Climate strikes: No, the kids aren't alright

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Students take to the streets around the country to protest for climate action (Screenshot via YouTube)

“If you were doing your job properly, we wouldn't be here.”  

  ~ Deanna Athanosos, School Strike 4 Climate

That is what year ten student and activist Deanna Athanosos had to say to Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It was in response to his urging the thousands of students around the country to be less inclined towards activism and more towards learning.
But perhaps that’s his problem. The next generation of Australians is learning.
Despite being told that they’ve never had it so good some of the issues our youth are facing are far more widespread than that and instead of planning for this uncertain future they are instead being offered only condescension and platitudes.

These problems are not confined to global warming.

An environment that is more poisoned with a climate that is warming. House prices so high they cannot afford to buy their own corner of this less-than-paradise. Expensive education, failing job security and wages so stagnant they are now being outrun by inflation.

What it means to be a “good and functional” member of this society is unclear, as is why they would aspire to this with so many incentives stripped away.

This isn’t just a young person problem. It’s a whole-of-society problem. And it’s huge.

The Environment

Students last month marched in a plea for action on climate change. They realise that despite their lies politicians are not taking any meaningful action to curb our emissions.

This is reprehensible. Global warming; threatens our food supply, increases natural disasters, endangers our lives and those of our emergency services, it’s a national security threat, it destroys precious ecosystems and robs us of natural treasures and makes us sick.

Even without global warming, Here is a small snapshot of what the environment is suffering through:

Forget owning a home

An Australian worker in 1975 would earn $7,600 per year compared with $72,000 today — a tenfold increase. While this sounds good it ignores the fact that wages have stagnated with the average pay now being outgrown by inflation — meaning everything from bread to milk to clothing is getting more expensive faster than our wages can keep up.

Property is where it gets really worrying. 

As McCrindle research found:

'... four decades ago Sydney had the highest house cost, averaging $28,000 while today it exceeds $850,000 ... So while earnings have gone up, by almost tenfold, house prices have gone up by more than 30-fold in that same period of time.'

Melbourne is worse with a house costing 31 times the cost of 1975, Brisbane 27 times higher, Adelaide 28 times higher and Perth 32.

If you’re younger it’s worse, with people aged 21 to 34 earning an average of $1076.60 per week, or $56,000 a year.

The story is clear — it is getting harder and harder to even get a grip on the property ladder. The payments are too large for an average income and the deposit is insurmountable unless you can get someone to help you.

When asked about this, a succession of Coalition Government figures given in reply has failed to provide any sort of answer and some Government ministers have provided only condescension.

In 2015, then Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey instructed the country’s youth to simply “get a good job that pays good money” and variations of that edict are hurled at “lazy millennials” regularly — you might remember the “smashed avocado” declaration.

This completely ignores the fact that previous generations could buy a house for just over three times the yearly wage and now it costs more than 11.

Take Hockey’s advice and study to get a better job and you’ll have to contend with growth in higher education costs which means you’ll start your working like tens of thousands of dollars in debt for an undergraduate degree.

When Joe Hockey went to university it was free — he should remember this because he protested the reintroduction of fees when he was a student.

Put these pieces together and it paints a depressing picture. Higher education is less attainable due to higher costs making getting a higher paying job more difficult. The higher cost of living then takes a bigger bite out of a smaller pay packet putting the increased price of a home out of reach.

With this out of reach, there are now large sections of society who are facing the possibility of renting their entire lives and retiring without the security that home ownership offers.

Work longer, for less certainty

Young people entering the labour market today are going to be working longer than previous generations. They are also going to be working in far less certain conditions.

Where once it would be common to work for an employer for ten years at a stretch and an industry for life, young people now work for only three years for an individual employer and change careers more than once in a lifetime.

This turbulence is compounded by industries that are rapidly changing or being displaced as anyone who has been put through to a call centre can attest.

Then there is robotics and artificial intelligence — a coming tsunami very few people are talking about. This bricklaying robot builds walls five times faster than a human. Australia’s meat processing industry is rapidly automating — bad news for 30,000 workers.

If you’re white collar you’re not safe, with some tech experts stating a lot of these jobs will the first to go with everyone from fashion designers to lawyers facing competition from AI.

In fact, there are multiple reports that suggest one in three Australian jobs are at risk of being automated by the year 2030 with PricewaterhouseCoopers putting the number even higher, globally.

This requires planning and thought — both of which have been lacking.

Engaged in a disengaging world

Hearing people talk about younger generations you would sometimes think they were a different species — they are harder to motivate, less engaged. This isn’t a mystery — things that motivated their parents are now held farther and farther from their reach. Is there any wonder they are disinterested?

But to an ageing and scornful population, they are your future. What sort of future that is, remains to be seen. The above realities mean the only certainty is that they will be worse off than those who came before them existing in a state which has been described as “genteel hand-to-mouth”.

But it’s fixable.

Get rid of mechanisms like negative gearing that give a helping hand to millionaires who own ten or more properties and turn their back on first home buyers. Take measures to address inequality in wages and future-proof jobs by investing in education and skills and rectifying the unbalanced industrial power in the labour market. Take urgent action on emissions, stop allowing companies to pollute, destroy, or otherwise pillage the natural environment.

If the climate marches are anything to go by, this generation isn’t going to wait for us to do this. Younger people are coming out swinging. They’re not going to wait when the answers they are given are shown to be hollow, or self-serving.

It’s no wonder they’re angry. They’re also organising on a mass scale — that’s one hell of a combination.

Simon Black is the senior media campaigner for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. You can follow Simon on Twitter @mrsimblaa.

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