An interview with one of the young leaders of the School Strike for Climate has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Here, Izzy Cook’s mother responds.
On Friday evening, I listened in horror as my 16 year old daughter had a phone conversation with someone who appeared to be bullying her, laughing at her, and talking over her. As soon as she got off the call I demanded to know who the hell was speaking to my child in this way.
My daughter is Izzy Cook. She’s one of the main leaders for School Strike for Climate in Wellington and is their media contact. She has had some experience with dealing with the media, but she wasn’t prepared for Heather du Plessis-Allan.
Commentators like du Plessis-Allan don’t give a shit about climate change. They don’t care that Arctic ice is melting at four times the expected rate, or that we are seeing more and more extreme weather events killing and displacing people across the globe. No, as du Plessis-Allan is fond of reminding us, it’s the economy that matters, not our planet. These sorts of commentators use ad hominem arguments and “gotcha” moments for point-scoring and discrediting their opponents. We saw it when Mike Hosking opined that Greta Thunberg is “the world’s most annoying kid” and when Duncan Garner said she was “too dramatic” to take seriously. It’s a common tactic used to deflect from the climate crisis, instead of focusing on the actions that we need to take in a rational, reflective manner. They seem particularly keen to go after our youth, whose future is most at stake.
Izzy works incredibly hard to mobilise a voice for youth on the climate crisis. TVNZ’s Breakfast and RNZ’s Checkpoint both interviewed her on the day of the strike. In the weeks prior, she’d published press releases and personally dealt with the council and Fulton Hogan, taking strategic and difficult decisions to make the strike happen. Izzy does all this on top of her school work and a part-time job, often working late into the night. Parents will understand that watching your teenage child drive themselves this hard is distressing, but there comes a time when they have to be allowed to make independent choices. Izzy does what she does because she cares deeply about the world she lives in, and frankly she is scared for her future. I try to help by proofreading and preparing her for media interviews where I can.
Here’s what du Plessis-Allan chose to focus on when she spoke to Izzy on Friday: that she had flown to Fiji with me in July. Du Plessis-Allan had done her “research” (aka checking out my daughter’s Instagram) to discredit her personally and derail the conversation about climate action.
The irony here is that Izzy didn’t even want to come. She wanted to stay home and study and hang out with her friends. She’s a teenager! But, selfishly, I insisted, because I wanted to spend this time with her.
Of course, none of this counts for anything. Yes, Izzy took two flights in three years. She also lives a low carbon lifestyle: she’s vegetarian, uses public transport, and buys second-hand. Why aren’t we talking about the fact that we ship most of our commodities around the country by truck, not rail? Or that the agricultural sector, our largest emitter, is still not paying for carbon emissions (and that when the ETS is finally enforced in 2025, we can expect that agriculture will be heavily subsidised)? The conversation needs to be about radically reimagining the way we live, building sustainable communities, and producing and consuming locally, not gotchas and petty point-scoring.
Our young people are genuinely terrified about the world they are inheriting. That is what matters.
Heather du Plessis-Allan became a mother this year. I hope that no-one ever speaks to her child the way she did to mine.