Academics support ‘student strike’ on climate change

Hundreds of academics joined tens of thousands of university and school students in a nationwide protest in Australia on Friday as part of a global ‘student strike’ aimed at persuading politicians to take urgent action against climate change.

Nearly 800 academics from dozens of Australian universities signed an open letter expressing their solidarity with the students and thousands attended protest rallies in 50 cities around the nation.

According to CNN, the American news-based pay television channel, students were “walking out of classrooms in more than 100 countries to protest climate inaction”. Protesting students say their governments have failed future generations by not cutting emissions and curbing global warming.

As elsewhere around the world, the Australian strike was inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who initiated ‘striking for climate action’ in August last year.

National protest rallies in Australia started at noon in regional and capital cities and followed earlier student protests across the country over the federal government’s inaction on climate change.

Friday's protest comes months after students first walked out of their classes to protest over government climate inaction. The strikes were then, and continue to be, condemned by Australia’s conservatives, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Although his government has taken no action to counter the effects of climate change, which are becoming increasingly evident, Morrison joined conservative commentators in condemning the strike.

He told students they should be “less activist” and let the politicians not schoolchildren deal with the issue.

One student protester observed: “Yes but whose future is at stake?”

On Friday the Australian students were part of a day of global protest action, with academics and perhaps millions of students in more than 90 countries participating.

This time, too, the students were supported by wider community groups in Australia, with unions as well as academics and even many politicians joining protests around the nation.

School students, many still wearing their uniforms, held signs with slogans such as “The climate is changing, why aren’t we?” and “Make earth cool again”.

At protest meetings, the students called for a stop to the opening of a new coal mine in central Queensland that is being planned by an Indian multimillionaire.

Students said the coal mine should be abandoned and no new coal mines opened while the country switched to 100% renewable energy by 2030.

In a typical response from the conservative side, Christopher Pyne, a senior federal cabinet minister, told a television interviewer the students should be at school.

“Usually strikes are when employees withdraw their labour from an employer so I’m not sure why the students are withdrawing themselves from school. It only damages their education,” Pyne said.

But Peter Garrett, a former pop singer, environmental activist and one-time Labor government minister, praised the students’ action.

“The patronising idiocy of climate-deniers is contemptible,” Garrett said.

“As a former federal education minister, I applaud the many courageous young Australians who [are] out in force.”