Tomorrow, I’m co-starring in a climate change documentary aiming to reach those Australians who still have questions about the science of climate change.
On Friday, Melbourne University Press is releasing my first full-length book. It answers all the questions a soft sceptic would have about climate change science and impacts, in an easily digestible way.
And on Monday, I’m embarking on a 100 day book tour with a group of up-and-coming AYCC leaders to change hearts and minds in person as we travel to outer suburban, regional and rural Australia.
How did I get to this point?
Wind back the clock six and a half years ago to December 2005, in the middle of a snow-filled winter in Montreal.
I wake up in a small loft filled with young climate activists from around the world. To my left is Fawzia, an environmental journalist from Bangladesh. To my right is Ben, an environmental educator from Micronesia. I can smell coffee coming from our kitchen downstairs. As I walk down in my pyjamas, I see a group huddled around their laptops, writing media releases, blogging, reading the day’s agenda and preparing policy responses. We are the youth delegation at the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, and we’re there to make an impact.
I will always remember those mornings in Montreal, because they helped shape the course of my life up to this point.
It was the end of 2005. I’d spent the year travelling from University to University – all over Australia – working with other students to organise and win campus clean energy victories. We campaigned and won major new initiatives for energy efficiency, climate and sustainability programs.
At my campus, Sydney University, a 2-year campaign convinced the Vice Chancellor to invest $1 million in renewable energy research & development. Monash, Melbourne, ANU and Newcastle University also had important victories. I’d dropped out of my law degree that year, to work as National Environment Officer for the National Union of Students. And I was supposed to go back and finish the last year of my degree.
But in Montreal, I met young people like Ben and Fawzia feeling severe impacts of climate change on their countries. For them, climate change was a matter of survival for their people. I realised I needed to do more – much more – than what I’d been doing up to this point.
I knew that we needed to take the youth climate movement beyond small groups of students on University campuses, and onto the national political stage. We needed to turn young Australians from a demographic into a constituency who would make decisions on the basis of climate change.
We needed young Australians to make it harder for our political and business leaders to continue the status quo, which was harming our futures, than to give in to our simple demand for a safe climate with enough clean air, water and soil for everyone.
The idea for the Australian Youth Climate Coalition was born.
And with a lot of hard work by the small group of young people who organised the founding summit in 2006 and the first few campaigns in 2007 (one of whom is now my husband!) the idea took off and became a fully-fledged movement of which you, reading this, are now a part.
I left AYCC as Co-Director in 2010, but remained Chair of the Board. And I embarked on a number of different projects, including completing a Churchill fellowship on peer-to-peer environmental education in China, the UK and the USA. I also worked as Senior campaigns Director at the strategy and communications consultancy Make Believe.
But I left Make Believe at the end of last year to work on the next stage of my original vision of ‘making green mainstream’. I decided to make a concerted effort to reach out to climate sceptics. My aim? To re-establish the foundational case for the science and the need to act. In the heat of the debate about the carbon price, many Australians have forgetten why we needed to cut carbon pollution in the first place.
Through a mutual friend, I was approached by a TV producer called Simon Nasht. He wanted to create a TV program to be aired on the ABC that reached beyond the sound bites on climate change science. His vision was to send a film crew to capture the journey of a climate activist and a climate sceptic as they took each other around the world trying to change each other’s minds.
Simon Nasht had secured one of the remaining few high-profile climate sceptics in Australia, Nick Minchin, to be part of the project. (I say remaining because many other former sceptics in business and government, even the former head of Exxon Mobil, John Schubert, have now accepted the science.) Now, Simon required someone willing to go head to head with Nick to argue the case for the science and the need to act on climate change.
After a lot of reflection (which you can read about in my book!) I decided to say yes. And so began an extrardinary journey, of which the documentary is the first, not the last, step. Along the way I wrote a 90,000 word book in two months, and decided to take a group of AYCC volunteers with me on the road to travel around the country reaching out to people who still have questions about the science and the need to act.
I’m so proud to be part of the AYCC and the youth climate movement in Australia. Ellen, Kirsty and the team of staff and volunteers and state coordinators and local group members inspire me every single day. I look forward to the Repower campaign update emails as the highlight of my week and I get so excited to read about what’s been happening with the grassroots.
If anyone can change a sceptic’s mind, it’s the young people in their lives. So if you have a climate sceptic uncle or grandfather or friend of a friend, make sure you sit down with them to watch the documentary on Thursday night – and then order them a copy of Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic.