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Young people are at forefront of climate change but they don’t accept that it is inevitable.

Young people are at forefront of climate change but they don’t accept that it is inevitable.

Bellawongarah scenery

Bellawongarah is characterized by a brief moment of silence after sundown. The “symphony in the evening” then begins.

As nature awakens, the gentle rustling of the trees gives way to a cacophony croaks or hoots.

Nestled between Berry and the Kangaroo Valley in the NSW Shoalhaven region, about 130 people call the quaint mountain community home.

Surrounded by temperate rainforest and rolling valleys, it’s easy to understand Bellawongarah’s hold.

Bellawongarah scenery
Nestled between Berry and the Kangaroo Valley in the NSW Shoalhaven region, about 130 people call this quaint mountain community home.(Supplied)

In recent years, however, things have changed.

First, the frogs and snakes disappeared, and with it the amphibians’ nightly melody — the side-effect of a drought that relegated dams to a “murky puddle” and dried out the once-damp rainforest.

Then came the bushfires.

Eleanor’s parents property was not damaged, but Eleanor saw the enormity of the situation as she watched wildlife fleeing the inferno surrounding them.

“It was quite scary because, for months on end, we just could smell smoke in the air just travelling up the coast,” she says.

“But it also made my heart want to act after seeing the impacts of climate change on my own life and in my local community.”

It’s personal for young Aussies

Young Australians are front and centre of the climate crisis and, in the face of extreme weather events across the country, it’s a story shaped by personal experience.

Our World, Our Say — the nation’s largest consultation of children and young people on climate change and disaster risk, led by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience and World Vision — We surveyed 1,447 young Australians aged 10-24 years..

The 2020 report found that than 80 per cent of participants aged over 16 years were concerned or extremely concerned about climate change.

scorched earth where there once was a rainforest and a burnt wombat warning sign
Eleanor’s property was saved from the Black Summer bushfires but Kangaroo Valley was destroyed.(ABC Illawarra Kelly Fuller )

Over 90% of respondents said they had experienced at most one natural hazard in the last three years. Only 33% reported more frequent disasters.

“We had to evacuate with the bushfires, which obviously was a major experience that I’ll always remember,” Eleanor says.

“People just think it’s climate change, it is just the world heating.” But it has so many major consequences.

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As large swathes on Australia’s east coast deal with the effects of flash flooding and sustained rainfall, the conversation is now turning to the nation’s climate response.

But this time, it’s the young people who are making a difference.

Tens of thousands of students gathered at School Strike For Climate rallies across America last month to support those who were affected by the floods. They spoke of becoming “climate refugees”.

“Have you ever had to flee from your house, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, scared out of your mind because you don’t know what’s going to happen, or if you will survive, or if your house will still be OK, or if your friends are OK?” Ella O’Dwyer-Oshlack, 13 — who lost her house during Lismore’s flood catastrophe — told crowds outside Kirribilli House.

“It’s something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Exposure to extreme weather events directly can cause severe damage

Emerging evidence from Australia and internationally suggests that children and young people who are directly exposed to extreme weather events are at risk of a range of psychological effects.

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