This post is part of a series of profiles celebrating October’s special youth-focused New Internationalist magazine. Read articles or buy a copy here.
I spent most of my time at school listening to and playing music – these songs were a huge part of my education, not just as a musician but as an activist. I always craved an understanding of what the music was about, whether it was Jimi Hendrix, Tupac, Natalie Pa’apa’a, Bob Marley or John Butler. Everyone I listened to was singing about something. These songs introduced me to the peace movement, the struggles of people of colour and indigenous peoples around the world, and the cause that has now enveloped my life: climate change. One day I hoped I could use my music to do the same for others.
I don’t think I understood the scale of the problem of climate change (and that we were going to need more than songs to change things!) until I attended UN climate talks as part of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition delegation in Mexico 2010. There I met people already facing the loss of their land, their homes and their lives because of climate change – something you can never quite prepare for. But what inspired me was how all of these people were fighting back, and how much there was we could learn from them in Australia.
As well as meeting people who were facing the impacts of extreme weather changes, I met people who were suffering at the other end of the problem: people from indigenous communities in the US with relatives dying from cancer because of the pollution caused by the digging and burning of coal and gas. The connection between the pain of these communities and the disasters facing those on the other side of the planet gave me a new insight into the extent of the problem we face, but also how we can build the alliances and connections that could birth a movement with a fighting chance of winning.
It was this experience that led me to the campaign for building solar thermal plants in Port Augusta, a town three hours’ north of Adelaide whose coal-fired power stations had provided jobs for the town but also filled the local people’s water tanks with coal ash and contributed to the 50 per cent above state average cancer rate.
As the coal plants come to the end of their life and the need for new jobs and clean air in Port Augusta became ever clearer, the town’s future is tied up in the desire of young people for a safe climate future. To paraphrase the campaigner Lila Watson, the liberation of coal communities from air pollution and the future of my generation are completely interlinked. This campaign has seen young people making alliances with health organizations, the local council, unions, business groups and energy think tanks under the banner of the Repower Port Augusta Alliance.
The campaign, still in its early days, has had its iconic moments – including thousands of people in Port Augusta voting for solar thermal over gas and a 14-day walk from Port Augusta to Adelaide. And, sure enough, music made its way into the event as people young and old and from different backgrounds united in song to keep energy high on the long road that awaited us.
If you’re a young person and you’re reading this – take the same step so many young people are taking right now around the world and join the movement fighting for justice for people now and in the future. It might take you a little bit longer to be listened to because of your age, but stick at it! If the older generations of activists you work with think they know better, then get them to teach you. It’s their responsibility to share what they have learnt with us so our movements can continue to grow. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have learnt half as much as I have these last few years if people with experience hadn’t taken me under their wing.
Daniel Spencer has lived in Port Augusta for the last three months to work alongside the community in their campaign for solar thermal. Read his article ‘Building Australia’s first solar thermal power plant’ here.
Find out more at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition website.