School Strike 4 Climate: Australian students use ‘sick note’ to demand climate action

Climate protestors in Sydney

By Tiffanie Turnbull

BBC News, Sydney

Thousands of Australian students have walked out of class to attend School Strike 4 Climate rallies, backed by a “sick note” from “climate doctors”.

Signed by three prominent scientists, it concludes: “It is my recommendation that they take a sick day to protest for a sick planet.”

The students called for greater climate action, as the country faces another summer with natural disasters.

However some state education officials said schools will not accept the note.

Penned by Dr David Karoly, Dr Nick Abel and Dr Lesley Hughes, the letter was available online for students to download.

It said they were unfit to attend school because of “increased anxiety” around government inaction, “elevated stress” due to the impact of climate change, and “feelings of despair” about their future.

The note is not a formal medical certificate, and education departments in New South Wales and Victoria said it will not be accepted in their schools.

The Minister for Education Jason Clare also said students should not be at the Friday strike. “I want our kids to be passionate, I want our kids to care about democracy and I want our kids to care about the future, but I also want our kids at school,” he said.

But students who attended the protests, which were held across nine cities including Melbourne and Sydney, said the government’s response demonstrated a failure to take their concerns seriously.

“[They are] throwing our future under the bus by approving new coal and gas [projects] in Australia,” year 10 student Joey Thompson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Melbourne on Friday.

In Sydney, protesters chanted “shame” outside the office of Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek.

One 16-year-old, Min Park, told the Australian Associated Press she was striking because of Ms Plibersek’s approval of new coal and gas projects.

“She is listening to the fossil fuel lobby instead of doing her job and taking responsibility to protect the health of the planet,” she said.

Australia has long faced international criticism for being slow to respond to the threat posed by climate change.

While the Labour government led by Anthony Albanese promised greater action to halt climate change when elected in May 2022, experts say Australia is still not keeping pace with key allies like the US and the UK.

A reform of environmental protection laws which would allow ministers a broader scope of reasons to deny fossil fuel projects is one of the key changes climate experts say Australia needs to make.

Originating in Sweden, School Strike 4 Climate is an international movement of students who skip classes on Friday to press for political action on climate change.

The Friday rallies are the 11th held in Australia. The largest, in 2019, attracted an estimated 300,000 people across the country.

They come after former diplomat and public servant Gregory Andrews was forced to end a hunger strike outside Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Andrews had refused to eat until the government declared a climate emergency, but was taken away by an ambulance on Friday morning.

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