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This essay is the winner of the 2021 KYD School Writing Prize—read the judges’ report from Alice Pung and Alan Vaarwerk

A black-and-white photograph of Parliament House in Canberra with the words "duty of care" spray-painted on a low wall in front.

Image: Cat Sparks/@catsparx

‘Mum, are the cracks in the ground from the earthquake?’

‘What earthquake darling?’

‘With the dinosaurs.’

‘I… Sweetheart, that was a long, long, long, long time ago.’

‘Well then why are there still cracks from it?’

‘The cracks are because the ground is too dry, so it splits open, to look for water.’


The Millennium Drought had an iron grip on south-east Australia from 2001 to 2009. Possibly the worst drought the country has faced since colonisation. Many children had never seen rain, for as long as they’d been alive. Industry was collapsing, agriculture was on its last legs. The Murray-Darling basin was all but dried up. Even in Australia, we were starting to feel the repercussions of the way we’ve been treating our planet.


Ash falls from the burnished orange sky. The sun is a pale white dent. Smog clouds the horizon. We lie on the lawn, trying to read ashy scraps of newspaper that were sent from the heavens. It is December of 2019. 


The term ‘greenhouse effect’ was first recorded in the early 1800s. Changes in the climate were suspected to be caused by human interference by the late 19th century. It took until the 1960s for it to be regarded as a serious issue, and by the ‘70s and ‘80s, fossil fuel giants were already trying to find ways to downplay its significance. Exxon was at the forefront of climate change research, and yet misrepresented their findings as ‘inconclusive’. BP invented the term ‘carbon footprint’ to redirect responsibility onto the consumer. Even today, misinformation is rife. Corporations, such as ExxonMobil and many others, are still pouring money into climate denial research, and politicians are still taking money from these corporations to spread climate scepticism. Global warming has been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, yet very little has been done. And it’s starting to get too late.

Neither I nor my family have been personally affected by climate change. I live a privileged life in a first world country. Yet for me and many of my friends and classmates, it is one of our primary worries. Children around the world are watching the inaction of their governments, feeling terrified and powerless. This essay is entirely unremarkable, because it’s not just my story. It’s the story of a generation, powerless against a doom we see so clearly.

Children around the world are watching the inaction of their governments, feeling terrified and powerless.

Us Gen Z kids, we live a weird type of privilege. We have the world at our fingertips, but carry it on our back. (Or, as Bo Burnham puts it, ‘the whole world at your fingertips, the ocean at your door’.) In this age of constant information overload, we’re bombarded with news of the horrors of the world. We’re safe here, in our bubble. But we just have to sit here and watch.


There’s been a flood. The power’s gone out and the supermarkets are out of stock; a single mother struggles to feed her three small children. A couple who had just finished rebuilding their house after the devastating bushfires a year earlier have had their new home ravaged by water damage. The community is banding together to rebuild the town, knowing they would probably be flooded again tomorrow, and if not the day after. I watch interview after interview of scared, cold, foolishly hopeful people, who are doing all they can to stay determined in the face of the disaster. They are just outside of Melbourne, on the swollen banks of the Yarra. It’s June of 2021.


Australia emits more CO2 per capita than the United States. We aren’t on track to meet our (already inadequate) emission reduction goals. We have an indefensible reliance on coal power. Climate denial is still rife in the houses of Parliament. And we’re starting to see the repercussions. Droughts, bushfires, floods, other extreme weather events that are breaking all the records. If we continue to be passive in the face of this threat, our people will face the consequences. But should the everyday citizen have to claim responsibility? 80 per cent of Australians are worried about climate change. Why isn’t that reflected in our leadership?

So what can we do? There’s the obvious stuff; avoiding single use plastics, using solar panels, having cold showers—individual change. It won’t solve the crisis, but if people do it on a large enough scale it can push industry in the right direction—supply and demand, after all. I’m not the biggest fan of this argument, I don’t think consumers should be the ones held responsible for corporations’ unsustainable business practices. The problem is corporate greed. But then again, it’s our system that creates evil corporations and the evil billionaires that go along with them. Capitalism rewards greed. If we fix capitalism, will the climate crisis go away? Can we legislate ourselves out of an emergency? We can play circular games of assigning blame and delegating responsibility all day. But it’s obvious that change has to occur on all levels of society for us to be able to solve the crisis. We have to make our leadership understand that radical change is necessary and urgent. Besides the obvious environmental impact, this crisis is putting untold psychological pressure on the generations that are going to inherit it.

Besides the obvious environmental impact, the climate crisis is putting untold psychological pressure on the generations that are going to inherit it.


‘We’re all gonna die anyway’

‘Well what I read is that there’s two possible solutions. We can either put a… we can like darken the atmosphere, so it doesn’t heat up as much. Or we can put a giant mirror in space, to reflect the sunlight back out into space.’



‘That’s ridiculous.’

‘Well, no, it’s the only thing we can do.’

‘What about like, planting trees and like solar panels and shit?’

‘It’s too late for that now. Even if we did, it would be too late. But it doesn’t seem like we are, so we have to put a mirror in space. I read about it, it’s a good idea.’

‘We’re all gonna die.’


I think about it too hard and I just crumple in on myself. There’s this constant pressure in the middle of my chest. It’s despair. Utter despair. If I really evaluate the state of politics, of science, of the climate, all at once, I reach this terrible clarity: There is nothing we can do. Absolutely nothing. People aren’t just going to come good, in the face of disaster. We’re gonna collapse. Everything is going to fall apart. It’s the end of the world. It’s the end of the fucking world.

But despair is utterly, hopelessly pointless too. Our despair is how the bad guys win. So don’t give up, like I have—maybe you’ll save the world.