Worldwide icon-chevron-right South Pacific icon-chevron-right Australia icon-chevron-right Sydney icon-chevron-right The faces of climate action in Sydney
Luke Briscoe from Indigi Lab1/2
Photograph: Daniel BoudLuke Briscoe, founder and CEO of Indigi Lab
Jean Hinchliffe2/2
Photograph: Daniel Boud

The faces of climate action in Sydney

A student. A comedian. A young family. A wildlife expert. A First Nations scientist. The Sydneysiders standing up climate action are a diverse bunch. In different ways, they're out on the frontline of the climate emergency – and Time Out met some of them

By Maxim Boon and Nick Dent
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In the wake of this summer’s devastating fire season, Australians have found themselves on the frontline of the climate emergency. As a result, more people than ever are taking action to combat the increasingly severe impacts of global warming. Time Out spoke to some of the Sydneysiders mobilising against the threat of climate change. 

Jean Hinchcliffe Dan Boud
Jean Hinchcliffe Dan Boud
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Jean Hinchliffe

16-year-old climate activist and lead organiser of School Strike 4 Climate Australia

“So many teenagers have been actively campaigning for climate action because we’ve grown up with climate change being an indisputable fact – it’s never been up for debate in our lifetimes. We see it as this catastrophic issue but we also see our leaders doing nothing, year after year, so we’re driven into action because that is an utterly terrifying position to be in. And I think on top of that, the younger a person is, the more they’ll be impacted by the changing climate in the long term and the less of a voice they have right now, today. Even with so many young activists speaking out, we’re consistently seeing young people's voices being ignored or downplayed, so protesting and demonstrating is really our only outlet to be heard and taken seriously.

“It’s never been more important for young people to be informed about how our power structures are dealing with climate change. When someone in Australia turns 18, it’s an obligation for them to vote, they are automatically given this democratic power. But it’s not as if, on your 18th birthday you wake up and suddenly all this political knowledge is in your brain. So understanding and pursuing your political ideals before you reach voting age is so important, and it’s actually something that comes naturally to many young people.

“At the Strike 4 Climate Action rally in the Domain last September [where 80,000 people attended], seeing so many people come out to support students and this movement was a surreal experience, it almost didn’t feel real. But knowing the diversity of people showing up, it's shown that those willing to come to the street to fight for this cause aren't just young people anymore. We're seeing a lot of adults, a lot of businesspeople, a lot of elderly people as well as really young kids and families. It isn't just a single demographic of people who are showing up, it’s everyone. 

“The events of this summer have made it hard to feel anything but pessimistic. The one silver lining to these bushfires, which have been awful and tragic and such a terrible thing to happen, is that it's woken a lot of people up. I look at where we were a year ago when climate change wasn't the number one priority. Yes, it was discussed, but it wasn't the issue. It’s not too late at this stage to change our climate policy and do something about this crisis. If this was happening in ten years time, we couldn't do anything about it, it would be far too late. Right now, there’s still hope.”

Kailly, Rich and Didi Hill
Kailly, Rich and Didi Hill
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Rich, Kailly and Didi Hill

A Sydney family

“Having kids really changes your mindset. One day we will have to answer to them, and hopefully, most of us will be able to say that we did something.

“We’ve been to several rallies as a family. The Sack ScoMo one had a real carnival-like atmosphere – I’m not sure that the media portrayed that. We had Didi in her pram with a little sign about not sacrificing her future, and everyone got out of our way and was very accommodating. At our first rally, we worried it could be aggressive. There was a huge police presence with helmets and shields, but as far as we saw it wasn’t a worry at all, because everyone was very careful, very polite. 

“We’ve gone vegetarian. We try to be dairy-free as much as we can. All the research we’ve seen has said: stop eating beef and stop flying. So we try to do that as much as we can. We’ve got a compost bin at home. I think the direct action you do yourself has a bit more of an effect than say, the protests, which are great for awareness, but those seem to spike and then go away within a week, and then we’re back to square one. 

“We run a social enterprise in our spare time, Good Bubs [goodbubs.myshopify.com], and we donate 50 per cent of our profits to early childhood charities. We sell baby blankets and birth cloths, rompers and baby clothes, ethically made out of bamboo, not cotton. We crowdfunded to set it up and we dressed as giant babies for a month wherever we went with signs saying ‘get involved, go to our crowdfunding page and donate’. 

“All this is mainly because of Didi. She’s going to get to a certain age and there’s going to be a lot of hard questions for us: what did you do and what didn’t you do when you still had a chance?”

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Skye Blackburn - Edible Bug Shop
Skye Blackburn - Edible Bug Shop
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Skye Blackburn

Food scientist, entomologist and founder of the Edible Bug Shop

“I first became interested in edible insects after my husband and I tried some on a trip to Thailand in 2006. Being a food scientist, I figured if I wanted to sell them as a food item they should have a proper nutritional label, so I sent some crickets and mealworms for nutritional testing in the laboratory. When I got the results back, I was actually really, really shocked that more people weren’t using them as a source of food. They just have so much good stuff packed into such a small little package. 

“I was already very aware that food production is one of the biggest wastes of natural resources, so we established our business with a conscious decision to farm insects as sustainably as we possibly could. We actually take fruit and vegetable waste from food production processing and we use that to feed our insects, so we don't use any commercial feed for them. That also means that we don't have to give them any additional water outside of their feed either. The knock-on effect of that is really unbelievable. If you replace just one meat-based meal a week with a meal that uses insects as your source of protein, you’re saving over 100,000 liters of drinking water a year – that’s a swimming pool’s worth. And that's just one small little change that you can do that's making a huge amount of difference. 

“Fun fact: insects don't fart, so they create one one-hundredth of the amount of greenhouse gases that cattle do, and because we farm them vertically in a warehouse space, we don’t use any arable farmland. In the long term, we’re going to have to start massively reducing the impact that food production is having on the climate. The good news is that we have a solution to that problem right now: insects are higher in protein, lower in fat, full of essential vitamins and minerals, and far, far less damaging to the environment.”

Luke Briscoe, Founder and CEO of Indigi Lab
Luke Briscoe, Founder and CEO of Indigi Lab
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Luke Briscoe

Proud Kuku-Yalanji man and founder and CEO of Indigi Lab

“Much of my upbringing in Northern Queensland was spent on Yalanji Country learning cultural practices including the community’s land management practices. That cultural knowledge led me into a career in the media sector, where I found myself working on projects and covering stories about Indigenous science. It really opened my eyes to the fact that this ancient knowledge didn’t really have a voice – Western science was the only scientific practice that held any kind of importance. So that’s where the idea to launch Indigi Lab came from, about six years ago, to educate people about Indigenous science: what it means, how it’s different to Western science, and how the two can be merged.

“One of the key differences to Western Science is that First Nations land management is really culturally and geographically specific because local communities understand their Country with really deep insight. So when we started Indigi Lab, its central goal was to find ways that could inform and embed itself in the way we use the land today, and that has inevitably aligned much of the work we do with sustainability goals. 

“Partly that’s about bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists to drive discussions and thought leadership, to ask the question: ‘What’s the next step? How can we really look at what’s happening today, at what social factors are involved, and collaborate and work together to solve these huge issues, like climate change?’

“For many First Nations people, this summer has brought such a deep sadness, not just because of what has happened to the land, but because we knew it was coming. Ever since the environmental movement began in the ‘60s and ‘70s, there has been a disconnection between eco-activism and Indigenous culture and knowledge. And I think that’s because people see the land as a resource, rather than a brother or a sister or a mother. 

“Very little to no knowledge from Indigenous perspectives is embedded in fire management or water management strategies, and yet our culture is deeply rooted in how to work with the elements and respect the elements. All my community can really do is continue to show that fire management practices are the way to go, to continue to share our understanding of how the ecology has changed since colonisation. Just listen to us, that’s all we ask.”

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Dr Phoebe Meagher
Dr Phoebe Meagher
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Dr Phoebe Meagher

Wildlife Conservation Officer at Taronga Conservation Society

“I have felt deeply connected to Australia’s wildlife since my childhood. When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to spend holidays in a little shack on beautiful Kangaroo Island, which has an amazing array of native animals, although we have lost so many of them during this summer’s terrible bushfires. Seeing the news reports about the fires tearing through the island’s habitats was so worrying because these island populations of native species are unique. The biggest issue now is how we help the recovery of these isolated populations, because when the numbers bottle-neck down to maybe just a few breeding pairs, as we think may be the case on Kangaroo Island, it severely affects their future viability.

“It’s so hard to know at this point how much damage has been done. One statistic that has appeared a lot in the media is that a billion animals may have died, but even though that is a huge number, that doesn’t include invertebrate populations, for example, so the death toll could be even greater. There is a very real possibility that certain species have been totally wiped out, but at this point, we just don’t know. 

“That’s why conservation work is so important because rehabilitation goes hand in hand with long-term monitoring and conservation planning over several years. We can only help struggling animals when we have the best information to draw on and that comes from studying healthy populations so that we have a baseline to refer to when these disasters occur. 

“This fire season has been beyond belief, I've never seen anything like it. They talk about it being unprecedented and I really think that is the case. But I hope that it's also been a real wakeup call for people that aren't aware of the issues around climate change and I hope it inspires them to start looking into those issues more carefully. It's only going to get more important to be aware of the changing climate if there is any hope of reducing the impact on our wildlife. Because it has been so in-your-face this summer, I think people that may not have thought about climate change before might now really be considering what changes they can make to be less harmful to the planet.”

Freda Wilson-Williams, Avalon Llewellyn, Animal Rescue Craft Guild
Freda Wilson-Williams, Avalon Llewellyn, Animal Rescue Craft Guild
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Freda Wilson Williams and Avalon Llewellyn

Volunteers for the Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild

“When the group started in about April of 2019, we had no idea what was waiting for us. The Craft Guild was originally eight ladies who came together to make beds and toys for abandoned cats. The idea took off a bit and our numbers grew from that original group to a few hundred and then by about September last year a couple of thousand members. 

“But then the fires started to spread, and we decided that we had to try and help the rescuers. Animals were dying, joeys needed pouches because their mummies were no longer alive. So we just started making things: joey bags, koala mittens, bat wraps, even jackets for lizards. The scale of the task was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. But then word got out, and I can’t quote exact numbers because it all happened so fast, but we went from a few thousand to more than 50,000 members in the space of week, from all over the world. In fact, we had to ask the people sewing overseas to stop making things at one point, we just had so many donations.

“From a bad situation, sometimes comes good. This is such a fantastic international community of people who feel that they should be doing something to help. The donations we receive, they’re made with love and compassion. It’s absolutely beautiful to see. And it’s had a positive effect on people in a way none of us anticipated. We’ve heard from volunteers about how making donations for our injured animals is helping them through depression. We’ve had several people who have advanced cancer, telling us that being able to contribute to this cause is taking their minds off their treatment.

“All of us are feeling the grief of the awful loss that these fires have brought to Australia. All of us are feeling the hurt, but the inaction of the government has caused a huge, huge outrage especially amongst our members overseas. They feel desperate about what’s happening here. They’ve said to us, ‘Get your government to do something about this. We have to do something about it,’ because they really feel like a part of it too. Hopefully, something like this never happens again, but true grace comes from amazing connections, and that’s what we’ve found in the help we’ve received from all over the world.”

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Suzanne Finemore
Suzanne Finemore
Photograph: Daniel Boud

Suzie Finemore

First-time climate activist

“I’m not much of an activist, but I’m active in my own life and my children’s lives, and we’re doing the best we can. I go to marches, contact MPs. I talk to people. When the next election comes, I’ll go hand out pamphlets. I’m a big sharer on Facebook. I’ve got a few friends who are not on board with it, and we’ve had a couple of little arguments. They're my friends and I love them dearly, but it gets me revved up when people don’t believe science. We had a party at Christmas and someone said ‘oh, you’re not one of those, are you?’ and I thought ‘oh my god, how can you think believing in climate change makes you ‘one of those’?

“I’ve been to rallies all my life. My daughter and I went to the Marriage Equality march – and then Marriage Equality did happen, and that felt really good. But the Sack ScoMo protest [on January 10] was my first climate one. I wore all red, just like Jane Fonda does every Friday when she gets arrested with Ted Danson and Lily Tomlin. I’ve got lots of red clothes! It was great. There were people of all ages there. Some of the placards were just brilliant – there was one that was just a stick with a bit of burned cardboard at the top, nothing left. 

“You’ve got people saying ‘oh but we’ve always had bushfires’, but this is unprecedented. Do they not understand what that word means? Some people think, ‘what’s the point of us drastically changing until America and China do?’ and I understand where that’s coming from, but just because someone else is doing something bad doesn’t mean we have to go along with it. It’s amazing how much we’re doing wrong in Australia. Don’t we want a future? I want my girls to have a future. I want the planet to be here for my grandchildren.”

Comedian Steph Tisdell
Comedian Steph Tisdell
Photograph: Monica Pronk

Steph Tisdell

Comedian

“I was actually really glad when I was asked to perform in the Comedy Steps Up for Bushfire Relief fundraiser at the Sydney Opera House, not only because it’s a great cause, but also because it’s held me to account a bit. I’m the first to admit, I’ve not always been that climate-conscious. I very much recognise I have some terrible habits – I love drinking bottled water. I know I should buy a reusable one, but I dunno, I just love plastic bottles of anything (I know, I’m weird). But I think a lot of people have similar habits, and right now is the time to break them. 

“The only way to enact any sort of change, is to ask people to recognise knowledge and also take responsibility, but that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. It turns people off straight away, right? It’s human nature: we don’t like taking responsibility for things that require a lot of effort to change. But that’s the reason comedy is the perfect medium to talk about these issues, because stand-up allows a comedian to reveal things about themself. If I’m on stage acknowledging my own failures, if I’m taking responsibility and allowing myself to be vulnerable in that moment, the audience gets to decide if that’s something they want to do themselves.

“Like, I would never come out on stage and just say to everyone, ‘You’re all the worst.’ I just wouldn’t, because if you point your finger at someone and tell them they’re shit, they’re way less likely to do something than if you give them the option to embrace it on their own terms. And when that happens in the context of a live performance, it creates this sense of community and it breaks down barriers. It brings us all closer together.”

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