Young people embrace activism to make their voices heard in the climate debate, experts say

The School Strike 4 Climate Action saw tens of thousands of students across Australia walk out of class last Friday to protest for climate action. Inspired by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg who sits outside the Swedish parliament every Friday, primary and high school students rallied across the nation’s capitals and regional centres to draw attention to the global climate emergency.

Earth IQ asked Western Sydney University academics who attended the Sydney protest at Martin Place why the young generation embraces protest as a form of political participation.

Dr Philippa Collin from the Institute of Culture and Society at Western Sydney University says it is difficult for young people to have a voice in mainstream politics.

“We know that when young people are given a space to discuss issues and voice their opinions, they have really important things to say. But there is a persistent mainstream view that young people are not quite citizens yet, that they have to wait until they are 18 to be legitimate. The protest for climate action shows that young people want to be heard, because they know decisions that politicians are making today are going to affect them into the future.

We have seen a shift away from institutional politics, where you have to join a party, join a union or vote at the ballot box. While protests are not new, there is a growing orientation towards participatory, issue-based and networked politics. Social media played an important role in connecting and mobilising the students.”

We’ve seen the Australian Youth Climate Coalition rally around these students and support them. These different types of actions connect up with one another. Moreover, it’s intergenerational: we’ve seen parents and teachers get behind these students, and now we’re seeing thousands of students in the streets,” Dr Collin says.

Dr Holly Kaye-Smith, social change activist and academic at Western Sydney University, adds: “It is an exciting time for conservation and politics because, unlike previous decades, we no longer rely on commercial broadcast to put out and receive messages; nowadays we can use social media to harness the power of collective citizenship action and build protests like this.

“The children I interviewed are smart, articulate and the future voters, so this sends a powerful message to our politicians about the future priorities that will need addressing to keep them in parliament. This has been a thrilling event and I’ve never been more confident in the change that’s coming.”

About Earth IQ

Taking a positive step in engaging and empowering millennials and their communities with the issues of a changing climate, Western Sydney University has launched a new online community, Earth IQ. Through multimedia storytelling, expert commentary and activations, Earth IQ is a way of inspiring a generation to embrace more mindful and sustainable living - one carbon footprint at a time.

Find out more at or follow the conversation using #EarthIQ


5 December 2018

Isabel Wagner, Senior Media Officer