“Everything you are told is a lie”.

So declared Liberal Party MP Craig Kelly in Parliament on September 19 when urging Australian students not to join their global peers in climate change rallies in which four million people across 161 countries took part on September 20.

During his speech, Kelly inferred that students who joined the protest were being naïve and were failing to think for themselves.

He also implied that those joining the march were being influenced by peer pressure.

“I understand how persuasive that peer group pressures can be for teenagers and their desire to fit in with the crowd,” Kelly said.

“However, I would say to any student who is considering joining the so-called climate protest, ‘don’t be a sheep and think for yourself.’”

“You are being used and manipulated and everything you are being told is a lie.”

Kelly was not alone in dismissing the students’ action.

The Daily Mail ran headlines about children wanting a day off and going to Subway for lunch.

Radio host Alan Jones claimed that children were being used as a political front to promote ‘untruths’ because they would not be questioned or scrutinised.

Rita Panahi, host of The Friday Show on Sky News, described the children as ‘brainwashed’. On that same show, panellist Prue Macsween described them as being ‘groomed by these social groomers who masquerade as teachers on climate change’. Such was the brainwashing, Macsween claimed, that parents should consider home-schooling.

Bottom line: according to above commentators, children who joined the climate protests were ignorant, acting on peer pressure, being manipulated and failing to think for themselves.

One problem. The kids were not alone. Across Australia and New Zealand, a total of 3,133 mostly Australian and New Zealand businesses, industry associations and not-for-profit organisations voiced their support for the students by participating in the Not Business As Usual Alliance.

Each of these businesses and organisations took actions to assist workers who wished to participate in the strikes. This included closing doors, having meeting-free days, allowing long lunches and sending emails to make it clear that staff would not be penalised for taking a few hours off.

For those who dismissed the protests, this presents a problem. School children can be portrayed as being naïve, subject to manipulation and unaware of practical considerations regarding business and the economy. Those adults who own, manage and work in companies and organisations are less easy to portray in this way.

Furthermore, the fact that more than 3,000 businesses and organisations supported the protests underscores an important point. It is not just children who want climate change action but many adults as well – including those who own and manage more than 3,000 businesses and organisations. These people are not sheep being manipulated by others but adults who understand commercial realities and who nevertheless agree that climate action is needed.

Personally, I do not agree with specific demands of protesters but support the broad sentiment behind the protest.

According to the School Strike 4 Climate web site, specific demands of the protest movement were no new coal, oil and gas projects (including the Adani mine); 100 percent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities.

Whilst the transition away from fossil fuels is sensible, ideas about no new coal or gas projects at all are not. Rather, the clean energy transition should be approached in a measured way which takes account of the need for energy reliability, affordability and security. New project assessments should involve balanced considerations of the proposed development’s contribution toward energy reliability and affordability as well as the need to transition to cleaner energy. Blanket bans on non-renewable projects would not allow for this.

Equally foolhardy are attempts to stop the now-approved Adani project. Whilst all projects should be subject to environmental assessment, companies and investors do need certainty that any developments which are approved will be allowed to proceed. Adani has been approved. That decision must be respected.

Finally, ideas about no coal or gas generation at all by 2030 – including from existing plants – are problematic. Some coal fired power stations, such as Loy Yang A and Loy Yang B in Victoria, are expected to operate until 2048. Expecting owners and operators to shut down assets into which they have invested hundreds of millions or perhaps billions of dollars decades before the end of their useful life is neither realistic nor reasonable. (If forced by legislation, it would also involve massive compensation payouts from taxpayers.)

Instead, what is needed is a measured and longer term approach based around targets agreed to in the Paris Agreement. These targets have been agreed to by 175 countries (albeit with the US having pulled out) and are already being used by many industries as a basis upon which to plan carbon reduction strategies. Last week, the World Green Building Council outlined a roadmap by which the building sector should achieve NetZero emissions by 2050. Building energy ministers in Australia have embraced a trajectory toward a NetZero National Construction Code by 2050. These efforts have momentum and will deliver substantial carbon reductions. What is needed now is not new and more radical targets but staying the course and achieving existing targets under a long-term strategy to bring emissions down. 

On broader sentiments about the need for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, however, both the students and the 3,133 businesses who support them are right on. I am not a scientist and cannot comment with authority on climate science. That said, the broad consensus among scientists is that (a) the world is warming; (b) emissions of greenhouse gasses brought about by human activity are contributing to this; and that (c) the consequences, if not addressed, will be serious.

These are not untested theories. On a regular basis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivers comprehensive assessments of what is know about global warming, its drivers and causes, its impacts and future risks and how adaption measures can reduce risks. Its assessments are written by hundreds of scientists who act as coordinating lead authors who in turn enlist hundreds of other contributing authors who have expertise in specific areas. These reports then undergo multiple rounds of drafting during which they are reviewed by thousands of other scientists from across IPCC’s 195 member countries. This is hardly a process though which radical or untested theories could be pushed.

Yet IPCC reports have consistently warned that climate change is real and that human activity is a contributing factor.

On this basis, the idea that the world should transition to a low greenhouse-gas economy is sensible.

Returning to comments of Kelly & co about students being misled and wanting days off.

These comments have two problems.

First, they underestimate the students themselves.

To be sure, many children of that age would have either no or limited exposure to practical realities associated with business and the economy. Accordingly, many would not fully understand the practical issues involved in what they are asking for.

And yes, some may be susceptible to teacher/peer influence.

Nevertheless, most who participated were thinking for themselves. Many have intelligent minds and are capable of thinking sensibly about the issues.

As for wanting days off, such suggestions are insulting to the millions of students who feel passionately about the long-term health of the planet and the need to manage this in a sustainable way.

Moreover, if Kelly and co. see the students are mere pawns being used by others, what do they think about the 3,133 businesses and organisations who supported them? Surely, if students taking part were mere sheep being used, the same must be said for the fully grown adults who own and manage these 3,133 organisations and companies?

In the case of Kelly, Sourceable is unable to say as requests for comment made to his office received no response.  (No questions were put to other aforementioned sources or commentators.)

Nevertheless, since he feels that children taking part are simply being used as pawns, so too we assume he must think the same of the leaders and workers within the 3,133 mostly Australian and New Zealand businesses and organisations who participated.

If he thinks kids who took part were being manipulated, what does he think of companies such as Bryon Bay based brewing and bottling company Stone & Wood Brewing Co, Torquay based surfboard supplier Piping Hot or accounting firm Code Accountants? Surely, these companies must also be pawns who have been exploited for someone else’s agenda?

If teenagers who took part were simply bowing to peer pressure, what must be said of the owners/directors of Geelong Media, strategic and operational consulting firm Levant Consulting or development consulting firm Reed Consulting? Surely, owners/directors of each of these companies must also be responding to peer pressure? Surely none are adults capable of forming their own view?

How about Kelly’s idea that ‘everything you have been told is a lie’? Would he make that claim to directors, managers and workers of leading companies such as Readings, Slater & Gordon and Domain? Is he saying that the adult directors of each of these companies have been conned?

Furthermore, if Kelly is saying that everything students are being told is a ‘lie’, that must by definition mean that assessments which bodies such as the IPCC publish are also a lie. For this to be true, the hundreds of scientists who prepare these reports and the thousands who review them from across the 195 IPCC member countries must all be involved in a coordinated conspiracy. Such a suggestion is preposterous and is insulting those who contribute toward greater scientific understanding of this important topic and who no doubt do so with diligence and integrity.  

Finally, how about kids simply wanting time off school? Are those making this claim suggesting that directors of companies such as ice cream maker Ben & Jerrys, skin care firm Jurlique and information technology & services provider 6am Digital simply wanted to give their workers time off?

Bottom line, those who run the 3,133 mostly Australian and New Zealand companies and organisations who supported the climate protests are not sheep being manipulated by others but are adults who are thinking for themselves, who understand business reality and who have provided support to what they feel is an important cause.

If Kelly and co. are prepared to say that the kids who protested are being manipulated and merely responding to peer pressure, they should come out and say the same thing about the owners and managers of the more than 3,000 Australian and New Zealand enterprises and organisations who supported them.

If they are not prepared to do so, they should treat the kids with more respect.