A MARCH FOR THEIR LIVES: Climate Change activists Aurora Gleeson, 16, Rebecca Scown and Darin Roberts are all set to take part in today’s march in Mildura to  demand climate change action.

*Story and opinion

By MADISON EASTMOND

TODAY at 1pm, the people of Sunraysia have an opportunity to march and stand together as they protest and strike against the growing threat of climate change currently facing the region, and the world we live in.

The Mallee March Global Climate Strike is one of many co-ordinated strikes happening today, protesting “continual government and businesses inaction on the issue.”

Globally, it has the potential to be one of the largest environmental protests in history, following previous strikes in March when more than 150,000 Australians, and 1.5million people worldwide, took part.

The strikes come just before countries gather at the United Nations for the Climate Action Summit on September 23. That meeting will come before a UN General Assembly meeting where countries are supposed to ramp up their ambitions to curb greenhouse gases under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. 

The marchers, activists and concerned people across the world who are protesting today are asking for three things:

• No new coal, oil and gas projects, including the Adani Mine.

• 100 percent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030, and

• Funds for a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. 

Amongst this worldwide effort, the Mallee is standing strong with those attending today’s march fighting for our district, and a global right to a healthy planet for the future. 

Meeting at Henderson Park, the march will make its way down Deakin Avenue to the Langtree Mall for a formal rally featuring guest speakers from across the community.

Notable local figures speaking at the rally include Member for Mildura, Ali Cupper; Mildura Rural City Councillor Jason Monica; leaders from the Uniting Church, and school students of all ages.

Also speaking at the rally will be founder of 350 Mallee Climate Action Group and event organiser, Emma Walmsley.

It was at the beginning of this year that Emma established the group, as she wanted to start a conversation and share information with local people.

After hearing the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, (the leading international body for the assessment of Climate Change, and source of scientific information and guidance for Parties to the United Nations), Emma and her group members felt compelled to act.

Although the report shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, it explicitly states that alone cannot be the only solution – reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5ºC.

Yearly, the situation seemly becomes more critical. In 2018, global emissions of greenhouse gases rose by 1.7 percent, while the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere jumped by 3.5 parts per million, the largest increase ever observed.

By 2100, just 80 years away, if the trajectory does not change, it is estimated that Earth will be 4ºC warmer than it was before mankind began burning fossil fuels.

In just the past couple weeks alone in Australia, bushfires have torn through Queensland and New South Wales to mark the beginning of Spring, and have been described as unprecedented.

Emma said if the globe continues to warm, this will become something of a common occurrence. 

“Specifically for the Mallee region, extreme weather events and heat waves will continue to get worse,” she said.

“Issues like droughts and fire risks are going to become more frequent and stay for a longer duration of time.

“There are already action plans to try and deal with bush fire risks, people know what is happening and they know it is going to get worse.

“It is believed and we believe, that collectively, everyone needs to do as much as they can within the next decade to try and negate the worst affects of climate change and try to keep global warming to at least 1.5 degrees, and this, at present, is the best case scenario.”

Since January, the group has been very active within the community, with documentary screenings and information sessions, but according to Emma, the march will be their biggest event to date.

Although faced with some criticism by those with differing opinions when it comes to the idea of climate change, Emma says the response to the march has been mainly positive.

“We have a large organising group who have been a great source of energy and enthusiasm, and we expect around several hundred people to attend the march,” she said. 

“We have gained the support of the Mildura Rural City Council, the Mildura Senior College, and many farmers and local people of all ages and walks of life.”

The main criticism surrounding the march has focussed on youth involvement – many tweeting, commenting and stating that active and vocal youth are merely wanting a day off, or these two hours out of the classroom are a waste of time.  

However, these particular criticisms ring hollow when next Friday marks a full public holiday for AFL grand final eve.

Youth involvement in the climate change discussion has almost been something of an uprising the past 12 or so months, with notable figures such as Greta Thunberg, the teenage activist who began a solo protest in Sweden last August, but has since inspired students around the globe.

The world is seeing young people becoming anxious about what their future looks like in a world that is failing to stall the climate crisis. It seems as though they’re taking it into their own hands. 

“Young people want to be involved and have a voice. They are learning about climate change at school but are being criticised for taking a few hours off to be a part of the march. It doesn’t make sense?” Emma said. 

“These kids are the people who are going to be directly affected by inaction on climate change, and to brush them off as being incapable to understand or think for themselves is offensive and absurd. Young people have a right to speak and be heard, and we are giving them that opportunity.

“Additionally, the opinion that they should be ‘striking’ out of school hours is completely ridiculous – when has anyone heard of a strike occurring out of work and school hours?”

This new and carefully planned rebellion by the young generation has forced earlier generations of climate activists to re-examine their strategies, and so far, considering the mass media coverage, negative and positive, strikers, globally, are getting their message out. 

“What we really want is our leaders to hear to the people who are already seeing the affects of climate change,” Emma said.

“They need to listen to the Aboriginal people, Torres Strait islanders, Pacific island nations, the farmers around our region, and the climate scientists who have been trying to have a discussion around climate change for almost 40 years. 

“By denying climate change, our leaders are disregarding Australia’s cultural heritage, water needs and causing species to become extinct.

“They’re gambling with everyone’s right for a healthy planet in the future.”

No climate report or warning, neither political agreement nor technological innovation has altered the ever-upward trajectory of the pollution, and the frustration is being heard in the Mallee and world-wide.

They just hope, that today, people will start to listen.