why should we go to school if you won't listen to the educated?


by Abby Strangward, shot by Jamie Wdziekonski

featuring words from Ria Kealey

On March 15, 2019, I woke up a couch in my friends city apartment. We slipped out her back door and into the streets of Melbourne, took a train, found a discarded chalk-written sign on the sidewalk, and joined streaming crowds of uniform-clad kids heading for Parliament. It was a Friday morning, and we were striking off school for climate change.

The school strike was inspiring, scary, mesmerising and powerful. We screamed until our throats were hoarse, clapped until our hands were red, and - in my case - walked until my feet were sore and black with dirt (I forgot shoes). It was one of the most incredible movements I’ve ever been a part of, and difficult to truly describe. I had friends who were there chanting next to me, and friends making fun of the protests on social media that afternoon. It’s difficult to comprehend the lack of action that still exists around climate change, and frankly I’m out of words to describe how truly fucking terrified I am. But my beautiful friend Ria Kealey spoke at the climate strike, so here’s her speech. It says more than I ever could.

The incredible Jamie Wdziekonski was in Melbourne photographing the protest, too, and his photos speak thousands of words on their own. Thank you to all who came out. You made me feel like maybe we could make a difference, and without that sort of hope none of us can survive.


speech from ria kealey


I will start with some facts.

  1. Climate change may become irreversible by 2030 if we don’t drastically reduce carbon emissions.

  2. 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef has suffered from coral bleaching due to increased sea temperatures.

  3. Currently, each year we use 1.7 times more resources than our world can supply.

  4. 17 of the 18 hottest years our planet has faced since modern record keeping began in 1818 have happened since the year 2000.

But we know this already. You have heard this already. The problem is that you refuse to listen to the facts, that you are valuing your profit over our future. So I will try another tack - I should be in school right now. That is one opinion on which we agree. I have art class, actually. I love learning, I truly do, and I wish that enough action was being taken that I didn’t feel the need to strike.

But I am here instead because I think about what I want to do with my life- where I want to go, where I want to live, the places I want to see- and I see that slipping away from me because of the arrogance of those who truly believe that profit weighs more heavily than the fact that our planet is dying. I am here instead because the children coming in the generations after me deserve the same wonderful childhood that I got, and they’re not going to get it if we continue as we are. I am here instead because we have an ethical obligation to initiate change.

The truth is I’m scared, and you should be too. My anxiety kicks through the roof when I think too much about the climate change. I should be thinking about university applications and how I’m going to afford my gap year! Instead I’m thinking about the fact that it is incredibly important for me to travel after graduation because the natural beauty that I will find may not survive another 20 years and I need to see it before it disappears.

I tell you all of this because I need you to know that this is not an abstract concept to us. This is personal. My family’s property in North Queensland has been devastated by years of drought followed by brutal flooding. The barrage of natural disasters that have been hitting our planet is not normal, and yet we are becoming desensitised to it. This is not an excuse to take the day off school and rebel. This is a personal investment in the lives we wish to lead decades from today. But, like the facts, you do not listen, because I am just another teenager with too many opinions.

So I will appeal to your pride- the decisions you make today go in the history textbooks of tomorrow and believe me when I say that if the policies don’t change fast, those textbooks will not be flattering. Mr Tony Abbott could tell you what that’s like- he’s described quite accurately as a “climate change denier” in the Pearson History NSW 10 Student Book.

There are two options to explain the lack of action- either you do not believe in climate change, or you do not care. The idea that our politicians may genuinely disregard proven science is terrifying. Why should we be at school if you don’t listen to the educated? If objective data loses power, I don’t know what our politics will descend into. Equally terrifying is the idea that our politicians truly do not care about the devastating effects their policies can have on our environment. I truly can’t comprehend the kind of selfish apathy that would take.

This is our future. You may not be around in another 50 years but we will. To those who tell us not to “rob ourselves of of the opportunities to get a great, quality education” (I’m looking at you, Education Minister Stokes)- I tell you we are being robbed of a sustainable future. We are being robbed of a liveable future. That is the long term view that you refuse to see. But in the short term, in the present moment, we are being robbed of a sense of comfort and security that should come with knowing that our country’s leaders have our best interests at heart.

You want us to quiet down, go back to school, study diligently? Stop Adani. Invest in renewable energy, because those investments are investments in a sustainable future. Stop investing in fossil fuels which are destroying our planet.

Listen to your people. We are here, and we are ready for the conversation. But it needs to happen quickly, and it needs to result in action

Because we’re not going to get a second chance.

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