School climate strikers are right: This is the fight of our lives

One of the many placards on display at Sydney's Climate Strike rally on September 20. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

We need to thank School Strike 4 Climate for being realistic by demanding the impossible.

Of course, its demands are perfectly reasonable, necessary and possible. Letting runaway global warming destroy the Earth is what should be impossible.

But our perception of what is possible is too often shaped by our experience, the media and the resistance of those that do not want change.

I am a councillor at the City of Fremantle. As a council, we have recognised that there is a climate emergency and have our own emission's reduction scheme.

But you would have noticed that, almost every week, Perth’s only daily newspaper The West Australian has been attacking local governments for daring to take a stand on global warming. Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt has been personally attacked almost every fortnight.

The West Australian repeats the same thing to local governments that it says to students: “Keep out of it; it is not your business."

Sorry, but it is our business!

But that treatment is far from the worst of it.

Back in March, the Environmental Protection Authority suggested big oil and gas corporations operating in the state’s north-west pay the cost of 100% carbon offsets for the projects they are involved in — something that would have only cost between 1–2% of their profits.

In response, there was a vicious, sustained campaign against the proposal by the companies and The West Australian. Within a week, the corporations had met with the premier and the plan was off the table.

This gives you a sign of what we are up against. This is a serious struggle, but it is one we have to win.

I think it is a mistake to think that the people who resist change are just climate change deniers, although, of course, some of them are. They just want to push on with business-as-usual and, if runaway global warming starts to cause a collapse of the Earth’s natural systems, their thinking is: “We’ll just grab the resources for ourselves, we’ll build gated communities and we’ll distract people with fear and racism.”

After all, they do that already, so why would they not do that.

But there is something worse than climate change denial. There are people who know it is real but their response to climate change is fascism and war. This is not far-fetched when you look at people like United States President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsanaro.

I do not say this to make people depressed, but we need to be realistic: that is the alternative to not acting on climate change.

That is why it is so vital.

But you know, that week when the premier trundled down St Georges Terrace and got his instructions from Chevron, Woodside and Shell, the very next day, flooding up St Georges Terrace in the opposite direction, was a School Strike 4 Climate march.

That is the spirit of change that is going to win.

I agree with Australian scientist Tim Flannery when he says the movements that we are starting to see emerge — School Strike 4 Climate and Extinction Rebellion among others — are just the beginnings of a huge social movement that has the potential to change society.

But it is not going to happen automatically.

It is not inevitable that runaway global warming is going to destroy the basis of life on Earth, but it is also not inevitable that we are going to stop it.

To stop it, we need a peoples’ movement. We need a mass movement for change.

That means all of us who are not students need to take the enthusiasm, optimism, courage and determination of School Strike 4 Climate and transmit it to the rest of the community, so that this becomes something as epic as the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

That is what it is going to take. It is going to be the fight of our lives.

What I say to you is this: Do not give up your planet without a fight.

We have a world to win.

[This text is based on a speech given by Sam Wainwright, who is also a WA co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance, at the Perth Climate Strike on September 20.]