When I was 11 years old my school had an assembly with a guest speaker. There was nothing extraordinary about this, except the opening of this speech was this question: "Who here believes in climate change?"
It was the summer of 2013 in a small Catholic school in rural NSW, and the guest speaker talked for an hour about why climate change was a conspiracy made up by scientists to distract us from what he saw as more pressing issues.
This speech encapsulated the views about climate change that I was raised with. It was a childhood filled with paranoia about how the government is lying to me every step of the way.
But then, I grew up. At 16, I escaped my insular right-wing community and over the next five years started to learn about ... everything. Including climate change.
And how many species have gone extinct. And the extent of the pollution. And the landfill.
And the government still approving coal mines. And apparently, I still don't know how to recycle.
But wait, there's more. "Personal carbon footprints" were invented by a corporation, and it is fossil fuel companies who are responsible for this mess, but they're massive donors to politicians, so no one does anything about it AND OH MY GOD THIS IS A DISASTER.
It was terrifying to learn all this. But the way I cope with fear is to do something.
So, I found out how others my age are taking action: School Strike 4 Climate, community gardens with native plants, so, so many protests. But unfortunately, I couldn't do any of it.
I have a mobility disability. I often use a crutch to walk, and even still I can't walk very far. I am proudly disabled, but I can't go to protests. They're not safe for me, or for a lot of disabled people.
Especially since the police have ramped up their use of force on climate activists, the likelihood that I would need to move much quicker than I am able is too high a risk.
On top of this, the messaging (originating from campaigns by major polluters) around our personal carbon footprint and individual responsibility to tackle climate change is absolutely suffocating. I don't have the money or resources required to travel to zero-waste stores.
The excruciating joint pain I experience daily makes microwave meals a necessity. Considering this, it's very easy for me to take more than my fair share of blame that we're in a climate emergency, like I have the power to end climate change by just washing out my milk cartons.
While it is easy to feel hopeless, I have been able to find ways disabled young people like me can fight to save our planet.
They're not advertised well and there are not enough of them, but they are there. And that's why I'm co-authoring a submission asking the Australian government to enact the Duty of Care Bill. The bill will require future decisions made by the
Australian government relating to climate change to consider the impact on children and future generations. This will include decisions such as whether to approve new coal mines.
This campaign, which is being led by young people, is incredibly important because the way we ended up here was by focusing on short term profit and not long-term survival.
We are also recommending that the Australian government be required to consult with children and young people when it's making these decisions about climate change.
This will provide opportunities for disabled children and young people like myself to take action, have our stories seen and voices heard. This bill will give us a chance to have a say about our future.
It was a shock for me to realise the extent of damage caused by climate change, and I still haven't shaken the deep feelings of hopelessness and dread. But we aren't yet past the point of no return.
The government, through this bill, needs to start listening to and meaningfully engaging with children and young people before it's too late.
- Dante Casanova is a Save the Children youth advisor.