I Stood Up For Real Action On Climate Change And Now I’m Going To Court

"For once, I actually felt empowered in actively creating the kind of future we need."

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When I tell people I have been arrested and am facing court, the most common response is laughter.

On most people’s inbuilt crim-scoping radar, I score a “more-likely-to-get-mugged-than-break-the-law”. Let’s be frank – I’m a bit of a nerd. I like books, gardening, collecting tea varieties and the occasional boogie. So when I rang my mum on Mother’s Day to tell her I had just been served my court attendance notice for occupying the bridge that takes coal trains to the biggest coal port in the world, she thought I was joking before the idea settled in.

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The disappointment came from all angles. “What about your future?”, “Think about your career!”, “I hope you didn’t want to go to America…” and so on. I had to wait for her to calm down before explaining that a future where I get to have a nice job, travel overseas, and generally live a safe and satisfying life is contingent on the world – today – taking action to curb climate change before it’s too late. She gets it now.

I’ve Been Waiting For Climate Change Action All My Life

I’m 22. I’ve been waiting all my life for this kind of climate action to happen. From a high school student watching docos of ice caps melting to a university student reading the scientific graphs, it has been clear to me that climate change is real and we need to do something about it. Years have passed, the science gets more specific and the scientist’s warnings’ more urgent, while global forums of world leaders convene and dissipate. Now it’s 2016 and Australia still has some of the highest per-capita carbon dioxide emissions while approving new coal mines and slashing renewable energy support. Go figure.

So, on a Sunday in May, I donned a hazmat suit, drew some red crosses on my cheeks, and joined 66 others sitting on the thick wooden sleepers – the railway line – designed to bear the weight of tonnes of coal en route to their destination where they would end up as dirty energy and carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Not gonna lie, for breaking the law and causing enough of a ruckus to halt coal exports all day, it was pretty chill. We sang, ate hummus, and chatted about our hopes and fears for the future of this planet as one by one the police placed us under arrest and took us out for processing. We were charged with trespassing on railway land, a charge that carries a potential criminal conviction and a $5,500 fine.


For once, I actually felt empowered in actively creating the kind of future we need. I have done all the other shit. I have researched, written, signed petitions, marched. But no matter what I do I am met with the brick wall of decision-makers that are more concerned with making a quick buck than thinking seriously about how we’re going to keep living on this planet in decades to come. Using my body to very tangibly #keepitintheground was quietly cathartic.

The Fight Is Bigger Than My Potential Criminal Record

That was a few months ago, and now I am finally due to deal with the consequences of my actions. I keep getting asked if I feel worried about going to court. And sure, I am, but not a tenth as worried as I am for my mates from the Torres Strait, who stand to lose their precious land and culture as the sea levels rise by forces they had nothing to do with.

So, despite the looming verdict, I guess I’m not worried so much as I am pissed off. The fact remains that I’ve grown up to inherit a planet that’s been trashed by previous generations – and yet these men in suits still refuse to listen to my generation when we demand they start building a real transition to energy sources that don’t compromise our future. It’s not that fucking hard. Stop building new coal mines, for a start. Stop investing in the continued expansion of fossil fuels like we’re going to be relying on them in years to come. Start talking to people about the renewable every solutions they want to see, and support that. Christ, it’s not rocket science – it’s not even climate science. It’s just common sense.

So whatever fate the legal system dishes me, I’ll take it. This fight is bigger than my potential criminal record. And hey, I’d encourage you to listen to your own survival instinct, too. The water is getting warmer. Are you the dumb frog that gets cooked, or are you gonna jump out and turn down the gas?

Breana Macpherson-Rice is a science student from Sydney and is the communications officer for the Australian Student Environment Network. She tweets at @mmm_brie.