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By Eva Massey
17 April 2019

There are LOADS of academic articles and documentaries about climate change, but what’s missing from these are the voices of young people. And trust me it is young people who need to be heard, because we’re the ones who will have to live with the effects of a climate you create.

I am going to put my hand up and say it: I am not just thinking about my children, or my children’s children, I’m thinking about me. I will have to live with an environment that is changing for the worse. 

"I am not just thinking about my children, or my children’s children, I’m thinking about me."

Eva Massey

Since I was five I’ve been aware that the world I live in is changing, and that those who are polluting it now aren’t going to be here to experience the damage. Even in just my 17 years, the world has already gotten a whole lot worse – we’ve seen warming air and sea temperatures, leading to the polar ice caps melting, and the mass bleaching of coral on the Great Barrier Reef.

This is a picture of the author, Eva
UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador Eva Massey
© UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran

Over the last couple of months, I and the other seven UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors met with and listened to over 1,500 young Australians across the country – from preschool through to high school and into young adulthood.  We then worked with YouGov Galaxy to conduct an online survey of a further 1,000 young people aged 14 to 17 years – those who will soon be of voting age.

From all this, one message was resoundingly clear: the majority of young people are concerned about climate change, and they want to see action from decision-makers.

  • Seventy-three per cent of young Australians aged 14-17 years say climate change is affecting the world “a lot” now.
  • An overwhelming 95 per cent are concerned about pollution of our land, sea and air – 59 per cent are “very concerned”.
  • Fifty-nine per cent view climate change as a threat to their safety – ranking it above terrorism, drugs and alcohol and bullying. 
  • Three quarters (75 per cent) say Australia should take action on climate change. 
Children in class at a school in Victoria
Eva listening to children at a school in Victoria.
© UNICEF Australia

I know I’m not alone when I say I know how to recycle and I know to turn my lights off and have short showers, but there is only so much one person can do – and that’s a hard truth to swallow.

As a year 11 student at Sylvania Highschool in NSW put it: “I know that everyone says that there are small things that we can do. And yeah, we can. But ultimately if these corporations are still polluting and stuff, it doesn’t matter if we've reused the same plastic bag five times because they are still treating the world even worse.”

Who we look to now are the politicians, the people who can make solid legislative change to prevent our environment from being destroyed.

But we’re not seeing the leadership that’s needed – we’re not seeing action, and politicians are not listening to youth.

As a year 10 student from Victoria said:

"Global warming does exist, having and living in a bubble of denial isn't sustainable and isn't good for our society anymore. We need to have our politicians kind of wake up to the truth."

Year 10 student at St Leonard’s College, VIC
A young boy at the Schools Strike for Climate in Sydney
A young boy at the Schools Strike for Climate in Sydney
© UNICEF Australia/Ziaziaris

Another student, from the ACT said: "Sometimes I feel like they [the government] don't think that the problem is as pressing. But we are the future generation, the ones that are going to live with what comes of pollution – so I think that should be a high priority." –  Female, Year 10 student at Radford College, ACT

On the 15th of March we saw the message that young people had for the government at the Schools Strike for Climate. I was there in my school uniform holding a sign and marching - surrounded by other young people so passionate about their environment that they were willing to make a stand. 

Young female climate change protestor with sign
Young female climate change protestor with sign
© UNICEF Australia/Ziaziaris

While we can’t vote (yet) we are not too ignorant to understand politics or to demand more from the people who are supposed to be representing us.

Despite international news coverage and some incredible signs like ‘the planets hotter than Shawn Mendes’ or ‘the dinosaurs probably didn’t see it coming either’, lots of politicians still managed to make the climate strike about them and not about listening to young people.

Politicians are happy to pose for pictures with us and talk to us about themselves when they visit schools as a PR stunt, but when it comes to listening to and acting on the issue of our generation we can’t even get a foot in the door.

So, politicians listen up! Climate change matters to young people and it’s us that are going to be living in the world we are creating right now. So open the doors to the Australian young people and work with us to make positive legislative change before it’s too late.

"Politicians are happy to pose for pictures with us [...] but when it comes to listening to and acting on the issue of our generation we can’t even get a foot in the door."

UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors
UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors class of 2018-19
© UNICEF Australia/Patrick Moran