In conversation with Jean Hinchliffe

Illustrated by Eduardo Vieira

Jean Hinchliffe, 15, is a young activist from Sydney, Australia who has captured international attention for her work towards the climate change cause.

Organiser of #ClimateStrike, she’s graced our screens with her intelligent clarity on issues many men in power deem her young mind too inexperienced to comprehend.

And yet, she’s led multiple protests, spoken in front of thousands, taken on politicians live on air and her words have even been levelled against the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia Michael McCormack.

We spoke to Jean about her activisim, what she’s learnt about Australian politics and how her life has changed as a result of the opportunities she took.

You’ve been interested in climate change since primary school, but do you remember the moment you decided to become an activist for the environment?

JH: Since primary school I’ve been interested in climate change and climate crisis, but also all sorts of social issues. With the Yes campaign for marriage equality which happened in 2016 in Australia, I was actually calling people up, surveying and putting up posters urging people to say ‘yes’. That was really my first venture into activism and from there I’ve been involved in trying to get less far right politicians voted in. Part of it was just seeing the news, especially when I saw that UN report which gave us 12 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. I think that was what made me think: ‘Oh god, we need to act immediately.’

Your goals are to stop Adani, prevent new sources of fossil fuels and convert Australia to renewable energy by 2030. What are your arguments for why these goals are realistic, despite pushback from politicians?

JH: These goals are totally realistic. For example, stopping Adani – you have a lot of politicians trying to argue that there will have to be massive pay outs to Adani, an Indian conglomerate who turn over $11 billion a year and plan to dig Australia’s largest coal mine. But that isn’t actually correct. There’s so many different legal ways politicians can stop the mine. The amount of enviromental licenses that have been approved but shouldn’t have been… For example, Adani’s license for 60 years of unlimited water when we have a drought.

As for fossil fuels, it’s not realistic to ban sources of current fossil fuels but we certainly don’t need any new ones. The amount of money we’d be funneling into that, the amount of work put into it – imagine if we were funneling it into renewable energy instead?

For renewable energy by 2030, so many road maps have been set out for it. Australian National University have a wonderful resource which is backed by many scientists. It’s totally realistic.

You’re a massive believer in activisim as a form of education. What are some of the key things you’ve learnt from organising these protests?

JH: Absolutely. You see all these kids working together and actively participating in democracy. I learnt all about politics through activism, you understand grass roots organising and people power. The experiences I’ve had from this: I’ve talked to crowds, been quoted in articles, written things myself – I’ve had to put so much work into it. From an organising perspective as well, it’s been such an incredible learning experience and far beyond anything I’ve done at school.

You’ve been on Radio 4 here in the UK, you’ve done TedxTalks in Sydney and you’re now a household name for young activism across the world. How does that make you feel?

JH: (laughs) I wouldn’t say I’m a household name for activism across the world but I think the amount that my work has been acknowledged is so great and it’s been an enormous privilege. The amount of kids who are working on this internationally is mind-blowing, there’s thousands of people behind it and I’m just one of the lucky few who gets her work acknowledged on a really big public scale.

And what do you say to 60-year-old men online saying you’ve been brainwashed?

JH: I am totally the driving force behind my activism. No one has told me what to do. When I first started planning this my parents asked me if there would be another adult who could take over from me or help out. There’s been so much push back from old people who don’t seem to believe that I, a 14-year-old at the time, can have opinions but just by being a person I have them – and I use them.

Why do you think young people are becoming more politically active?

JH: Well, access to the internet has meant that people can develop their own opinions and their own mindsets at a much younger age. Young people are also becoming active because politics is constantly shoved down our throats, so when we see something like climate change still being ignored we feel like we need to be active and we need our voice to be heard.

Jean has spoken on TV channels in Australia representing school children who have been on strike for climate change

In interviews you’ve said you think most kids your age would be able to do what you’ve done, but that you’ve had opportunites to help you get there. How did you take advantage of these opportunities?

JH: Because I’ve previously been involved in activism, a friend of mine from an activist group in Australia sent me a link to the School Strike For Climate website a few days after it started saying ‘hey, you should check this out’. I saw that there was only an event in Melbourne and so instantly I emailed and said I’d do it in Sydney. Reaching that state where, even though I knew I wasn’t totally qualified to do something like that, I just did it anyway, I think really helped me. Being able to grasp at these opportunities and then learning along the way is the main reason why I’m here now.

Alongside your activism you’ve recently wrapped your first television series. What does a normal day look like for you now?

JH: (laughs) Well even up until a few weeks back leading up to the strike, I’d spend about ten hours a day filming and in a trailer, just desperately trying to do any amount of School Strike For Climate work. Now I’ve reached the stage where I have a bit more balance because it’s the school holidays so I don’t have to spend days at school and juggle activism work with that too.

And what’s next for you?

JH: Well in Australia our next date in the diary is the 3rd May, which is MP Action Day. This will be lots of small events nationally and it’s been super exciting to plan. It’s a nice grass roots opportunity too because anyone can start an event at their electorate’s MP’s office. This is all in an effort to put pressure on politicians in the lead up to elections.

To find out more about Jean’s views you can watch her TedxSydney talk here – she appears from 24.40.

Currently, Ruby is retraining to become a journalist. She is an avid follower of British politics, writes poetry on her commute and is a firm believer in open debate. Her particular interests are attending and reviewing art exhibitions and analysing current affairs.

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