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‘Let’s just call what is it - a climate emergency’

By Holly Tregenza

Nobody expected the ScoMo years to be easy for the environmental movement.

With half the country on fire, a huge swathe of the population tackling drought and Australia recording its highest ever national average temperature the exasperation at a lack of action has never been more palpable.

But remarkably, there is also hope.

And there are people in Shepparton ready to hit some local goals in 2020 to protect our environment.

One is student activist Emily Minotti-Watson, who led the climate change school strike in September this year.

Next year she will be taking on her first VCE subjects as a year 11 student, but her eyes are still fixed on the future — and how she can make sure we all get there.

“I’m hoping the council will announce a climate emergency, that is definitely the first thing,” she said.

“That will trigger a ripple effect across the whole community and hopefully lead to action.

“The people in our council do acknowledge what we say but I don’t know that they will act on it — we need to keep going, we need to keep talking about it.”

Protesters shouted their messages to passing traffic along High St during the rally.

Miss Minotti-Watson said changing the public mindset toward environmental action was the single most important thing activists could achieve in 2020.

“A lot of people in our community don’t believe in climate change,” she said.

“Whether you believe that climate change is real or not, most of us can agree that we need to look after our environment.

“I’m worried that small communities aren’t acknowledging this emergency we are facing.”

If there is another school strike, Miss Minotti-Watson said she was keen to once again be a part of it, and get as many other students involved as possible.

“It’s all about making small changes in our daily lives to get a really big result,” she said.

“I’m just really passionate about our future.”

Sally Mann from Violet Town, Val Bosher from Tocumwal and Lily Robinson from Violet Town supported the protest action.

Robert McLean from climate activist group Slap Tomorrow sings a similar tune.

He is keen to get council to take the plunge and declare a climate emergency, and educate locals about the impact climate change is having in real time on the Goulburn Valley.

“Mayor Seema Abdullah seems quite comfortable with the idea but is aware the whole council needs to be on board,” Mr McLean said.

“I know there are a lot of people in the community that think it is a pretty stupid idea. Will they change? I don’t know.

“I feel that a large portion of Victorians are worried about climate change, but when people have ideas to try and improve the situation, they won’t participate.”

Mr McLean said he hoped the fires blowing smoke into Shepparton would be a wake-up call for the region.

“The climate crisis is not in the future, it is right now,” he said.

“If you listen to the climate scientists you’ll see that the conditions that we’re facing and will face are almost incompatible with the human condition.

“I don’t want to be depressing, but people just aren’t getting it — this has the potential to dismantle decades of life in the Goulburn Valley.

“Let’s just call it what it is: an emergency.”

It appears Greater Shepparton City Council is keen to keep talking with activists about climate; councillors have committed to further work on the Shepparton Statement, which seeks to address local environmental concerns.

In particular, work on the statement has sought to provide a platform for young people to influence decisions and policy related to climate.

In November, Cr Abdullah described the statement as essential.

“It is extremely important we consider the impact that a changing climate is having on these systems and that we engage with our community on exploring how we best prepare for and adapt to it,” she said.

As temperatures continue to rocket and the Goulburn Valley remains dry and struggling, Mr McLean thinks there is no greater time to act.

“We have to take action,” he said.