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Climate change is changing childhood, and the stats prove it. 

Between 2016 and 2021, 8,000 weather-related events caused the displacement of over 43 million children – most due to floods or storms. Here in Australia alone, 2 in 5 children were impacted by bushfires. 

In our episode of ‘How is our planet changing?’ Rae Johnston talks to ABC weatherman Nate Byrne and UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Denzel about the wild changing weather patterns, the difference between La Nina and El Nino, and young people’s experience and reaction to climate change. 

Host: Rae Johnston, Ambassador for UNICEF Australia, TV presenter and podcaster 

Guests: Nate Byrne, ABC weatherman and Denzel, UNICEF Young Ambassador 

Producer:  Liz Tse, Freya Conomos and Lara Robertson.


Episode Transcript 

Rae Johnston 0:00   

UNICEF Australia acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work and pay our respects to the ancestors who cared for this country, and the elders who continue to today. 

Rae Johnston 0:21   

Young people have a lot to say. And it's time we listen. Welcome to next gen. A UNICEF Australia podcast that gives young people a platform to speak up on issues they care about. Every episode, I pass the mic to experts and young people as we discuss everything from climate change to mental health and inequality. I'm Rae Johnston, Ambassador for UNICEF, Australia, stem journalist, TV presenter, podcaster and Climate Champion. Over four episodes, I will be speaking with experts and young voices about climate change. What is it? How is it affecting young people and what UNICEF Australia is doing about it? From West Sydney to West Pakistan. Climate change is not a tomorrow problem. It's the greatest threat facing children right now. 

Rae Johnston 1:21   

In our first episode, we're talking all things climate, and I am chatting to Nate Byrne, ABC weatherman. Welcome. Hello. Very good morning to you. Also chatting with UNICEF young Ambassador Denzel welcomed Enzo. Hello. Now UNICEF's young ambassador program it gives young people like Denzel the opportunity to consult with and advocate for young people across our country, and also take policy suggestions to Parliament. Today, we're chatting about the wild, changing weather patterns, the difference between La Nina and El Nino and young people's experience and reaction to climate change. Now Nate UNICEF's children's climate risk index, it's revealed that every child in the world is already affected by at least one climate disaster that's absolutely horrific stats. So, can you explain to us the shift in weather patterns that we're seeing more and more what what exactly is causing this? 

Nate Byrne 2:24   

Well, it's 100 per cent. Down to having more energy in the system. More heat means that essentially, if you think about a trampoline, and you're bouncing on a trampoline, you go up, you go down, you go up, you go down, if you put in more warmth, then you continue bouncing, we start bouncing higher and lower. That's essentially what we're doing with extra heat, we're putting in more energy, more warmth. So, we're starting to see, in some places, extremes of heat and rain, and in other places, extremes of lack of hate and rain, the more energy in the system just means that things are changing from what we used to. And the effects really change depending on where you are around the world. You know, we've just seen that incredible summer in the Northern Hemisphere, where fires were raging in places that we don't normally expect. We've got the smallest amount of sea ice on record around Antarctica right now. But it's not even just this year, we've seen for decades slow, creeping change, like Southern Australia, we get about 20% of the rainfall for the winter with rainfall that we used to get back in the 70s. So essentially, it's just the added heat means that systems are moving differently from the way they used to. And that's driving a change in weather pattern. And also, a change in the extremes that we end up with.

Rae Johnston 3:55   

A child today will experience three times more climate disasters than their grandparents. Denzel, for anyone who hasn't been to where you live, how would you describe it?  

Denzel 4:06   

So, I'd describe the place very remote, so it's isolated, but it's pretty much dry. Lack of rain, I'm predicting storms, and sometimes the corrugation on road. It's ridiculous.  

Rae Johnston 4:21   

What is the vegetation like where you live? What kind of trees do you have around? 

Denzel 4:25   

So, the main trees we have is just Australia's best trees, gum trees. Yeah. And they're pretty much surrounded by creeks and water sources that dry up say the leaves start to die off. So, there's not really any of the natural resources we need out there.

Rae Johnston 4:42   

Denzel, in your experience, how has your community been impacted? 

Denzel 4:46   

So essentially, my community was impacted by the climate effects as would typically water Trucking is coming in. We had lack of natural resources and the flooding that would affect the major highways coming into the community would see lack of the resources being provided, and less support from our local government, which made it even worse for the community.   

Rae Johnston 5:08   

Now, you're young, comparatively. But do you remember a time when you didn't have issues like that in your community? 

Rae Johnston 5:16   

Not really, since I still growing up. But it's sort of expanded over time, and you started getting used to the issues coming into the community. Yeah.   

Rae Johnston 5:24   

So how does your community and your generation within your community feel about climate change?   

Denzel 5:32   

I feel as my community didn't really know much about the climate change issue and crisis that we're going through today. But it's essentially part of the education that we should see coming into our remote communities as they're highly affected, and least supported from our major governments.   

Rae Johnston 5:47   

Why do you think that there isn't that connection between the hardships that your community is experiencing, and understanding that it is caused by climate change? 

Denzel 5:57   

So, I believe there's a lack of education between our local communities and the city. So say you were to come to the city from a remote community, you're going to feel as it's going to be a bit more hotter than it is. But then going back to the community, it is like, like a tree, so you're gonna start to feel it? 

Rae Johnston 6:17   

How does it impact your day to day living there? You know, when it's a really hot day? How hard is it? 

Denzel 6:22   

Um, it's typically 50 degrees sometimes, which is why or yes, we typically get day to day, but because my community runs off a diesel generator, it's typically affected and shuts down in the heat. And the community has like a 50-year lease on the generator, so we can't get anything to do with solar throughout the community. 

Rae Johnston 6:43   

So, it's that hot that the generator shuts down? Yep, it overheats. So how do you run air conditioning or anything like that?  

Denzel 6:52   

We don't we just have to go day by day without electricity sometimes, 

Rae Johnston 6:56   

and you're not allowed to have solar on the house? Is there? 

Denzel 6:59   

No, the only thing we're allowed is solar heating. But that's about it. 

Rae Johnston 7:03   

What do you do on those days that are 50 degrees? You can't have air conditioning? Can you do any work? Any schoolwork? Can you concentrate?  

Denzel 7:11   

Not really good school doesn't have any electricity, no Wi Fi. So, we're pretty isolated at that time of need. 

Rae Johnston 7:16   

So, it gets that hot that school shuts down? Yep. Practically, wow, I can understand why you're really passionate about making change in your community, then to be able to put some of these structures in place, so you can literally survive where you live. 

Denzel 7:31   

Yep. And it's crazy living there. Because the water resources we have. I used to have water restrictions, so we couldn't shower for too long. But until I started advocating with UNICEF, I believe some action has been done from the main war network in South Australia. 

Rae Johnston 7:48   

So, do you believe that that might have been as a result of your campaigning? Yep. 

Denzel 7:52   

So right now, they got a desalination plant in process. So more fresh water for the community. 

Rae Johnston 7:59   

Congratulations. It's crazy. Night, the temperature of the Earth increasing is something that has happened historically. Yeah. In the whole history, the lifecycle of our planet. Why are we to believe that this cycle is different to previously?  

Nate Byrne 8:18   

Well, okay, a couple of things. First of all, you're absolutely right, temperatures been way hotter than they are right now. Carbon dioxide levels have been much, much higher. The thing is that they have that change that went from a low to a high temperature low to a high carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere. That happened over 1000s 10s of 1000s of years. What's happened now is we've managed to do this in round about a century, about 100 years, we've managed to go from relatively steady state to all of a sudden, a lot more hate and a degree a degree and a half. Doesn't sound like all that much. Right? Like, can you even tell the difference between a 19-degree day and a 20-degree day? It's a hard No, really, yeah, there's not much in it. But the thing is, when you're talking globally, the atmosphere is huge, like the bit of air that does just the weather is about 10 kilometers deep and extends all the way around the Earth. But then we've got other lands on top of that, right, the stratosphere and the mezzo sphere, there is a heck of a lot of atmospheres that's being affected here. When you're trying to boil a kettle say, it can take what, two, three minutes to go from room temperature water to 100 degrees Celsius, that's boiling, too. In order to do that, we've got to pump in a ton of electricity, turn all electricity into heat and wrap it into the water. And that's only 700 milliliters or maybe a liter worth of water, and it takes a heck of a lot of energy to do that. Do that by one degree, essentially, to the entire atmosphere, a heck of a lot of energy. And to be able to do that in just 100 years. That's where the problem comes, especially since while the Earth has been warmer at different times, we haven't evolved in that we've evolved in the average temperatures of the last well, as humans, we can say, a couple of 100,000 years. But you know, our ancestors from other species ate a little bit longer. But but we have, we didn't evolve during those times of incredible hate or really, really high carbon dioxide levels. So, while the earth might have dealt with it before, as a species, we haven't. And now we've changed our own environment in a super short period of time. 

Rae Johnston 10:50   

Denzel, do you think that there's people in your town that would consider moving because of the heat or hot already, 

Denzel 10:57   

So, I have family members there who are currently packing up to leave. So essentially, it's getting hot, degenerated shuts down quite frequently. And there's no way to push forward and live out in the heat. And because climate change is becoming a problem, it's becoming more hotter in that community, then our bodies can deal with. So, we're getting sick living there. So, I'm just hoping the community one day doesn't just shut down from the lack of community members that we have out there.  

Rae Johnston 11:30   

What are you most worried about for future generations in your community and all over the world? 

Denzel 11:35   

So, I must read about the education process of climate change, and how young people are learning about it as the curriculum in our schools that don't really provide the essential needs for children to learn about climate change. That's just like a brief introduction. And then that's it. 

Rae Johnston 11:53   

So, there's nothing deeper than just going this is a thing that exists moving on.  

Denzel 11:57   

That's basically it. So I started learning about climate change when I was 12 years old in primary school, and that was living in the city, then moving to a remote community and feeling isolated at time of need was the most ridiculous feeling. 

Rae Johnston 12:11   

Yeah, I think there's definitely a big education gap there. Nate, where can they pick up the slack to think 

Nate Byrne 12:16   

Well, it's really tricky, isn't it especially in in a remote community, because we're a city kids have the opportunity to go home and jump on an iPad or you on their device and go and learn more if they want to so many I have been in community up in the territory, there are several where like, the school might have some Wi Fi and like, you know, everyone might gather around near the school fence in order to get a bit of internet. But you're doing that to do your basic needs, right not to just scroll and learn about climate change. There's definitely an education gap. And increasingly, we're going to find that we need to be telling kids about it in school, because the reality is, they're going to be facing it. Right. Yeah. So prepared. You know, forewarned is forearmed. And that's essentially what we'll have to do. I think in the future, we'll say, especially, as the young people of today get through uni and become teachers, we'll see them bringing and introducing more climate change related stuff, which is important, because it's something we're all going to need to know about. And just like, you learn how to swim at school, we're going to increase of increasingly have to learn how to survive extreme weather.  

Rae Johnston 13:30   

And I think the sources of information about how we're going to do that are coming from entirely new places now than they used to. We're not just learning things from textbooks, we're learning things from real people living on the other side of the world, documenting their experiences and posting it to social media and law school will teach you those critical thinking skills to be able to look at that information and say, Is this correct? How can I check it? How can I verify it? How can I use it, the way that we learn and the range of information that we have is just increasing so much, and I've got a lot of hope for the next generation and what you're all going to be able to achieve, I think you're going to be able to do a lot better than the rest of us, that's for sure. 

Denzel 14:15   

Let's say the adults in this generation can empower the future generation. 

Rae Johnston 14:20   

Absolutely. So now, what can we expect to happen five years from now a decade from now 50 years from now, if we don't make any changes at all? 

Nate Byrne 14:30   

That's a really tricky question to answer with any certainty, which is part of the problem, right? And part of why a lot of grown ups have taken a lot of time to get their heads around what's going on, because you get different information from different sources. And until you're a scientist, you think like, oh, somebody does a study, and then everybody else replicates it, and then we all know what's going on and everything agrees No, no. How much science to be done so often. Papers just done once a A bit of research is done once. But the thing is, on the whole on the balance, when you look at everything, you know, you've got ancient tree rings that we're looking at at one place and ice core samples from another place rock weathering somewhere else. You put all that together and all of the studies point in one direction, right, that climate change is happening, and we're seeing big changes. So, the simple answer to your question is, I don't know, but probably a lot worse.   

Rae Johnston 15:28   

There's just seems to be all of these accelerating events. Yes, it's like a chain reaction across the globe.  

Nate Byrne 15:35   

Yeah, the thing is that like, the worst bit is that we don't know what we don't know, the Earth is an incredibly huge and complex interconnected system. Pulling on one string, changing a little dial here or there, adjusting something a little bit can have huge effects. You know, in a changed climate, it's not necessarily going to be bad news in every direction, for every single person, there are places that were unlivable, that could become livable, there are places we'll be able to grow things we've never grown before changing rain patterns. For some communities mean, they may have water where they didn't, before, other communities maybe will flood less. It's not to say that we want this, right. Like the setup we've got now where people choose to live is based on generally, their access to resources. And so changing those resources means those places rapidly becoming more and more unlivable, in some cases, entire nations. But it doesn't mean that it's going to be absolute disaster. 100% of the time, across the board, always, there are places that people will be able to survive and thrive. It's such a complex system, it's really impossible to know for sure, we've just kind of got to deal with it as it comes, unless we deal with the root cause of the problem.   

Rae Johnston 16:57   

Absolutely. And, you know, humans were a part of that system as well, you know, we are not disconnected from the planet, we are very much a part of it. 

Nate Byrne 17:05   

We're very adaptable, and very resilient, and we will be able to make it through a lot of us. 

Rae Johnston 17:11   

Yeah. And a lot of us that will be around when those changes are potentially occurring are the young people of today. So, what advice would you have for the young people listening who really want to make a difference to how the climate of the planet is in the future? 

Nate Byrne 17:27   

Don't lose heart. Number one, I haven't. And you definitely shouldn't either. Get, get smart study, find the thing that you love, and use it to the best of your ability to use your voice stereotypes to shout from the rooftops what it is you need, and want young people to engage with politics to to I know, it seems boring, you got better things to do. But what's your question time every now and then, like, you know, understand some of the laws that are that are being brought in? Before you vote. Really think about what it is you want. Don't just vote with who your parents go for or what your friends are saying. actually, have a look because your voice even though it seems really small, actually really matters. 

Rae Johnston 18:14   

Denzel. What would you say to young people about how they can get involved.

Denzel 18:18   

The vesting odd of young people is write a letter to your local member of parliament catch more public transport is a congestion on our roads, and reuse, recycle and eat more seasonal fruit veggies. 

Rae Johnston 18:31   

So, there is definitely things young people can do to help. Yeah, heaps of things. Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for chatting with me today. You both it's been great. Yeah, it's been fun. 

Denzel 18:41   

It's been super awesome to meet you as well. 

Rae Johnston 18:45   

And that does bring this episode to a close. Thank you so much for listening. If there's any more information that you would like about anything we discussed in this episode, check out our show notes. You will find more info and links there. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you're there, leave us a review and a rating that helps other people find the show. Thanks again.