Meet Emma from School Strike 4 Climate
5 May 2023
We spoke with Emma from School Strike 4 Climate on Thursday when she visited the Rainbow Warrior in Fremantle during its Whales Not Woodside Ship Tour to learn more about how she became involved in climate activism, what motivates her, and get her thoughts on Meg O’Neil and Woodside’s Burrup Hub gas expansion.
What is your name? Emma. I’m 16.
Where did you grow up? Margaret River – I love the ocean there, the trees and the community is really nice. I’m glad I live there.
Describe how you got involved in climate activism. When I was 13 or so we watched a David Attenborough documentary in class. It was called ‘A Life On Our Planet’ and there was a scene where he went through what would happen in 40 years if we did not meet our global 1.5 degree global warming target. Fires, floods, trees, no animals. This really really shocked me – so much doom and gloom. But then he started talking about solutions and I remember thinking they all seemed really easy. Really achievable, and they would make a much better world. So I struggled to understand why we weren’t doing any of those things, why our politicians kept ignoring the calls for change and continued leading us down an irreversible path towards an unsafe climate. That summer we had the 2020 bushfires. I was over east and saw the Hawkesbury covered in smoke and became increasingly frustrated by watching Scott Morrison, his inaction, and the way he ignored climate affected communities, the way he kept blocking and delaying climate justice. That’s when I started googling climate organisations and found School Strike 4 Climate. I learned about the Fund Our Future Not Gas campaign that SS4C was running. Scomo in the budget after the recession at that time was all “gas lead recovery” for the economy. I’m no economist but I knew that sounded like a terrible plan.
Do you have any particular anecdote or story about becoming an activist that you’d like to tell? Are there any special moments that stand out? The May 21st strike in 2021 was really crazy for me. I was 14 and had never done any community organising before. I helped to organise a Friday School Strike in the park. I remember going through permits and learning everything from scratch. But on the day, seeing friends and volunteers all turning up to the strike to stand together for climate justice, against dangerous gas was incredible. We’re just a small town but on that day it felt so powerful. It’s still one of my favourite moments. The community you make and meet through this work is so beautiful. Just hugging people and feeling lucky, so proud of this movement is one of my favourite things – there is so much love and support. Since then I’ve met some incredible mentors. Anybody that has worked at School Strike – graduated strikers and adults. I’ve learnt so much from them, and I’m so grateful.
What are you doing at SS4C? Describe how you got involved. Right now, locally we are in the process of conducting a survey to learn more about what people want to see in the Federal budget. Our Federal MP hasn’t really been very engaged with our community and listened or advocated for us. So we’re organising a big visual art installation of what our community wants to see in the Federal Budget so they won’t be able to miss it. This is in my electorate of Forrest.
Have you witnessed anything that makes you especially anxious about climate change?
Fires and seeing the impact it has on communities. When a fire happens it affects everyone. I’ve watched friends evacuate their whole lives. Politicians making big decisions that have big implications – new fossil fuel project approvals, like the process currently underway for Woodside’s Burrup Hub.
What gives you hope? The community in the climate movement and everyone I work with. Walking to be a proxy at Woodside’s shareholder meeting and seeing everyone there protesting, being so strong and staunch. I am so proud of everyone I get to organise with, seeing people everywhere, particularly my friends, organising things across the country to fight for climate justice makes me so hopeful – that we can build a better, more just future.
What do you know about Burrup Hub? I know its emissions will be 4 x times bigger than Adani – bigger than Australia’s national emissions combined with 6 x times Australia’s annual climate pollution. A lot of people have been outraged recently over the Willow project in America being approved – I watch their jaws drop when they find out that the Burrup Hub is 14 x times bigger in emissions than that. Burrup Hub’s climate change impacts have real and more tangible impacts on communities across the country. It has the potential to harm our oceans and reef, and damage First Nations’ Country. I love open water swimming and do this every weekend at Gnarabup and this alone is enough to make me angry. Imagine what it feels like to have your sacred spaces threatened or destroyed?
What would you like to say to Woodside ahead of the Paddle Out?
To Meg O’Neil – how do you stand there looking so poker-faced knowing your decisions are going to do so much damage to my generation and everyone in the future? You keep saying phrases like ‘offsetting emissions’ knowing full well the impact it will have. I want to believe your empty promises, so very much, but I have no trust in your words. You throw words around like confetti, but I don’t think you know that these words you throw around mean so much, that they matter. I expect better from you because it means so much to young people like me – you are playing with my future. Burrup Hub is risking everything – our country, our futures, our hopes of having a safe climate
What will you do when you leave school? I thought about environmental law or environmental science for a while there but I am not sure I want to work in environmental law. I am in Year 11 now so it’s something I’m actively thinking about. I know I want to keep organising when I leave school. Where I find joy is organising and fighting for a better future.
Was your mum a big influence in your life? In some ways yeah. In the early and late 90s she lived in Northcliffe – a tiny town kind of on the way to Albany. She used to go there and do sit-ins in trees. It was the start of the decades-long fight to save Western Australia’s old growth forests. She wasn’t in that movement for the longest time or necessarily the most active member, but I recall her telling me about a forest called Boorara. She lived in a house on her friend Wally’s property, he is a farmer, and the state government had decided to log trees on his property. In her room there is a photo of one of the huge trees in Boorara.
What advice do you have for other young people like yourself who may want to get involved in the climate movement but aren’t sure where to start? Just start! Getting involved with the climate movement is one of the best things I’ve ever done! Something that I was told growing up was you can’t complain about something if you are being passive, not doing anything to fix it, and I think you can apply this to the climate crisis! If you are frustrated by government inaction or scared for the future, transfer that into action! There are loads of great climate orgs in Australia to get involved with, and they all have the most lovely people who will support you in getting involved.
Some that I recommend,
- School Strike for Climate (SS4C)
- The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC)
- Tomorrow Movement
They all do different amazing things. There’s also so many local organisations who you can get involved with – your local environment centre, a local environmental campaign! I went into organising with no support or knowledge other than what my mum had shared with me about how she used to blockade forests, it was a good experience to learn through doing things. Nannas for Native Forests are amazing – nannas going to sit on equipment and lock on! They are a community group that has helped me so much!
If the nannas can do it – so can you!