains about ‘inner city raving lunatics’ and their climate agenda, when our representatives use rural communities to justify their woefully inadequate climate policies — it feels like we’re being wilfully ignored.”

Darcey has already lived through six on-and-off droughts so far. They were born during the millennium drought and it didn’t rain until they were three-years-old. Darcey remembers the ‘niggling worry’ they’ve grown up with that makes them reconsider every open tap or glass of water.

The last drought in their area only officially ceased a year ago. Experts believe that climate change makes the effects of droughts more intense and harmful, the Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time.

“If more droughts like that are coming our way, my community will really struggle,” they say. “Many are still struggling — the drought is only just breaking in some areas and long-term impacts on farms and mental health can be devastating.”

While fearing for their town’s future, Darcey picked up climate activism which they described as being “very new to the neck of the woods” for them and their peers.

“I’m seeing some promising signs, especially from primary students [in the area] and I know most people I go to school with care about climate change. With any luck we can turn that into positive action through strikes.”

The School Strike 4 Climate marches and protests are an empowering opportunity for young people to take action, surround themselves with likeminded people, and be heard.

But beyond the mass gatherings, and without the legal power to vote yet, the real need for change is sustained by raising awareness and their voices.

Darcey says educating more young people on climate change and politics enables them to take a stand in between protests.

“Young people have a very unique power when it comes to politics. We harness our power with numbers and conviction where we can’t have a say more traditionally,” they said.

“I think some of it also comes from being underestimated — it’s hard to ignore a problem when a teenager is doing more to fight [climate change] than you are.”