Students speak out for planet earth

20 Meeting of St Mary's students with Cardinal John

Catholic school students joined thousands of their peers at the Student Strike for Climate Action held in key cities throughout the country on March 15, demanding from Government immediate action to reverse the harmful effects of climate change.

Plaques that students carried noted there is no “planet B” and that it was useless for them to go to school if the planet isn’t going to be around by the time they graduate anyway.

Wellington Cardinal John Dew met with five student strikers who took part in the Wellington strike in front of the Parliament.

A few days before the strike, Cardinal Dew expressed support for the young people who he said, “don’t feel that they have a voice in the conversation”.

The cardinal said it was wrong for the youth to be ignored on this issue as “they [students] will have to live with the consequences if we over-consume the world’s resources now, and if we do not find ways to keep temperature increases in check”.

“Undoubtedly, we should have opened up opportunities to listen to young people without forcing them to take this action, which may have consequences for their studies,” Cardinal Dew said in an opinion published in secular media.

“However, in my opinion, engaging with one of the most pressing and urgent moral issues of our time is far more important than leaving school to cheer for a sports team or visiting celebrity.”

Wellington ecology, justice and peace advisor Lisa Beech arranged a meeting between the strikers and the cardinal.

“Cardinal John said he was impressed with their commitment, and their passion for doing something immediately,” Ms Beech said.

“The students talked to him about their commitment to the environment, which has included setting up an environmental group at St Mary’s College.

They are working towards taking part in projects like cleanups and tree-planting, as well as advocating for change.

They are deeply concerned about the future of the earth, especially for people in the Pacific who already have rising seas. They are inspired by Mercy values and also what they have learned in Religious Education
about being stewards of the earth,” she added.

Catholic schools generally supported the sentiment behind the strike. However, most were duty-bound to mark their students absent if they participated in the strike.

St Catherine’s College, Kilbirnie, principal Steve Bryan told NZ Catholic he met with the student environmental committee before the protest to explain the school administration’s position.

“There are two sides to it: one is, we understand and appreciate and recognise the call to action that this march makes to young people. It’s the sort of thing that is embedded in the New Zealand curriculum: to think critically and to respond appropriately,” Mr Bryan said.

“On the other side of it, we have an Education Act which says that schools must be open every day and students must be in attendance. I cannot condone an absence apart from obviously illness and bereavement,” he added.

Students were marked “explained absence but unjustified”.

Catholic Cathedral College (Christchurch) principal Tony Shaw had a similar stance. In a letter to parents, he said the school was not supporting the event.

“While the school feels the impact of climate change is a significant global issue, we believe there are other ways for students to express their support
for the cause that do not disrupt learning at school. For instance, a weekend rally could have been held, letters could be written to those with influence in this cause, social media could be used to gather support,” Mr Shaw said.

In Auckland, St Mary’s College principal Bernadette Stockman told students
the school did not support the strike and, instead, was looking at alternative actions to striking.

She noted that a Year 13 retreat was happening on that day and students and teachers have put “an incredible amount of work” into the retreat.

However, a student from the school, who asked not to be identified, said she
still went on the strike “personally because it’s my future and the future of my fellow students and peers around me . . . it’s important to stand up for my values even if my school may not completely support it”.

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Rowena Orejana

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