There’s little doubt that the prospect of spending a day out and about with friends shouting about Adani, fossil fuels and the Morrison government is infinitely more thrilling than enduring a morning of double maths followed by an afternoon of double science.
After all, it’s much more exciting to be an eco-warrior than it is to sit through hours of algebra, or come to terms with acid-base equilibrium systems and their applications.
Alas, there is much more to today’s School Strike for Climate than this. The reason why Australian children are out in force is because they have been terrified into it. These young Australians, convinced that many of them will barely make it into adulthood before the advent of a climate Armageddon in 2031, might as well be wearing “The End of the World is Nigh” sandwich boards traditionally favoured by evangelical doomsayers.
Australian children are taking to the streets en masse to demand climate change action quite simply because they believe what they are being told. From their first day at school until their last, they are taught an environmental determinist view of human civilisation. The message repeated ad nauseam throughout much of the national curriculum’s content by way of “sustainability”, one of the three ubiquitous cross-curriculum priorities, is that “humans and their natural environment are closely interrelated”.
The implication of this particular message, drummed into children from the word go, is that environmental factors such as climate presuppose the success or failure of civilisations.
They are essentially being taught that it is our civilisation, Western civilisation, that is failing both the Earth and humankind.
In this simplistic, neopaganistic narrative, capitalism and coal are evil and should be rejected because they are driving us towards a catastrophic, end-of-days scenario of unimaginable proportions that can be averted only by embracing socialism and renewables.
However, few students are taught about the costs that come with climate action. More worrying, it seems this is being deliberately omitted from their education. According to analysis by Copenhagen Consensus Centre director Bjorn Lomborg, solar and wind provide less than 1 per cent of the world’s energy, and already require subsidies of $129 billion annually.
Institute of Public Affairs research recently found that abiding by the Paris Agreement will cost Australia $52bn.
It’s unlikely students will be told about Lomborg’s conclusion that the agreement could not only cost up to $2 trillion but that it will also have no discernible impact on the environment.
And although media reports describe the youth climate protests as “global”, they have taken place almost exclusively in wealthy countries that have overcome more pressing issues of alleviating energy poverty. A truly global poll shows that climate change is a low priority, and well behind health, education and jobs.
Many of the children out in force today believe they may not live to see their 30s, and that only they can create an ecologically and sociologically just world through activism. “Yes, learning is important,” said a particularly enthusiastic teenager during a previous strike last November, “but activism showcases a lot of important characteristics for young people and students. It showcases our initiative, our determination and our passion.”
Indeed, the numbers of children participating in today’s rally is testament to the initiative, determination and passion of the adults who are encouraging them to strike.
It’s hardly a secret that many who choose to go into teaching, as well as academics who inhabit university humanities departments, see their roles not as instructors but rather as agents of change who use schools and universities as vehicles from which to push their political agenda.
More than 800 teachers and academics have signed a letter of solidarity as part of the School Strike for Climate movement, which, although purportedly being run by schoolchildren, has received extensive support from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. They have put their names to a statement that “applaud(s) (the children) for their concern for our planet and their conviction to stand up for change to demand urgent action on climate change”.
Each and every one of these schoolteachers directly contravenes the Department of Education’s policy on political activities, which states in no uncertain terms that teachers “must not solicit students to become agents of any organisation or individual by distributing notices, pamphlets or literature of any description that contains material of a controversial nature, whether originating from a union, professional association, parent-teacher group or any other source”.
The letter’s signatories are potentially breaking the law by encouraging mass truancy. As NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes says: “The law on this is very clear: on school days, students are required to attend school.”
The law, however, appears to be of little concern to the teachers who are encouraging the strike because they are actors in — and proponents of — a progressive education system that promotes politicking over learning, and feelings over facts.
The great tragedy of all this is that children are being prematurely propelled into an adult world of activism, rights and social justice, but without the facts, the knowledge or the maturity to cope with it.
On the one hand they are being told that as future leaders only they can save the world. But on the other hand, the very people who should be equipping the children in their care with the fundamental skills and knowledge which will make them effective leaders, are failing in their duty to do so.
Bella d’Abrera is the director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation program at the Institute of Public Affairs.