Oamaru secondary school pupils called for urgent action to address environmental issues at a climate change rally on Friday.
About 100 pupils from Waitaki Girls’ High School, Waitaki Boys’ High School and St Kevin’s College attended the rally at Waitaki Girls’ High School, as part of the national strike for action on climate change.
In an address to the crowd, event organiser Breanna Greaney (17) said, according to a United Nations report on climate change in October, there were about 11 years left to significantly reduce carbon emissions to keep global warming below 1.5degC.
“In 11 years, I will be 28 years old – an age when my fellow students and I should be planning weddings, thinking about children or establishing our careers,” Breanna said.
“[Instead] we are predicted to be battling the severe heat of summer and the unrelenting cold of winter, unimaginable public health issues along with tens of thousands of climate refugees turning up on our shores who have nowhere else to go due to sea level increases or other land issues.”
She said there was an urgent need to build a more regenerative, resilient community by pushing for a shift in the way people live.
“My class will be able to vote this year and we want leaders who share our urgency for combating climate change.”
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean and Waitaki deputy mayor Melanie Tavendale fielded questions from the pupils.
Breanna said she felt the pupils’ voices had been heard.
“We shouldn’t just rely on the government and council to do it for us – we all have to do our bit.”
Cr Tavendale said it was great for young people to stand up and take an interest in the future.
She said discussions about climate change at the Waitaki District Council had not yet started in earnest, but “it will come”.
She encouraged pupils to seize the initiative and start voting with their feet.
“You can choose where you shop and how you consume things – it starts with you,” she told the pupils.
Mrs Dean praised the pupils for taking a stand.
“It is easy to stand against something, but to stand for something takes courage.”
Farming was a hot topic for environmental issues, and farmers in Waitaki had been working hard to improve their practices, Mrs Dean said.
“We are committed to reducing methane emissions, but if we do not do so carefully, we lose productivity.
“Agriculture is the second biggest part of our economy and we have to think carefully and pragmatically.”
St Kevin’s College pupil Rata McMullan (17) said collaboration between the three schools showed the way forward for climate action was to get everyone involved.
“We don’t have time to gradually solve the problem,” Rata said.
“If we don’t do anything now, we are screwed.”