Building a youth climate movement

November 17, 2007

Climate change is the challenge of our generation and we need to do everything we can to stop it. What is our role as young people? How can we be most effective? After the Walk Against Warming rallies around the country, where young people came together in youth contingents, where to next for the youth climate movement?

1. We can cut through the crap.

We can demand, and create, what others think is impossible — but what we know is absolutely necessary. Weak targets here, a couple of million for a small renewable energy project there — what political parties, business and many NGOs are doing and calling for — is not going to cut it when it comes to stopping climate change. As young people, we don't have vested financial interests: our vested interest is in the future health of the planet; we will have to deal with the consequences of climate change. This puts us in the unique position of being able to speak the truth without spin.

2. We need to build a direct action movement around coal.

Australia is the world's quarry. We're fuelling climate chaos. Our governments are expanding Australia's export of both coal and uranium. Neither are solutions to climate change — we can't dig our way out of global warming!

Coal is the dirtiest, most greenhouse-polluting fuel. All parts of the coal industry are expanding. The NSW government has approved the doubling of the coal export capacity of Newcastle, already the world's largest coal port.

Both the Labor and Liberal parties are pumping billions of dollars into the coal industry (Labor alone has said it will commit $500 million to a national "clean coal" initiative). A couple of months ago Al Gore wondered why young people weren't locking-on to bulldozers and stopping coal-fired power stations being built. That is exactly what we need to be doing, and what we have started doing. We need to be at the fore of a movement to stop the dangerous and powerful coal industry, because if we don't we have no hope of stopping runaway climate change.

Two months ago, in response to APEC and PM John Howard's counterproductive and downright dangerous climate policies, young people showed the world what real action on climate change looked like. They shut down a Loy Yang coal-fired power station in Victoria's La Trobe Valley and the Carrington Coal Export Terminal, part of the world's largest coal port in Newcastle.

Next July, Australia is holding its first Climate Camp. In Newcastle after the annual Students of Sustainability Conference, it will be an opportunity for thousands of people to take grassroots direct action aimed at stopping the expansion of the world's largest coal port. In the lead-up, we need to skill-up and support young people creating affinity groups — groups that will take targeted and effective direct action throughout climate camp. Its going to be a week to remember — the next tipping point in the Australian climate movement.

3. We need to support those facing the brunt of climate change.

Pacific Islanders, Indigenous Australians, coal-affected communities and beyond.

4. We need to build a renewable-powered future.

Investing in renewables is not just investing in my future, as an engineering student, but in our communities' future. Renewable energy is fundamentally different to the centralised energy system we have now, which is based on extraction of finite resources such as coal and uranium. Renewable energy is people's power, like the power we have by being at Walk Against Warming. It is free, abundant and available to all and it can literally empower our communities. We can set up renewable energy cooperatives, organisations where communities own and control their own energy, the energy that is in their backyard — wind, solar, micro-hydro etc.

5. We need to dump Howard not radioactive waste!

6. We need to do more of what we're already doing

Building this movement for change, switching our communities, our universities and our schools to clean energy.

[Nicky Ison is the national convener of the Australian Student Environment Network (]

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