opinion

The painful irony for climate strike kids: Today, they couldn't go to school if they wanted to.

Today is terrifying. Today, more than 600 schools in NSW and Queensland are closed because of catastrophic bushfire conditions. I fear for the residents of the areas at risk, and I feel enormously grateful to the firefighters who are risking their lives to protect people and save homes.

But I also ask: could our governments be doing more to reduce the risk of bushfires?

I’ve asked this question before, and my kids have asked it, and millions of Australians have asked it, and we’re going to keep asking it, at every opportunity, until governments start listening to scientists. Scientists say that climate change is causing bushfires to become more frequent and more severe.

It’s not just scientists who are saying it. In April this year, a group of former emergency services chiefs banded together to ask the Federal Government to take action on climate change, saying that climate change-fuelled catastrophic weather events were putting lives at risk.

“We are deeply concerned about the lack of climate action at a national level and felt obligated to speak out,” former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins said.

Earlier this year, I took my kids out of school to attend a climate change protest in Sydney. They stood quietly and listened to speakers, including kids from rural NSW, talk about what was happening with the environment and why we needed to take action now. They marched through the city streets. They came home better informed, and since then they’ve been trying to make changes around our house to reduce waste and limit our use of electricity.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there should be "more learning in schools" and "less activism".
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At the time, politicians attacked parents like me and kids like mine. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there should be "more learning in schools" and "less activism".

NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said students who missed school to attend protests would be breaking the law.

"The law is clear and always has been,” he said. “Kids are required to be at school on school days. Turn up to school. Don’t rob yourself of the opportunities to get a great quality education.”

Then-Minister Christopher Pyne said he couldn’t understand why kids were striking.

“It only damages their education,” he said.

The message: every single day of schooling matters. Okay, we get it.

Today’s bushfire emergency means thousands and thousands of kids are missing out on school. That’s on top of those who missed out yesterday – the final day of HSC exams in NSW – because more than 60 schools were closed.

And that’s just one minor side effect of the terrifying bushfire threat. Bobin Public School has completely burnt down. Homes have been lost. People have died.

Governments need to do everything they can to reduce the risk of bushfires, and that includes the difficult long-term stuff.

Politicians need to stop attacking kids – and adults – who are calling for them to take action on climate change. They need to start listening to the people who know what they’re talking about – firefighters with decades of experience, and climate scientists. It is hugely important. It is impossible to overstate how important this is.

I don’t want my kids to grow up in a country where this is the new normal – where the approach of every summer means warnings of catastrophe, where children can’t play outside because there’s too much smoke in the air, and where students need to stay home from school because there’s a real risk of a bushfire roaring through and burning their classroom down.

If you want to help, here are four ways you can help the devastated communities affected by the bushfires. 

For up-to-date information on the bushfire emergency, including evacuation warnings, visit the NSW Rural Fire Service website

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