A Gloucester Uniting Church elder has admitted to being "embarrassed to be Australian on the international stage", referring to the Australian Government's lack of a strong action climate policy.
The Gloucester church elders have embraced the Uniting Church's commitment to the environment and have voted to sign the School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) climate change pledge to 'fund our future not gas', after elder Jeff Kite brought the matter forward.
For Jeff, it was important the pledge was signed before the recent SS4C action on Friday, October 15 ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12 - a conference Prime Minister Scott Morrison only recently agreed to attend.
"The church (synod - State council) put out a request to all the congregations to sign the pledge," Jeff said.
He explained that it's all part of a national and State level commitment from the church's Uniting Earth Team to push for action on climate.
"In 2019, the church synod resolved to develop a Synod Climate Action Strategy and as part of this they committed themselves to standing with young people in their advocacy on climate change."
Although the vote was passed, Jeff noted that not all of the elders agreed with the method in which the youth were advocating for action - that is, striking from school.
SS4C's push to disrupt the school day for an hour to protest the need for federal action on climate has caused some backlash among the community.
When 16-year-old Elyssa Keen organised a climate meeting from 10am to 11am in Billabong Park on Friday, May 21, she was met with criticism. Her posting of the event on the Gloucester New South Wales Community Noticeboard Facebook page sparked negative comments from some members of the community.
"I was shocked. I didn't expect it," Elyssa said.
Through her studies of past worldwide movements on matters such as civil and women's rights, she knows the way to make policy change is for many voices to stand up for what they believe in. For students, school is essentially their workplace, so for them protesting for their future during school hours is the same as teachers striking for better working conditions.
"The federal government isn't doing anything about climate change. They are making decisions about our future but won't listen to our opinions," she said. "It's frustrating that our voice doesn't matter."
People don't like the word 'strike', or the idea of kids taking time out of school. Not all of the elders fully agree with the type of action but they do agree with showing supportGloucester Uniting Church elder Jeff Kite
The May action was the first event Elyssa had organised and she wanted it to be about education and making plans for action instead of a traditional street-based march.
Jeff attended the event. It was the education factor that inspired him to bring the matter of support to the Uniting Church elders. Although he and his wife, Hilary have always been strong on climate change action, he knew that not all of the elders in the church agreed with the method the youth were taking.
"People don't like the word 'strike', or the idea of kids taking time out of school. Not all of the elders fully agree with the type of action but they do agree with showing support," Jeff said.
Personally, Jeff and Hilary have no issue with standing up for action and have marched in Sydney school strikes with other members of the Uniting Church.
The Gloucester Uniting Church signed the pledge on October 11 and has written a letter to Elyssa outlining the church's commitment to the youth movement.
The School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) climate change pledge is as follows:
"Pledge that you, your group, business or organisation will stand with school strikers to oppose public funds being wasted on dirty gas and instead call on the federal government to #FundOurFutureNotGas by:
- Resourcing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions that guarantee land rights and care for Country.
- Funding the creation of secure jobs that fast track solutions to the climate crisis and help communities recover.
- Funding projects that transition our economy and communities to 100% renewable energy by 2030, through expanded public ownership.
The church has also taken its own action by installing solar panels earlier in the year.