Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images; Design: Tina Tiller
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images; Design: Tina Tiller

SocietySeptember 22, 2022

Aotearoa kicks off a worldwide climate change strike

Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images; Design: Tina Tiller
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images; Design: Tina Tiller

Today in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and New Plymouth, people will ditch school and work and gather together to urge the government to take action on their declared climate change emergency. 

It’s been a year and a half since thousands of school kids, activists and other members of the public last filled the streets of our cities, holding painted signs, chanting, and marching towards parliament. Now climate strikes are back, in Aotearoa and around the world.

Pre-Covid the strikes were at their peak, with an estimated 170,000 people attended the September 2019 climate strikes nationwide, making history as one of the highest attended protests the country has ever seen. Since then, the Climate Change Commission (CCC) was established and the government declared a climate emergency. Electric vehicles are also discounted now. So, that’s all sorted then. Why are people still protesting when EVs are now more affordable? 

The events of the past two years might have paused the mass public protests we saw in 2019, but it has not paused climate activism. “Climate activism never stops. It’s not been able to be as public but it’s been there,” says Sophie Grace Todd, member of Fridays for Future Tāmaki Makaurau, the group organising tomorrow’s strike in the city. Hasini Wanigasuriya, another member, says they hope the strike will bring attention back to the climate crisis. 

Todd says the group is calling on the government to think in terms of people-not-profit and industry regulation. Wanigasuriya says it’s also about focusing on supporting the people that climate change will impact the most. 

The climate strike in Auckland in 2019 (Photo: Sylvie Whinray)

The group was established earlier this year, and tomorrow’s strike will be their first significant event. Pretty much every major city has a strike planned for the 23rd, says Todd, but here in Aotearoa we get to kick it all off. 

Previous climate strikes in the area were organised with the help of the Auckland chapter of School Strike 4 Climate. In June last year the group disbanded after declaring themselves racist. At the time, this group stated they had “avoided, ignored, and tokenised BIPOC voices and demands, especially those of Pasifika and Māori individuals in the climate activism space.” 

Wanigasuriya says FFTM had been contacted by groups asking what they were doing to make sure this didn’t happen again. Tomorrow’s strike will specifically focus on Māori and Pasifika voices, she says, because they’ll be the most affected people in the New Zealand context.

Different groups pull together

The group’s approach has been to create relationships with existing groups already working for climate action, and see what can be done to support them, says Todd. “We’re not trying to come and be the climate movement, we’re just trying to offer what we can to support the existing climate movement.” 

Auckland’s strike will include speakers from Protect Pūtiki. The extreme temperatures seen in other parts of the world, the Hauraki Gulf’s marine heatwave last summer and the predictions of this trend continuing all link to what is happening at Pūtiki Bay, Waiheke Island, explains Bianca Ranson from Protect Pūtiki. 

At Pūtiki Bay, Auckland Council is allowing to developers to build a marina eight times the size of Eden Park, explains Ranson. A section of the habitat of kororā (little penguin) will be removed to make way for a floating car park ramp. This is an unprecedented development on an offshore island in Aotearoa and puts further pressure on a vulnerable ecosystem.

Protesters occupy the rock wall at Pūtiki Bay in 2021. (Photo: Protect Pūtiki)

“The Hauraki Gulf Forum has stated that we need to limit ocean sprawl and released the State of the Gulf report detailing the dire state of our moana, yet we see this development getting resource consent,” explains Ranson over email. “Another example of science and logic being ignored for the benefit of developers.”

In a climate emergency, which the government has declared, is giving away a bay for this kind of development, and placing taonga species under further threat in the already vulnerable Hauraki eco-system, acceptable? “I think the very clear answer is that it isn’t,” says Ranson. 

Tomorrow’s strike is an opportunity for people involved across different environmental efforts to come together and show they will continue to put pressure on the government to take action that reflects the climate emergency, she says. 

Mana Rākau, a group formed to protect the native trees of Avondale’s Canal Road, and trees in urban spaces in general, will also be attending the strike, says member Zane Wedding (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Kuri). 

“Everything is connected,” says Wedding when asked about how the work of Mana Rākau related to the wider climate movement. “Things that you might think are local government issues are actually central government issues, and these keep expanding and expanding until you can see that these are connected completely to the environmental movement that exists around the world. 

“It intersects with kaupapa Māori as well. Rākau (trees) not only sequester carbon, but also hold amazing significance for Māori. Removing trees also removes the stories that are connected to them. Retaining our trees, especially mature trees, allows for nature to exist. But this also allows for children and people to connect with nature and then become more proactive in protecting it,” says Wedding. 

Environmental movements usually aren’t intersectional, explains Wedding. “If you leave behind te ao Māori, you haven’t moved anywhere… The environmental climate movement is not going anywhere unless we are all brought along and put into leadership roles in our own whenua (land)…

“There is a place for indigenous leadership within the environmental movement, and if we can lead in this way or show this then of course we have to be at the strike,” says Wedding. “If we are separated, then it won’t work. It is united or nothing.” 

What’s happening tomorrow?

  • Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland: Aotea Square at 1pm
  • Ngāmotu New Plymouth: Huatoki Plaza at 12:30pm
  • Pōneke Wellington: Parliament at 12pm
  • Ōtautahi Christchurch: Meeting at Cathedral Square at 1pm, then heading down to Christchurch City Council

Keep going!