Were The #strike4climate Kids Right To Swear At The PM?
Climate change is the issue of our times. But should kids swear at politicians?
Today I tweeted that I was upset with the kids in school uniform who told Prime Minister Scott Morrison To "F*ck Off".
For this, I copped more hateful comments than I have ever received in the nine years I've ever been on Twitter. We'll get to that in a moment.
But first, let me give you some context.
I've been a sports journalist for the best part of 20 years. I am also a keen skier, hiker, weather-watcher and nature-lover. I have seen with my own eyes the early effects of climate change in landscapes I've traversed for years.
Three years ago at a different media organisation, I started doing some work on climate alongside my sports stuff.
As a sports journalist, I've always tried to make my stories about the way the game made you feel rather than the score. At first, I forgot that lesson. I made the mistake of being too earnest and serious in my climate coverage.
Then one day I woke up and went, "Stuff it!" I'm going full wrestling commentator here. And a beautiful thing happened. People started downloading my climate change podcast Breaking The Ice, which featured an array of climate scientists and others. Here was advocacy and information packaged up as entertainment.
Let's go back to today's rally.
I'm not suggesting the kids should have sung or danced or made a podcast. But neither do I feel they should have sworn at the PM.
Some people pointed out that there are times when swearing is more excusable than others.
These people made a great point. The kids have every right to be angry at their leaders, most of whom are neither as mature nor intelligent as your average 15-year-old.
My point was that some people will read about the swearing and see it and go "nope, that's wrong. This is not an issue for me".
The thing about climate change is we have to engage the mainstream. If we don't, the fight is lost. Bye-bye coastlines, forests, farms, food supply. Hello chaos. This can only be avoided with people from all sides of politics on board.
Ask yourself this: when's the last time you changed your stance on an issue after being sworn at?
A lot of people made the really good point today that revolutions aren't won with politeness. I get that too.
But while climate change often feels like a battleground, I've never felt it'll take a revolution to "win". I've always believed the will of the sensible, concerned majority will eventually prevail. And when I saw the kids swearing, it didn't seem like the sort of moment to galvanise the disinterested, the apathetic or the outwardly hostile.
Instead, it seemed like something that would alienate them.
That's all I was saying. I didn't expect agreement, and I admit I may have gone too far calling the kids "naughty and stupid" in my tweet. I'd take that back if I could. But neither did I expect the bile, which was tough to cop for two reasons.
One, because it was mean as hell. And two, because I am on the same side as those dishing it out. As the old saying goes, with "friends" like these...
Let me close with a story with fuses my two worlds of sports journalism and climate change, and which explains a little further my thinking here.
Four years ago, I went to cover the funeral of the cricketer Phil Hughes, a wonderful young man I'd done several stories with. Most journalists covering the funeral flew to Coffs Harbour, then rented a car to drive to Phil's home town of Macksville.
I took a six-hour train from Sydney, and in true tortoise-and-hare style, beat them all because of flight delays and rental car shortages at the airport. It was pretty funny and provided a few light moments of conversation at an otherwise grim event.
For many years now, I have taken trains and buses instead of flying when travelling in Australia. It's one of several small things I've started to do in the name of changing my behaviour around fossil fuels. When people ask me about these small acts, it starts a conversation.
I think of these conversations as part of a gentle, non-violent revolution.
We rely on fossil fuels in so many ways. I believe we must confront and change our own behaviour with the same energy we confront and try to change the ways of recalcitrant politicians.
I also believe that the kids should have risen above the level of political bile in the way they conducted themselves today while agitating for climate action.
Was it really such a crime to express that view?