I had heard about climate change before and understood the science, but that was the summer when it got real for me, when I realized that this wasn't about polar bears but about people.
You aren’t born yet, and maybe you will never be, but oddly enough I think about you and others like you a lot.
It started 6 years ago, when I was in the final stages of a path into corporate law. I had finished my degree, and landed a job at a law firm which I had been working for since high school. It was my last summer before I started, and it was hot. We had broken another record for heatwaves, and this year the trains had stopped working due to the heat. We were in the 10th year of a record drought – a drought so extreme that scientists said it could only happen once in a millennium.
Then one morning I woke up to find the sky red – dark, angry red. It was the middle of the day, so it made no sense – it felt like we were on Mars. It turned out it was a bushfire – one far bigger than we were used to. By the end of the day it had burned 1/5 of the state, and 173 people had died. My best friend’s farm was in part of the area that had burned, and his family were lucky to escape unhurt. Not all of his neighbors were so lucky. I had heard about climate change before and understood the science, but that was the summer when it got real for me, when I realized that this wasn’t about polar bears but about people.
So what was I going to do? I was raised in a Catholic family, where it was made very clear to you that life was about looking after other people – not just yourself – and especially your own family. I remember my dad leaving to go to work at 5 am every morning and coming home long after the sun had set, because he wanted to make sure we had enough money for us to go to the best school, and make sure that our cousins and aunty were looked after as well. I remember my mum quitting her job as a lawyer (which she loved) because she wanted to make sure that we were raised in the best way possible. And now I was not just seeing, but feeling, that this climate change phenomenon would threaten all of that. And that Australians were both the biggest part of the problem, and had some of the most to lose if we didn’t tackle this. Including you, and your generation.
So shortly after that, I started devoting more and more of my time to climate work. I quit my job at the law firm, just one week after I was admitted, and went to join the climate movement. For the next 6 years I worked on climate change campaigns and advocacy, and I loved it. It consumed my nights and weekends, it was my job and my hobby. It’s what brought me to become more involved in the Labor Party than I had ever been, and to Harvard where I’ve spent 2 years working to get better at the work that I do. I made that choice because, in a weird ex-catholic way, I knew that there would come a time many years later when I would be judged for what I had done with my life – for whether I had lived it for people like you, or just for myself.
So when you read this (if ‘you’ ever exist) you’ll know why I’m no longer a lawyer, and why I spent so long working for this movement which I hope to be a part of for many many years to come. I hope you’ll know why so many of us chose the same path, to leave a world of comfort and prestige and enter one of conflict and change, and most of all I hope you’ll know that the outcome of all this work for a safe climate – whatever it is – was not inevitable. It was our choice. It was because of what we did.
So, go and enjoy your flying car and your teleportation machines and your video games (that must be so good I can only imagine). But also, if there are any beaches or reefs or forests or mountains left for you to disappear into, go outside and enjoy a little of the crazy beauty that has been there since long before I was born.