Seventeen-year-olds Lily Parkin and Nova Te Hāpua would really rather be doing something else.
Getting through assessments, organising themselves for work or study next year, finding something to wear to the ball, hanging out with friends – but instead they’re fighting for a safe climate future.
The pair are just two of the thousands of students involved in the School Strike 4 Climate movement, pleading for action on climate change from those in power.
Lily makes sure as many other Wellington High School students as possible know about the protests or other action, holds placard-painting sessions, and negotiates with teachers to be marked as present on protest days so it doesn’t affect attendance records. She’s campaigning for a spot on the Board of Trustees so she can push for more teaching and learning on sustainability.
Nova has been attending rallies for climate action and Ihumātao, and trying to incorporate sustainability into schoolwork. For a health assessment recently she and a group of others held a workshop at Mt Cook School on the impact of fast fashion and gave eight and nine-year-olds tips on ways to make your clothes go further.
When asked why it’s important to them to take action on climate change, they’re clear.
“In short, it’s our future,” says Nova. “They’ve messed it up for us, and we’ve got to do what we can for our children, for our grandchildren.”
Lily says she worries about whether having kids would be unfair to them, and hates to think of the world her grandchildren might live in.
“I know when my mum was my age she was like roller-skating round, just having fun, and I’m sitting here talking to you about climate change. My biggest worry isn’t school anymore. That’s crazy. I can’t fathom that this is what’s happening in our world. Climate change is our biggest issue.”
The issue has become so front and centre of their thinking, that a warmer than usual day is no cause for celebration.
“Whether it’s hotter because of climate change or not, it’s the first thing that comes into my head,” says Nova. “It’s exaggerated in my head. It’s not just hot today, it’s because of climate change. Now I’m scared by that.”
Lily agrees: “I’m looking at everything through a lens of, is this an effect of climate change? I think that’s why I fight for it. This is our life now.”
Both say that being involved in the climate movement can be emotionally draining but, as young people in particular, it’s important to do what they can – especially as they’re not allowed to vote.
“As youth our voice our technically doesn’t matter,” says Lily. “We don’t get to vote. So these kinds of things give us a power, power that may be hidden by us sitting in school until the age of 18.”
Lily says going to the protests makes her feels empowered, and she comes back to school motivated to get other environmental action organised. But she knows young people can’t shoulder the full responsibility of it.
“When we come together, it’s like we’re saying, this is happening, we need you to pull your weight. Help us. I feel so much more that being a youth matters, my voice matters. My age, instead of making me feel lesser, makes me feel more powerful. I’m like, I actually matter more than you because I have to live here with your mess.”
Nova agrees, but has also found it a little dispiriting.
“[Climate activism is] not fulfilling, like other forms of activism. You keep pushing, you keep trying, but nothing feels like it’s coming out of it. I don’t feel like I’ve impacted someone, so I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded in it. So in a way it does get upsetting. But it is good to be a part of something big.”
It can be hard to stay motivated, but both have good support from their families and teachers to continue the work. Lily in particular says it’s important to stay positive and keep doing what’s within your power to do.
She understands that it’s big corporates and governments that have the power to really meet climate change challenges, but she’s still going to be the person that separates her rubbish at home.
“As a person I don’t want to sit here and be twiddling my thumbs… I have to do something. Your own sustainable life and being part of this world and being able to your own little thing … it matters.
“Little things might not really help, but you feel good, and you feel like you’re not being hypocritical in the life you’re pursuing.”
Lily says one of her frustrations with youth action on climate change is that some don’t practise what they preach, and can be spotted at Cotton On or McDonalds shortly after a protest.
Part of the issue, says Lily, is that it’s not necessarily taught in schools, so while they know it’s an issue, they don’t necessarily know the nitty gritty of why and what precise actions they should be taking to curb climate change.
But that doesn’t mean the sentiment is not real.
“It’s like smoking – I don’t know a lot of facts about why smoking is bad, but I know it’s bad and I know it needs to stop. So I guess with climate change, it’s a worldwide problem and we know it needs to stop, but what we need to focus on is the actions we can take to stop it.”
Political action is one way to do it, and Lily points out that together we’re more powerful.
Nova’s just not waiting around for anyone else to do it for her: “Let your voice be heard, whatever action you feel compelled toward, do it. Don’t sit in a corner and wait for someone else to do it.”
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Featured image credit: David Tong for School Strike 4 Climate