How to talk to kids of different ages to engage them on climate change and environmental issues – Short Version

As a climate concerned parent I often wondered how to talk about climate change with my kids.

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has produced some useful leaflets about talking to kids about the environment (and climate) Self-regulation, adaptability and civic engagement are three aspects among many that we can help them develop to deal better in a climate-changing world. The APS suggest that for pre-school aged children focusing on caring for nature is a great way to fuel their sense of motivation for protecting their world in positive ways as they get older, that will help them engage on climate later, when they are ready.

The APS offer further suggestions for engaging primary and secondary students, being led by their questions and interest, making acting to protect the climate an everyday activity that we might share with our primary school aged children e.g. suggesting that we walk to school rather than take the car, so we can use less fossil fuel to help reduce pollution and its impact on the climate.

As we have seen in the recent growing #schoolstrike4climate movement led by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg which really took off with massive strikes by Australian school students in November 2018 many secondary students know more about climate than their parents. Asking our secondary school students what they already know, and even researching climate change together is a good approach for this age group.

For all age groups, a solutions focus, and talking about the many people working hard to protect the climate is an approach that is likely to engage kids and empower them to feel like they can make a difference.

The work of David Sobel offers what could be a good framework for considering when and how to present climate science (and climate advocacy), and generally supports the recommendations of the APS. Neighbourhood maps drawn by children aged 4-15 were used to draw out ways in which they engaged with their environment. The children, from diverse countries including USA, UK and the Caribbean, all imagined themselves in ”close, knowable worlds.”

The presentation of potentially scary information on climate change and its likely impacts may not be appropriate for children 11 and under. However parents and teachers can use their own judgement and the lead of the children’s curiosity to guide what they present.

Summary of child development stages and suggested topics to foster a sense of connection with and care of the environment and nature, and, when appropriate, climate change:

Kids aged 1 to 3:

Kids under 4 weren’t studied by David Sobel for the neighbourhood drawing study but I the Australian Psychological Society recommends engaging them on nature and caring for nature at this age. I know from my own experience observing my 4-year-old daughter’s kindy class that she can accept that we need to protect fish from plastic pollution (they made paper plate glitter fish and dangled plastic bags off them after a sea life touch and feel class with live sea stars, sea cucumbers and a baby shark). On ABC kids television, Australian content for pre-kindy kids shown here in Queensland include Peppa Pig presenting recycling as a matter of fact way to sort our garbage. The Octonauts rescue sea creatures from various dangers in the sea. In Charlie and Lola, Lola becomes passionate about helping to protect endangered pandas. Solutions focused, action oriented engagement is presented. Kids can be heroes. I also love this cute song about sharks that lets kids connect with their inner shark, instilling a love of sharks!

The Australian Psychological Society recommends books about caring for nature like the Lorax by Dr Seuss for this age group.

Kids aged 4 to 7:

Children aged 4 to 7 drew their maps with their homes filling up the centre. Children also often describe, and feel protective of, the creatures that live in their gardens or their blocks.

A useful book for this age is “The Tantrum that Saved the World

Also, a great free online resource for kids 5 and over is this reading of a book for kids on climate change read by Lily Cole. It helps kids see that the world is their home and we have to look after it for everyone.

Kids aged 8 to 11:

Kids ages 8 to 11 drew their homes as smaller elements, often on the margins of their maps. Maps included elements of the children’s “explorable landscape”of forests and neighbourhoods.

Kids aged 12 to 15:

Kids aged 12 to 15 drew maps of greater scope that were more abstract, but still anchored in familiar, often social places. Less focus was on forests and more on social places like malls, town parks, and places downtown to eat lunch.

A good resource for this ages group and over that presents climate change as simple, serious and solvable is the Alliance for Climate Education.

Journalist Michelle Nijhaus suggests that for kids in the 12 to 15 years age group “climate change had become part of their explorable landscape—and they were ready to face it.” She makes this claim based on her experience talking to them and their excited questioning while they were working on a student film about recent climate exacerbated wildfires.

Kids aged 16+:

Kids aged 16+ were not studied by David Sobel that I know of, however I am well aware of young teenage activists such as those involved with Zero Hour who are assuming climate leadership rolls for their peers.


Table of suggested topics by age:

I have summarised suggested topics into a table of age appropriate environmental and climate topics for kids, so you can see my suggestions at a glance. The ideas suggested in the table are based on the Michelle Nijhaus article, David Sobel’s Neighbourhood maps, kids TV that my kids like, observation of my children’s kindy programs, interviews with ACE educators and the Zero Hour activist kids.


Another approach: ask the kids what they know:

Sunni Tang from the Alliance for Climate Education tells me “It’s never too early to have the talk about climate change. Climate change isn’t just a science issue, it’s a human justice issue and the fight for climate justice is a fight for values such as equity, justice, and sustainable living.”

Children’s author Megan Herbert offers some excellent suggestions about talking to kids about climate in this article. Her suggestion to take the time to find out from the children what they already know makes a lot of sense. She suggests you can talk about climate with even very young children but you need to keep the conversation solutions focused and perhaps focused on protecting aspects of nature they care about from climate impacts.

Stories from Parents and Carers

Australian Parents for Climate Action shared with me how they raise the topic with their kids. The differences in responses highlights that you do need to trust your own instincts and consider the child’s readiness:


My son has just turned 5, and I’ve talked to him about climate change all his life. He doesn’t seem scared at all (I haven’t told him that he needs to be – that won’t help!). As far as I can tell he just understands that it’s a problem and he expects everyone to deal with that problem, just like people deal with other problems when they arise. He came to the last school strike with me, and there were several toddlers and babies there. I just see this as another part of life and think that while we have to protect our children from the impacts of climate change, we don’t have to protect them from the concept. My son asks to come to the rallies and meetings. His Mum is doing it, so he thinks it’s something cool and exciting that he wants to be part of! I think that’s good role modelling. I totally recognise everyone’s individual choices though, and just like with every other aspect of parenting, you have to do what you feel is right.

Also Marie:

I think just explain the facts. Tell them the world is getting hotter because we are burning too many fossil fuels – explain that they are coal, oil and gas, they are found underground and we burn them to make energy for our lights, electricity and cars. Tell them we’ve got to stop burning those fossil fuels because we don’t want our world getting even hotter – it’s hot enough! Then explain that there are new ways of making electricity that don’t make our world hot – solar, wind, etc. My son is now 5 and I’ve been explaining that to him since he was about 2. I haven’t told him how serious the emergency is, but he sure understands that it matters and that there are solutions.

I’m sure it will be harder when they ask us about impacts on their own lives, but again I think I’ll stick to facts and drip feed it, certainly not present all the concerns in one go! And i always try to remind him (and everyone) that we have a choice and there are great solutions.


One thing I’d like to share was something my 11 year old told me when we were on a bushwalk. How one part of her was very happy. She loves her school, has good friends, loves her family etc. And then the other part was just very worried about climate change. We talk about climate and the environment a lot but I try and shield her from the worst expected consequences. My eight year old doesn’t want to talk about it or the future. He tends to walk away when we do.


I have explained the concept to mine (7 and 4) because it’s been unavoidable because they are with me so much of the time. I just explained that burning coal causes air pollution and perhaps I also said that the world is getting warmer, which can make it complicated to grow crops and things. I have explained that there are alternatives to coal and that lots of people are trying to make the world a better place. They don’t find it terrifying because I haven’t expressed my fear to them. I hope they aren’t scarred by being exposed to this concept so young!!! I really had no alternative because I am basically with at least one of them 100% of the time, so they have heard me talk about it (but always in an age appropriate ways when they are in ear shot).


Parents and grandparents are the ones who do it, then the kids are around listening to us talking, singing and chanting so it’s part of their world. They come in and out of interest as they want. Some have no interest at all and others are quite attentive.


I just spoke to a very close friend. Her son is 10 years old. He is learning about climate change at school at the moment. My friend is now dealing with her son crying himself to sleep most nights! I love her son! I feel absolute dread that he is now suffering.


My kids are 3 and 4. Until kids are around 8 (probably even age 11) it’s best to keep the focus of climate change on the impacts on nature like fish and frogs… we don’t need to draw the dots that their future is on the line. I think it’s very personal whether the child is ready to hear about climate or just to be engaged on the concept of caring for nature. But i talk about climate all the time at home. I try to keep it age appropriate in front of the kids, but it’s hard to know just how to approach it. I think I am returning to the idea of not talking about it too much but keeping the focus on nature and protecting what we love. Instilling caring for nature seems the best way to help kids then also engage on climate when they are ready. it’s also important to point out that lots of people are working to protect the future. talk about it in a way that shows you can see how it can be solved. One time, after the IPCC report came out and Scott Morrison ignored it, I got really upset. I had to tell the girls something. Why was I crying? I told them I work on protecting frogs and fish and sometimes it’s hard (even though by that I mean climate action). They seemed to get it and have started to take protecting frogs and fish from plastic etc. very seriously.


I’m taking our 3 year old [to a school strike 4 climate event], who has come to other rallies before (on coal and climate). We go with friends or stay near other families, and it has been a positive experience so far. I tell her that we all care about nature and children, and that by acting together we can pollute less, and protect the things we love.

She understands that pollution can harm things, and what’s currently happening is not good. I tell her that things like burning coal need to change, and these changes will make the world better in many ways. She understands ‘climate’ as being part of the world around us that affects weather, rain and all kinds of water, and knows that it can be affected by pollution. (I wouldn’t choose to emphasise climate, but she encounters the word often, especially at rallies, so I try to help her have some idea of what it means.) She does not know all the scary impacts, and I think it’s important to protect her from feeling hopeless or that her future is threatened.

Authors note:

The above age appropriate content suggestions are part of my own interpretation of the information on climate change and child development. I am not a child development expert, I am a science communicator and a mother passionate about protecting our climate and our kids. So I hope you find this information useful, but you may wish to speak with your child’s teachers to get more insights into how to positively engage them in caring for their habitat, planet Earth. Thank you to everyone who has offered me feedback on this article so far.


David Sobel Neighbourhood map making with children:

How I Talk to My Daughter About Climate Change

Michelle Nijhuis
Alliance for Climate Education:

Zero Hour:
Youth Climate March Washington DC July 21 2018

Megan Herbert, author and illustrator of “The Tantrum that Saved the World”:

Yale Climate Communications:

A great free online resource for kids 5 and over is this reading of a book for kids on climate change read by Lily Cole. It helps kids see that the world is their home and we have to look after it for everyone.

Australian Psychological Society:



I originally wrote this version of this article for Australian Parents for Climate Action

Talking with Kids about Climate Change


It is based on a longer version that I published on my website previously:

Engaging on the climate emergency through the IPCC science

I wrote a version of this article for but I wanted to share it here so I can expand on it when I get time. The original version makes up the last section of this article:

Are we doomed? Can humankind really solve this and avoid extinction?

There are many writers and researchers who have written articles and reports asserting that it is too late to save ourselves from climate catastrophe and probable extinction.

This is not the view of most climate scientists, who state that we still have a narrow window of time to save ourselves and the planet.

Action to avert climate damage needs to be taken swiftly and boldly, mobilising all sectors of society as has been done in world war mobilisations, to protect our planet and our children’s futures.

It is true that predicted impacts of global warming vary between models, and we heed advice that many predictions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are on the conservative side. Thus, we treat the IPCC recommendations as the minimum required.

The recent report from the IPCC, “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC”, explains that collectively we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030 (on 2010 levels) and to net zero by 2050 to have a 50-66% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 ºC. These climate experts argue that 1.5ºC is a necessary goal to aim for to give the world the best chance to avoid the worst effects of catastrophic climate change, to give our children a liveable, healthy planet on which to grow up, grow old and live long, healthy happy lives.

The targets set by scientists and legislators depend on differing interpretations of mitigation and adaptation options, as shared by famous climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

We are already at risk of global food shortages, fires and coral die off as early as 2040 if we reach 1.5°C warming. While the impacts of these will be worse in developing countries they could still impact us here in Australia.

At a 2°C rise these problems would be even greater. But a bigger issue with 2°C is how we could then stop the world continuing to warm even more over coming centuries. Maintaining global heating to 1.5°C gives us a better chance to slow and eventually halt or reverse aspects such as ice melting, sea levels rising and less heat being reflected back out into space as ice melts (absorbing instead of reflecting this heat will warm the earth further).

But a 50% chance of staying under 1.5°C hardly seems good enough. You wouldn’t get on a plane with only 50% chance of landing safely, would you? So the climate emergency goals make sense. We must do all we can to reduce emissions ASAP.

In response to the predictions made by the IPCC and other climate scientists, climate activist groups have developed their own demands, such as transitioning to 100% renewables and zero emissions by 2025 (eg. Extinction Rebellion), or by 2030 (eg Australia’s School Strike For Climate, The Sunrise Movement and the Green New Deal in the USA).

We endorse these goals and highlight that this is still in the bounds of what the IPCC 1.5C special report is asking for. So we can go into emergency mode, and support the climate emergency mobilisation movement to protect our kids’ liveable world, but at the same time we can trust the scientists who wrote the IPCC 1.5C report.

It is easy to get terrified by some of the worst-case scenarios presented in the climate emergency movement. We can acknowledge these worst-case scenarios, and focus our energies on working to avoid them.

While recognising that the IPCC 1.5 C is scary enough and remains our guide for taking action, some scenarios are more likely than others. This resource here explains tipping points and future projections in a relatively easy to understand way.

Long term, carbon capture technology and geo-engineering like solar radiation management may be needed but the best actions we can call on government and industry to take now are to reduce emissions, invest in renewables, protect forests, and transition to a more sharing economy.

The IPCC puts it simply:

“Every action matters

Every bit of warming matters

Every year matters

Every choice matters”


Climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe, says “But the bottom line is this: it’s true some impacts are already here. Others are unavoidable. But my research, and that of hundreds of other scientists, clearly shows that our choices matter. It is not too late to avoid the worst impacts. And that’s why… the best thing you can do about climate change is talk about it.”


Hold your kids and your communities close in the tapestry of life….

A friend in the Australian Parents for Climate Action forum I moderate recently asked whether I regretted having kids knowing that their future is threatened by the climate crisis. I wrote a response and a few people found in helpful. So they have asked me to share it here. Here you go:

I feel so strongly that we will be the change and through our communities find ways to protect our precious planet for our kids. Imperfectly. I know many have already faced devastating climate damage. But I need to focus on the solutions to saving all I can. With my kids my primary focus. What will they need for health and for happiness? I also think about a philosopher I once read that spoke about history as a tapestry rather than a time line. So I try to make every day magic for my kids, and I try to bring moments of joy and happiness to all I do. Then no matter what happens their present now will have been magic. So I never regret having them. I think the decision to have them might have been more guilty if I had known more before I had them but I would probably have still had them. Sometimes I truly stress out about climate change BUT the worst thing is when it makes me frustrated and easier to explode about toys on the floor or kids not eating their dinner….i.e. it’s the personal that makes it painful or manageable. I try to think about what is climate anxiety, work anxiety, family anxiety, parenting anxiety. And address each of them so I can be the best parent I can in the moment. But ultimately all of these respond to self care and more sleep. I know I am doing all I can to protect my kids’ future and usually I just focus on the solutions. I feel fortunate that my environmental engineering and ecology background lets me engage deeply on what I see as the solutions and answers to the crisis.

I was once invited to a doomsday prepper group – i.e. a group focused on setting up a farm in a remote area to grow food and survive the apocalypse. But I had a great chat with my mum and I knew then that my solutions to climate are community solutions. So I think about community gardens, powered by solar and fed with desalinated water. I think about how this could make cities a haven for bees and pollinators.

I think about left field ideas like wind turbines to keep the arctic frozen as Tim Flannery speaks about.

I think about ways to talk about forests and wild places in powerful ways so we can protect them better.

I think about talking more and more simply about renewables, a just transition for fossil fuel workers, and the pleasures of a simpler life that uses less stuff.

Tapestries, boundaries, community, creativity, conversation, and love.

Every night, especially when i can’t sleep, inspired by an old housemate, I say thank you for five things. some recent ones include: thank you for my healthy children, thank you for the amazing food I ate today, thank you for now, thank you for the French president speaking out about the Amazon, thank you for the Pacific Islanders and their bravery.

The worlds’ best scientists who write the IPCC reports know we have a challenge ahead. But they also show us that we have most of the solutions at hand if we can just keep building the political will fast enough

But i see the population rising. I see us all coming together, through love, and in the nick of time saving all that we can.
Footnote 1: I am pleased that this article led to an interview with ABC Ethics and Religion about viewing life like a tapestry:


Footnote 2: An extended article based on this short piece will appear in Radiate Publishing’s “Future Kind” later this year

Picture: by Lucinda, 5 yrs old. “The fish are in nature which is keeping them safe”



Adults are asked to strike on global strikes too. They should acknowledge the youth leadership of Fridays for Future to show their solidarity

I originally posted this to my fb blog on May 23. The day before the last global strike on #fridaysforfuture. But with growing interest from adults and school students and other youth from various organisations wanting to support the global strikes and other events on #fridaysforfuture I wanted to make a more sharable version. Some of the ideas here might help school strikers clarify frameworks for how adults and those new to the movement can support, and may also help larger organisations respectfully acknowledge the efforts of school strikers and the many #forfuture groups and individuals who are helping the grassroots #fridaysforfuture movement thrive. So here you go:

Dear amazing Australian school strike students, I will be striking for climate on May 24. Even though you are not. Here is why, as best as I can explain.

I RSVP’d to the local Brisbane “global strike 4 climate” not thinking that it could be construed as a negative thing. It’s since been renamed as a rally and I feel a bit sad.

Fridays for Future, which Greta Thunberg inspired, is, internationally, a people’s movement. It’s youth-led but adults can help in many ways and are invited to and welcome to strike as well. Not from school unless they are students. But from work, and just from life. And adults across the world are invited to organise their own strikes in support of and solidarity with the students.

Personally, I’ve been doing some form of #climatestrike support since September 2018, well before the school strikes in Australia exploded and changed the world. And in many places, adults start #fridaysforfuture strikes which then take off once students join. That didn’t happen here, the student strikes went massive all on their own, but that’s what has happened overseas.

Internationally, #fridaysforfuture and #climatestrike can be done by anyone but only students can do #schoolstrike4climate/#schoolstrike and anyone doing #FridaysForFuture implicitly supports students’ right to strike for their liveable world.

But I would also argue that there may be students who are not involved directly with the official Australian #ss4c group and perhaps they are happily entitled to used #schoolstrike and #schoolstrike4climate because Greta does call on everyone to rise us, and while you all led this movement in Australia, there may be students who strike without being part of an organised group who can still take their own initiative as this global movement/idea continues to build momentum. We need everyone, so it’s worth contemplating how this can work.

I’ve been here and helping in my small way for a while. Here I am with my kids on September 8, the day after Greta let the world know she would continue her strike, but only on Fridays:

Heidi and girls pacific pawa 2018…/a.620211784994…/728526270829464/…

One of the first families in the world to support Greta’s school strike was here in Brisbane on September 21:

And here’s the #fridaysforfuture superhero cape I made to wear to daycare pickup and drop off to support Greta’s strike and try to wake up my friends to the climate emergency.…/a.620211784994…/740467352968689/…

I truly think the Australian school strikes did change the world, because before the Australian school strike on November 30th 2018, all the #fridaysforfuture strikes like my adult-led one in Brisbane, Australia were small. And before that first big Australian school strike I tried to figure out how to talk to kids about climate, only to realise that a lot of them already knew all about it when you first all stood on the streets with your amazing signs!…/how-to-talk-to-kids-of-different…/

But this movement, this chance to witness the growth of students as leaders, the connection and love from the community coming towards people young and old across the world, has inspired me. And I have helped where I can, amplifying youth voices on twitter, sharing a few contacts I have overseas to help school strikers across the waves connect.

My own group Australian Parents for Climate Action came together with other parents groups across the world and formed a collective of #parentsforfuture groups – who see that one of our activities is to stand in solidarity with, to support school strikes, and attend #schoolstrike4climate events with our kids.…/parents-around-the-world-mobi…

Did you know there are #scientistsforfuture, #doctorsforfuture, #workersforfuture groups and other similar groups trying to connect and support greater climate action, and support school strikers across the world?

We make sure that when we engage in SS4C and FridaysForFuture events that we let the students speak for themselves, we amplify the voices of students, and don’t seek the limelight. The students are the face of the movement and the ones invited to speak at the UN, while adults supporters help where we can.

Here in Australia, supporting the youth means keeping out of their way. I stay out of your organising space to make sure I don’t interfere with the decisions young people make. But when I do have questions, to check I am not overstepping, its hard to reach you. You are volunteer run so I try your email and your fb group and try to I reach the right people. I try to follow the guidelines you have listed on your website.…/how-can-you-help-us

I could understand there being an issue if the SS4C logo or branding was used. But to me the global strike 4 climate imagery and idea looked like it was for everyone. Another initiative that was connected to Greta but that anyone could be part of. Just like the group @Persistent Presence ( does small adult-led #fridaysforfuture climate strikes.

I am not organising the local global strike 4 climate event tomorrow (which has now been renamed as a rally out of respect for your requests, clearly) but I did offer to speak at it. Because to me it seems like high time for the adults to rise up too.

I can’t imagine the organisers of this/these adults-led events are going to detract from the voice of youth. How could anyone? We don’t have your moral authority. We haven’t brought 15,000 amazing students to the streets in November 2018 and 150,000 students and supporters in March 2019. But we do want to come together to make change.

I agree, because for some reason these events are bigger than any I have organised, perhaps the organisers could have checked in with you better, to make sure they weren’t overstepping. But I think the adults, like me, are just so keen to step up now. To cope with our own hopes to protect the world, to connect with the other people that SS4C and now XR are waking up to the climate crisis.

But I have been having these conversations over and over again in little on line forums internationally, and with local SS4C organisers over recent months, about how adults can continue to be part of the powerful FFF movement, while respecting the voices of students as leaders. So I just thought I would post my thoughts here. And yes, please do feel free to disagree with me. You are a force to be reckoned with and I am doing my best. Thank you to the local school strikers for inviting me to launch our Australian Parents for Climate Action Group#givethekidsyourvote campaign at your last big event on May 3.

Anyway, the event I am attending tomorrow, has respectfully changed their name in deference to your wishes. But I hope you know that people are not trying to ride on the coat tails of your movement. We are trying to find the others to help us rise up to make change, to help protect the future for you, and for us. And we have been here. helping in our small ways.

We don’t want students to have to strike from school. We want them to to class. And learn what they need for their future. But until we see the world on a safe pathway in line with their demands (In Australia this means #stopadani, 100% renewables by 2030 and no new fossil fuel projects) we support their right to strike and stand in solidarity with them. I do believe its time for more adults to step out of their comfort zone and strike, speak, act, make, live for climate action too.

With love and respect.

Why climate justice must be at the heart of the climate emergency declarations, not in opposition to them

Kelly Albion from AYCC recently shared a blog post arguing why declaring a climate emergency is not  climate justice:
There are several reasons why I think this stance needs broader reflection and why I think that climate justice can and must be a part of climate emergency declarations and plans.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My key points are:

  • I disagree with the argument that climate emergency declarations are not able to recognise climate justice. Action and conversation to address climate justice can and must run along side/be part of action to address the climate emergency (and the nature/biodiversity emergency).
  • The climate emergency messaging is waking people up to the urgency but also, more importantly, to the availability of many of the solutions, like cheap, clean, green renewable energy. It gives people hope.
  • The climate emergency messaging woke me up to the climate crisis and my own agency to act on it.
  • Climate emergency plans are required to address the rapid response needed to address the climate crisis. They could be called other names, for example ”Green New Deals” but I think that climate activists in general would agree that bold and effective action is needed.
  • Climate justice does deserve greater focus. This is an excellent point that the article makes. I note that it is a big focus of work by the USA’s Climate Mobilization group. (
  • However, I think it is important to acknowledge the world-leading work of grass roots Australian groups and thought leaders on the climate emergency such as CEDAMIA ( and Climate Emergency Mobilisation (, which this article omits to do. This idea originated as an Australian-led inititive, with input from the USA Climate Mobilization (, despite it being picked up and amplified by the UK-originated Extinction Rebellion movement.

Ok here I go. This is my best attempt to address this issue and I hope the original ariticle and responses to it will  lead to broader conversations about how we can keep moving on the climate emergency while also bringing climate justice into the heart of the conversation more visibly and effectively.

In her article, Kelly Albion says that she doesn’t like the climate emergency messaging associated with recent declarations overseas, but she seems to have missed completely that the concept originated in Australia. I first signed a climate emergency declaration here in Australia in 2016, and it was the turning point for my own journey to become a climate activist. Steve Posselt took his kayak along thousands of km and Adam Bandt delivered the petition. thinking for this original idea of climate emergency declarations – that is waking up the world and penetrating despite the efforts of climate denying media corporations – originated in Australia through people like Philip Sutton and David Spratt – in groups such as and These guys rarely blow their own trumpets but I deeply admire what they are doing and have been doing. They have been campaigning on this for years, Climate Code Red came out in 2008. It is only now that we are seeing the movement growing with enough support from XR, Greenpeace, overseas school strikes and others to reach the masses, but it’s been a long time coming.

Climate justice and indigenous justice are critical issues. But they can be considered as part of a climate emergency declaration and plan. Based on the work done by and especially The Climate Mobilization in the USA (, climate justice needs to be a central component of a climate emergency plan, which is expected of countries (and states and cities) declaring climate emergency.

As we saw in a recent report from the UN, in addition to facing a climate emergency, we have an ecological emergency on our hands. As climate scientist Michael Mann and Greta Thunberg and others pointed out recently on twitter, a #natureemergency and a  #climateemergency (and I would argue a #climatejusticeemergency and a #povertyemergency) can and must be compatible. We have wiped out over 50% of wild animal populations in the world in recent decades. Just as we can address the ecological emergency and the climate emergency together in many ways we also need to consider how we are addressing the climate emergency and climate justice and focus on approaches to meet both needs.

Kelly argues that the word “emergency” instils fear when we need anger, solidarity and hope. But to me, the words “climate emergency” imply an urgency to act, an immediacy of threats, as well as that there are solutions in this crisis. So the words are not simply terrifying, they are also empowering. My children are only 3 and 5. So their future is in my mind constantly, and the situation certainly feels like an emergency to me. But ever since my dad told me to “focus on the solutions” I have found the main feeling I carry is a fierce determination to do all that I can to protect the world for my own kids, for other kids and for the critters. I am going to side with Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg – we need people to panic. And then we need people to act.

The climate emergency messaging woke me up to the climate emergency, to the climate crisis, whereas climate justice messaging does not cut through in the same way. It suggests no urgent time frame. I believe that you need to message on both climate emergency and climate justice. They are both important, but climate justice messaging has not woken the world up on its own the way that climate emergency messaging is now doing. As scientist Katharine Hayhoe points out – different messaging can work best in different situations. But as we are starting to see a rise in climate emergency recognition it’s important that both messaging and action in this space do take on board principals of climate justice more broadly. Thank you Kelly for highlighting this.

I am someone who thinks of herself as addressing climate justice as best I can through amplifying indigenous and other diverse voices on social media, and respectfully listening when I have the chance to hear indigenous leaders speak. But of course I could and would love to do more. We all need to learn more about how to address climate justice, to ensure climate justice is addressed as part of the urgent ways we now must mitigate and adapt to climate damage around the world.

So I ask, How do we bring climate justice to the front and the heart of the conversation? We are seeing broad acknowledgement of intergenerational justice through the excellent worldwide coverage of the school strikes for climate. I acknowledge the work of indigenous Australians and other First Nations people, Pacific Islanders and others on the front lines of the climate crisis at climate action events I attend and on social media. We all need to be part of visioning and acting on real implementation of ways to rapidly address the climate emergency in the most bold, effective and just way possible.

I am encouraged by conversations I have had over the last couple of days with AYCC and others in regards to the elevation of climate justice in the ongoing climate advocacy work across Australia, and I also appreciated some guidelines which were sent to me by Kelly on how to reflect better on climate justice in how we talk about and address climate. I have shared these at the end of this post, with her permission, for people to reflect on. She also suggests reading the following: Leap Manifesto, Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion, Global Green New Deal. One thing I will argue is that I see a climate emergency plan as a green new deal. For me, a climate emergency declaration is a stipulation that something on par with a Green New Deal will be rapidly developed. We do need to give thought to what the ingredients for these are so we are, as people, ready to hit the ground running with the best ideas for bold climate action and climate justice. I’ve collated a few and I would love to add more that better reflect climate justice ideas. A global green new deal that provides for funding for less developed countries for adaptation and mitigation sounds like a key aspect for a climate emergency plan/green new deal.

The climate emergency declaration movement is continually gaining ground. With a declaration overnight by the ACT, the first Australian state or territory to do so. So let’s all keep talking about and acting to make sure we hold our government accountable to address the climate emergency and the ecological emergency and to do this in accordance with climate justice. Thank you for your provocation AYCC. Let’s keep going together.

Out of interest:

The first mention of climate emergency messaging in regards to the global school strikes was in Australia by one of the original strikers (Harriet) and I dare say the school strike asks (stop adani, no new fossil fuels, 100% renewables by 2030) look like they came out of the climate emergency declaration work by people like Jane Morton. Given this early mention, I can’t help but wonder whether the climate emergency work helped the school strikers in Australia find their own words that were able to convey how they felt about climate.

The work of Beyond Zero Emissions to develop plans to transition Australian to renewables rapidly can also be considered Climate Emergency scale work. But this excellent work didn’t get the media cut through when it was released in 2010 that we are now seeing with climate emergency messaging and declarations (and anticipated action).

One can argue that acknowledging the climate emergency preceded the Green New Deal in USA because Bernie Sander’s is counted as a mentor for AOC and as per this article  Bernie Sanders “succeeded in getting a Climate Emergency/mobilisation clause into the Democratic National Platform” in 2016.

So my recommendation is: a “yes and” approach: Absolutely, climate justice is critical. But it need not be presented at the expense of this powerful Australian-led climate emergency declaration movement. The movement which gives me such hope.

Additional notes on including climate justice in your climate advocacy from AYCC’s Kelly Albion (used with permission): 

We believe climate justice is the only way to quickly transition. What is climate justice, it’s not well-defined in our movements, but we think of it as:
  • Not just undoing a bad (the climate crisis by reducing pollution) but creating a good – a better, fairer, more sustainable world, where people are more connected to each other and nature, where communities thrive, with greater equality
  • Climate justice is not just where we’re going, but how we get there– led by those on the frontline, centring marginalised voices, working at the intersections of the crises and power structures, in solidarity with communities most affected, and is genuinely inclusive.
  • It is grounded on the principle of self-determination and justice of First Nations people
  • It is a massive transfer of wealth and decision-making power to people, in the world, in our country, in our movements, from those who benefit from systems of privilege and power to those who don’t.
  • It is putting power in the hands of people, and taking it out of corporations, and in doing so revitalising both our communities and democracy.
  • Here’s some links to ideas – Leap Manifesto, Open Letter to Extinction Rebellion,Global Green New Deal.


About the author: Heidi Edmonds is a co-founder of Australian Parents for Climate Action, a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby and is guided by the ideas and principles of CEDAMIA in her own climate emergency advocacy. This article, published on her own blog, solely represents her own opinion, not that of the groups she represents