A university student is walking hundreds of kilometres from Melbourne to Canberra to call for more action from Australian leaders on climate change.
Shannon Loughnane left his home in Coburg two days ago with a plan to trek along major highways, country roads and mountainous areas to deliver his message to Canberra.
He said he hoped his 700-kilometre trek would form part of a wider wave of protests aimed at pressuring leaders who he believed were not doing enough to address the issue.
Four months ago, the Melbourne University student made a New Year’s resolution to read more about climate change.
He said he was concerned by the issue, but at the time did not know enough about it. As he read more and followed the protests of activists around the world, an urgency set in.
“For a while I occupied that ground of feeling very afraid of climate change but only vaguely understanding what it meant,” he said.
“As I learnt more I became concerned by the inaction of our government – Australia at the moment performs really poorly on a global scale in terms of what we’re doing for climate change.
“This protest for me is about making a very direct plea to governments, and showing up and refusing to be ignored.”
Petition calls for climate emergency, signatures
The hike will take him through country towns from Yea, Violet Town, Benalla and Wangaratta to Albury, Lankeys Creek, Rosewood and Tumut.
Mr Loughnane plans to stop at each town to talk about climate change and garner signatures from any locals passionate about the cause.
The petition will ask members of the House of Representatives to declare a climate emergency, aggressively lift emissions reductions, pursue renewable energy, ban the proposed Carmichael Coal mine and other fossil fuel projects, and ratify climate policy into legislation.
“I don’t think my protest is going to hold leaders to account, but I hope it’s part of a wider wave of protests and of action that pressures leaders to think about really changing things,” he said.
“I think a lot of people would be really shocked to see how far it reaches, and the types of things it’ll affect – from food and water availability to the range of infectious diseases.
“It’s really crucial that we all start looking at it as the whole picture.”
Climate change a key political issue
Mr Loughnane considers himself among a growing number of young people across Australia and the world who are drawing attention to the impacts of climate change.
Last month, tens of thousands of young Australians walked out of their classrooms to stage protests across cities and regional towns.
According to early results from the ABC’s Vote Compass survey, the environment has proved a major concern among respondents, with 29 per cent considering it to be the most important issue.
The results are a significant shift from 2016, where 9 per cent of voters saw it as the most important issue in the election.
Climate change is shaping up to be a key issue for the May federal election.
Mr Loughnane said he believed debate and protests would make an impact.
“I can’t speak for what’s happening in the minds of leaders, but I do think culturally there’s a lot happening,” he said.
“The student strikes for climate are amazing, those young people stepping up and demanding change, [it] is really enlightening, and it’s drawing attention to the fact that these young people are going to be affected the most by climate change.
“People are starting to tune into that at a rate that I haven’t seen before.”