FEATURE // Australia’s Youth Taking A Stand For A Sustainable Future

WORDS BY AMY O’BRIEN

FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NEWCASTLE HERALD

REPUBLISHED WITH AUTHOR’S CONSENT

When I began educating myself on political issues as a year 10 student in 2017, I couldn’t fathom how the existence of climate change was still up for debate within the Australian parliament.

A topic which is agreed to be linked to human actions by over 97 per cent of the scientific community was still somehow neglected in the consideration of the future of Australia’s energy industry.

Now I’m an undergraduate university student and the federal government has announced a COVID-19 recovery which offers up public funds for the expansion of the gas industry. This gas-led recovery is promised to provide jobs and serve as a “cleaner alternative to coal.”

IMAGES BY AMY O’BRIEN

These claims don’t stack up. Studies from the Australia Institute and Climate Council have proven that gas is one of the least job intensive industries in the energy market. Moreover, gas power is just as dirty as coal, if not more so. The Australia Institute’s Gas-Fired Backfire report outlines instances where damaging emissions have been three to four times HIGHER than that of coal.

The issues of a gas-fired recovery don’t stop there. The process of extracting gas involves the digging up of toxic salts which are difficult and expensive to dispose of. These salts are often dumped unsafely and pose a significant risk to food and water security.

Furthermore, the pipeline infrastructure required to connect Morrison’s five new gas basins would entail the destruction of ecosystems and farmland, not to mention the predicted 15-130 spills that occur over the lifespan of gas projects and the risk that they pose to the environment.

The switch from coal to gas will not fix Australia’s unemployment issues and it won’t recover the economic losses brought on by the pandemic. What it will do is lock in higher emissions and secure the inability of Australia to meet our Paris Agreement targets. It will ensure that our summers will continue to get hotterthat our fires will become more extreme and it will decrease the quality of life for future generations.

In Newcastle the issue of the fossil fuel dependency is at the very core of our local economy. Our ports are the world’s largest coal exporter and contribute heavily to global emissions. Additionally, last Tuesday, the Morrison government offered investment to replace the Liddell Coal Plant with a gas alternative, which would only further contribute to our impact on the environment.

To consider a future where our strong coastal winds could power a fleet of wind turbines or where the powerful summer sun could be harnessed in the form of solar power is no longer idealistic.

Renewable energies are scientifically and commercially viable. In fact, as one of the hottest and largest nations in the world, Australia is uniquely poised to take advantage of these technologies.

The biggest barrier to clean energy in Australia is the refusal of the Morrison government to invest in it.

This investment could reshape the local economy in a ground-breaking way.

Current sustainable industries employ three-times the number of those working in coal and gas, combined, and numbers are projected to increase by a quarter every year. In a post-COVID world, investing in an employment dense industry seems like a smarter alternative to supporting one which has very low job prospects.

IMAGES BY ASH NAYLOR

Last September we witnessed hundreds of thousands of young people take to the streets to protest the development of new fossil fuel projects.

Today, September 25th, young people will once again fight for the security of our futures through a combination of in-person and online actions.

Strikers will be fighting for not only a move away from fossil fuel industries, but also fighting for the jobs, economic prospects, and mitigation of environmental impact that comes with it.

I am sick of politicians playing with our futures just so their mates in the gas industry can keep making megabucks while the planet burns.

We need to take drastic action, and fast, if we have any hope of living the kind of safe, healthy lives adults today take for granted. We demand to have our voices heard and if that means walking out of school and university then so be it.

At a time where tertiary institutes teach the dangers of climate change and its relationship to the emissions from fossil fuel mining as fact, maybe it’s not students who need to go back to the classroom, but our politicians.

Amy O’Brien, 19, is a member of  the Newcastle School Strike for Climate team 

IMAGES BY TARA CAMPBELL

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