Claire Harlick (WaiCol), Allyah Gowans, Jessie-May Cassels, Lily Petrovich (Solway College), Lily Lewis (Makoura), Bryn Gibbs (MIS), Carys Marulli de Barletta (St Matthew’s). PHOTO/ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

‘It’s about doing something meaningful’

Erin Kavanagh-Hall

For Lily Lewis, climate change is personal.

The 17-year-old Makoura College pupil had barely started secondary school when her GP identified two suspicious moles and referred her for a mole removal and biopsy.

Though only two faint scars remain as evidence of her ordeal, Lily was shaken by the experience.

Nevertheless, her cancer scare has inspired her to advocate for New Zealand’s environment – and speak out against, among other things, the emissions wreaking havoc on the atmosphere.

“[The mole removal] wasn’t a nice experience – I still haven’t fully processed it,” Lily said.

“We have a massive hole in our ozone layer because of greenhouse gases – it puts New Zealanders’ health at risk.

“So, I decided I’d channel my negative experience into something positive.”

Lily is one of a group of Wairarapa youngsters joining the front lines in the battle for the planet.

Pupils from almost all the region’s secondary schools, and some pupils from Masterton Intermediate School, have formed Wairarapa Schools Fighting Climate Change – a group dedicated to raising awareness of environmental issues, and coming up with common-sense solutions to reducing Wairarapa’s carbon footprint.

So far, it’s been a busy year for the budding eco-warriors – organising two protests and a tree planting, making a presentation to councillors on the effects of climate change on Wairarapa, and planning activities to encourage individuals to reduce household emissions and plastic consumption.

Along with thousands of their fellow Kiwi teens, the group will be organising and taking part in the latest School Strike 4 Climate event, held throughout the country this Friday.

Though young people have come under fire for their strike action, and have had their knowledge and motivations questioned, group founder Carys Marulli de Barletta remains undeterred.

“Climate change is the biggest issue of our time, and it’s become our issue to solve,” Carys, a Year 13 pupil at St Matthew’s Collegiate, said.

“Young people may not have been around as long, but we have made our own contributions to climate change and it’s important we take responsibility.

“If the damage from climate change is going to be fixable, we need to act now – and we’ll need the support of the older generation to help us reach that goal.”

Lily said older people talked about New Zealand being clean and green and “being able to swim in the rivers back in their day”.

“Young people should have the right to experience that same thing – water quality, clean air to breathe, and a generally healthy planet to live on,” Lily said.

Carys, a life-long “lover of nature”, said she was inspired to start Wairarapa Schools Fighting Climate Change after talking with a friend about the pupils’ strike on March 15 – organised by the nationwide movement School Strike 4 Climate.

“We talked about St Matthew’s getting involved with the strike – but then we decided this should be a Wairarapa-wide thing,” she said.

The group, under Carys’ leadership, planned the first school strike for climate in Masterton which, as well as a protest march through the town, featured speeches from various environmental advocates and experts, as well as a community activity organised by Enviroschools.

“We wanted to inspire positive community action, not just protesting and trying to make a point.”

The upcoming strike on Friday afternoon will have further positive action: with a tree planting to take place along the riparian strip of the Kuripuni Stream, which cuts through Masterton Intermediate’s grounds, after the march.

The Lansdowne Residents’ Association donated the 300 native trees, which will act as a barrier against water pollutants and help boost the stream’s ecosystem, Carys said.

“It’s all about going beyond the strikes and doing something meaningful and practical.”

Friday’s school strike is in response to the Government’s proposed Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill – which both Carys and Lily agreed poses insufficient solutions to a growing threat.

“The targets aren’t ambitious enough – and the Government has been given until 2050 to achieve them,” Lily said.

“That isn’t enough time – scientists have told us we have 10 years to turn things around.

Wairarapa Schools Fighting Climate Change has also made an appeal at a local level, with Carys, supported by Jeremy Logan of environmental advocacy group Extinction Rebellion, addressing a Masterton District Council meeting – speaking on the dangers of climate change in a spoken word poem, inspired by Dr Seuss’ The Lorax.

The ultimate goal, Carys said, would be a pledge towards “a Zero Carbon Masterton”.

The group also hopes to organise a Plastic Free July challenge – though Lily envisions eventually going one step further.

“Imagine if our whole region, from Waipukurau to Featherston, went plastic free?

“That would make the rest of the country take notice – and would be great for tourism.”

Carys said she and the group were thankful for the support they have received from the community – including from organisations like Extinction Rebellion, Enviroschools, Greater Wellington Regional Council,

Waipoua Kaitiaki Group and Wai Waste, and individuals such as councillor and activist Chris Peterson, potter Sam Ludden, and Green Party candidate John Hart.

The next School Strike 4 Climate will begin in the Masterton Town Square on Friday, May 24, at 1pm.

The protest march will be followed by the tree planting at Masterton Intermediate School from 2.30pm.

See the Wairarapa Schools Fighting Climate Change Facebook Page for more details.