St Michael's Collegiate School Student Sustainability Committee
Hey there Collegiate Sustainability Committee (what a great group!)
Thank you for your questions about climate change. You asked some really interesting questions about student action, waste management, impacts for Australia and barriers to action.
You'll find answers to your questions from our climate experts below - have a read and watch their answers.
It can be very frustrating to witness the slow pace of action by governments to limit climate change, particularly when we look at the record of the current Australian Federal Government. But Australia did once have a very effective climate policy. Julia Gillard's government introduced the Clean Energy Act, which put a price on carbon emissions, and operated from 2012-2013. This reduced carbon emissions by the biggest polluting companies by 7%. But the price on carbon only lasted one year because Australians voted to replace the Labor Gillard government with a Coalition government under Tony Abbott, who repealed the Act.
Since then, Australia has not had an effective national climate policy. But several state governments, local governments and and some companies have introduced their own policies. The Tasmanian Government is now legislating that Tasmania will have a Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Momentum is building and we still have a small window of opportunity for our governments to make systemic change to limit global climate change to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celcius.
What are the things that make governments act on climate change?
- Voters. If enough people of voting age tell political parties that they won't vote for them unless they promise to act on climate change, they would be forced to act, or lose power. You may not be of voting age, but you can tell the adults in your life who do vote how important this issue is to you.
- International pressure. Australia is part of the United Nations. This organisation of 193 countries has an international convention on climate change, which Australia is a signatory to, and must abide by. The COP 26 Climate Summit in Glasgow is the latest meeting at which countries will agree on actions over the coming decade.
- Economics. Fossil fuels are becoming risky investments, while renewable energy is a growing industry that will create more jobs and profit. Governments eventually have to face this reality, and make sure their policies enable Australians to profit from new industries, rather than propping up doomed ones.
Over the past decade people and governments around the world have come to realise the damage our waste can have on our wildlife, economies and well-being. To try and reduce the damages our waste can have, governments and organisations are rethinking the way we produce, use and importantly throw away our waste. In Tasmania (and in Australia), waste and recycling are managed at the local government level. So, the waste and recycling rules that you might follow in Burnie, might be different to the rules in Queenstown, St Helens, Launceston, or Hobart. Two big changes that have happened around Tasmania that improves the way we manage our waste a
1. Introducing a Container Deposit Scheme. This scheme allows you to drop-off your glass, metal and plastic drink containers at designated locations and received 10 cents back for every container. This scheme will discourage people from littering their waste and encourage people to pick up littered containers out of the environment.
2. Introducing a mandatory waste levy. A waste levy is a fee paid to the Tasmanian State Government by landfill and other licensed waste facility operators for every tonne of waste received. In Tasmania, many landfills are operated by local government (councils), so the waste levy is paid by our local councils. By 2022, all councils in Tasmania should have a waste levy in place. Some councils in Tasmania have already introduced a waste levy of $5 per tonne of waste that enters landfill. The waste levy fee councils pay is passed onto those who use landfill. So every time you go to dump your waste at landfill, you must pay. The waste levy money collected by the council is paid to the State Government. The money collected by the Tasmania State Government will be used to invest in new waste and recycling systems and infrastructure around Tasmania that will help increase the amount of waste we recycle and decrease the amount of waste entering landfill and the environment.
Broadly speaking, many of the climate impacts that we are seeing in Australia are also happening in other parts of the world, but there are plenty of examples of how they uniquely affect Australians and our unique plant and animal life. We have seen, and will continue to see, average air and ocean temperatures rise and also extreme events occur more regularly. Extreme events include things like droughts, floods, cyclones, bushfires and heatwaves that occur both on land and in the ocean. We don’t have to go too far back to remember the 2019-2020 bushfires that burned across much of Australia. This had devastating effects on communities, but also burnt some areas of very old forest. These are not likely to recover in our lifetime and contained tree species that are both rare and unique to Australia. The bushfires also had an impact on our iconic wildlife, both directly and by destroying large tracts of habitat for koalas, in particular.
We have also seen a number of marine heatwaves in recent years, where ocean temperatures are very much higher than usual for weeks to months. One of the most widely known Australian impacts of these heatwaves is the bleaching of corals on the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is unique because it is the largest coral reef system on earth and contains an incredible diversity of marine species. When corals bleach they lose the tiny organisms, called zooxanthellae, that live inside them and provide them with energy. Sometimes corals can recover if temperatures cool again quickly enough, but repeated high temperatures and bleaching causes them great stress. Scientists are looking at ways to grow and transplant the most resilient corals and managers are working to reduce other factors that stress corals, such as increased nutrients and pollution from land, to give corals on the Great Barrier Reef the best chance of survival. Of course, the most important thing that we can do as a society to change the path that we are on and lessen the negative impacts of climate change is to reduce CO2 emissions as soon as possible. While this is a global challenge, we all have our small part to play.
There will be a variety of Impacts that are unique to Australia, The Aboriginal people of Australia are made up of 64 plus nations, most of these have 10 dialects of language and have an even greater variety of lore’s. These lore’s have served and guided the Aboriginal people for over 60000 years. They have protected the mother earth and all its inhabitants so that there is a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship. These cultures rely on cultural resources to engage in all aspects of their traditional cultural processes, which include among many items hunting resources, food and cooking resources, mental health, and wellbeing through the practice of culture itself, healthy diets, food resources, ancient customs all of which will severely be strained by climate change impacts.
Aboriginal people’s connection to country has helped with the micro-observations of climate change effects. Scientists from across the globe have had academic papers, conferences, and meetings with the regional indigenous peoples. The local unique impacts are those that effect all levels of Aboriginal traditional culture, starting with the changes in migration patterns of fish and birds. The endemic species climate self-adaptations means that some species of fish are being found in Tasmanian waters that have never been seen before because our waters are warming. The Torres Strait peoples islands both physically and spiritually are slowly being absorbed into the sea, and in doing so, the sea is exposing and washing away ancestral burial grounds. They are among the first people to become climate refugees, new laws of governance on the international level have had to be created and observed as these lands sink or are washed away, an understand has been drawn up so that when these lands reappear that the Torres Strait islander forward generations are protected and that this treaty of kinship internationally recognised as being owned by the Torres Strait peoples, clans and family groups. As always, the Torres Strait people will also record these things in song lines.
This is just a small sample of the negative impacts that are and will impact the land called Australia.
This is a very practical question! I’ll suggest two things you can do straight away that are related: The first is to take care of your current school uniform so that when you are finished with it, someone else can use it. There are places that buy/sell/swap (e.g., Tasmanian School Uniforms Facebook Group, Gumtree, Uniformshop, etc. ).
There are a growing number of uniform suppliers that are sourcing sustainable materials. In this case, you’ll need to discuss this with your school and their supplier to transition to these suppliers. Some examples include ‘Hemp School Uniforms’ – which use natural and renewable materials and ‘Environmentally Friendly Eco Fabrics’ – which use recycled plastic.
More and more students want to be part of the solution to reduce the impact of climate change. While some have already been active in this space, some might not have engaged yet but might be more inclined with the right approach. Though climate change is serious and taking action is urgent, this can be quite overwhelming to some and create much anxiety. Others may not think they can make a difference. Still others might not understand the complexities of climate change, or even understand how their everyday activities impact the climate.
So meet people where they are. Everyone will have a different starting place. It might involve educating other students and raising awareness. Its important to use a positive and pro-active approach. Have options that students can enjoy, easily participate in, and that connect small local actions to the larger global issues. Here are some examples of local actions that can reduce climate omissions in Tasmania.
- start a walking group to school or organise a daily carpool to reduce energy consumption – the #1 CO2 emitter.
- organise a meat-free school lunch campaign with yummy alternatives to encourage students to reduce their meat consumption, linked to the #2 CO2 emitter from livestock in the agricultural sector.
- take care and share your stuff (e.g., computers, toys, bicycles, scooters, smartphones) through a school swap event, reducing having to buy new stuff, linked to the #3 CO2 emitter through industrial activities.
- Organise a school waste-audit and learn how to reduce waste going to landfill by composting and recycling the right way, linked to the #4 CO2 emitter by waste.
Remember that changing habits takes time. It’s not just knowing what is best, but making it easy to do, within your control, and supported by others around you. Be positive and think about the small and large actions you can do and celebrate victories.
One more thing, you may wish to organise activities where students (re)imagine what a sustainable world/city/community would look like? Will there be more innovative and renewable energy sources, greenspaces, connected communities, etc.
Prof. Jason Byrne at UTAS shared some great ideas in response to the question: What do you think climate change will alter about the world in my lifetime, and what can I do about it? https://curiousclimate.org.au/school_themes/taking-action/
For activities to support education and awareness, have a look at these sites:
Primary school level:
Secondary school level:
2022 Tasmania Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report