My first real job was setting up and co-directing the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC). I co-founded the AYCC with a small group of friends when I was 22 after returning from the UN climate talks in Montreal in my last year of law school.
After meeting young people from the countries most vulnerable to climate change, like the Pacific Islands and Bangladesh, I decided to set up an organisation mobilising young people in Australia.
Setting up and running a national youth environmental movement involves anything and everything, from speaking to crowd of 16,000 people alongside the Dalai Lama, to organising a flash mob with 2,000 young people on the steps of the Opera House, dropping banners off bridges, doing media interviews, meeting with the Prime Minister, organising Australia’s first national youth vote on climate change, representing young Australians at the United Nations, dressing up in an elephant costume and chasing politicians.
At the beginning, I was paid nothing. My parents were probably a bit worried when I turned down all the corporate law job offers to set up my own organisation without a salary.
My parents were probably a bit worried when I turned down all the corporate law job offers to set up my own organisation without a salary
I worked a paid job two days a week as the climate campaigner at GetUp! to pay the rent and did the other five days unpaid with AYCC. It took us a while – almost two years –to raise enough money to pay anyone a proper wage. After that it was around $20 an hour.
My best friends in the world were from my time at the AYCC, and it’s also how I met my husband Simon (Sheikh)!
Every day I woke up and knew I was helping Australia make progress on tackling climate change in the most strategic way I could think of. Plus I got to work with tens of thousands of amazing young people.
But I also meet people who refused to accept the science of climate change. Seeing how overrepresented they were in senior levels of business and government is depressing.
I roped most of my friends and family in to help set up the AYCC. I may have pushed the friendship boundaries a bit too far, like the time I drove around Sydney at 4am picking up my uni mates to take them to Bondi beach for a live cross to launch the AYCC on Channel Seven Sunrise. Most of them were still half asleep!
I’d always said I’d leave after five years. I retired from the AYCC at 27 and did a few other things – wrote a book (Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic), starred in a documentary (I Can Change Your Mind on Climate Change) and lectured at ANU. Now I’m the National Manager of Earth Hour.
… We have to do the impossible to avoid the unimaginable – and those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those already doing it
People sometimes tell you that tackling climate change is impossible. But we have to do the impossible to avoid the unimaginable – and those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those already doing it. I also learnt that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Setting up the AYCC gave me the skills, confidence and platform to do all the projects and campaigns I’ve worked on since, and they’ve all been focused on the same goal of moving the world away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.
I hope more young people follow their hearts and decide to act when they see a gap between the world they dream of and the world that currently exists. My career path hasn’t been a conventional one but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
WWF-Australia will host Earth Hour around Australia at 8:30pm-9:30pm on Saturday, 29 March to raise awareness about the urgent need to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of climate change and oil and gas development.