Sunday, 30 May 2021


Over the 15 or so years I’ve been writing and editing articles on environmental issues, every now and then a friend or acquaintance will, in hushed tones, lean over and divulge a secret. They don’t read about climate change. It’s not that they don’t care – of course they do. But amid the maelstrom of work and kids and life stuff, keeping on top of the climate crisis is all a bit too much – too complicated, too guilt-inducing, too depressing. 

I completely get it. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to read the articles either. But next time a friend makes that confession, I will point them to the one article, published by The Conversation this week, I’d recommend they read.

It involves a class action brought against Environment Minister Sussan Ley by a group of young people, acting on behalf of all Australian children and teenagers.

Their bid to prevent a coal mine expansion did not succeed. But the Federal Court nonetheless made a historic ruling: the environment minister owes a duty of care to Australia’s young people not to cause them harm from climate change.

The finding was ground-breaking enough. But it was this moving excerpt from the written judgment by Justice Mordy Bromberg that really cut to the bone:

"It is difficult to characterise in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecasts for the children. As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well.

The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme and devastatingly brutal when angry. As for the human experience – quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper – all will be greatly diminished.

Lives will be cut short. Trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain.

None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults, in what might fairly be described as the greatest inter-generational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next.

To say that the children are vulnerable is to understate their predicament."

The no-holds-barred statement brought tears to the eyes of hardened lawyers, not to mention many other watchers of the case. National debate over Australia's climate policies often centres on the short-term social and economic implications. The consequences for future generations of today's inaction is often overlooked.

In fact, we can now put a dollar figure on those consequences. An independent expert witness in the court case conservatively calculated the cost of climate change to today's young people at between A$125,000 and A$245,000 per person. The estimate took into account property loss, reduced earnings and other economic impacts. And frighteningly, the expert found one in five of today’s children will likely be hospitalised due to heat stress in their senior years.

So where does all this leave us? Clearly, rapid cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are sorely needed. In Australia, such measures are deeply polarising, but they needn’t be. The best solutions will come from finding common ground – working out what we all care about, and building from there. Surely leaving a habitable planet for today’s children, and others to come, is something most of us would agree is paramount.

And while reading about climate change is quite often hard, the court case this week revealed one big positive. A formidable generation of young climate advocates has well and truly arrived – demanding action, and inspiring hope.


Nicole Hasham, Environment + Energy Editor,
The Conversation