Sydney climate protest: thousands rally against inaction amid bushfire and air quality crisis

Protesters wore face masks, asking the government to act on the role global heating had on the longer and more devastating bushfires

Thousands of people have rallied in Sydney to protest against inaction on the climate crisis, after months of bushfires and hazardous smoke in New South Wales and Queensland.

On Tuesday, the level of dangerous PM2.5 particles in Sydney’s air was as high as 10 times normal, and fires have burnt through nearly 3 million hectares of land across NSW and Queensland this season.

Thousands gathered in Sydney last night to demand climate change action in the midst of a devastating bushfire season which has destroyed more than 700 homes and seen smoke blanket much of the NSW.

— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) December 12, 2019

Outside Sydney’s Town Hall, protesters gathered wearing face masks, asking the government to act on the role global heating had in making bushfire seasons longer and more devastating.

Protesters rallied in Sydney to demand urgent climate action from Australia’s government
Protesters rallied in Sydney to demand urgent climate action from Australia’s government. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

Speakers called on the state and federal governments to increase funding to the Rural Fire Service, and provide P2 masks and Hepa air filters to firefighters, hospitals, aged care facilities and schools.

Leighton Drury, the NSW secretary of the Fire Brigades Employees Union, said that firefighters were “spread thin”.

“I am well-qualified to say that these are the worst fires we’ve had in decades, and they’re not going to get better unless we take action,” he said.

“A decade of denial about own environment changing has led to this … the solution is simple. Firefighters put out fires. Politicians put out policies and budgets. We’ve got our job, they need to do theirs better”.

Dr Janet Rowden from the Nurses and Midwives’ Association said the weeks of smoke were now posing a public health risk.

“Already four of our members have lost their homes in the fires,” she said.

“We are suffering a public health climate emergency. We need to go on for another three months we are told.”

Our bush is burning. Our city is shrouded in smoke.

We demand action. #SydneyIsChoking #climateactionnow

— Clover Moore (@CloverMoore) December 11, 2019

Big #climate protest gathering in #Sydney ... follows month of record bad air pollution and probably the biggest fires to sear NSW.

— Peter Hannam (@p_hannam) December 11, 2019

I think this is my favourite pun-related placard at the climate change march at Sydney Town Hall #SydneyIsChoking

— Gary Nunn🏳️‍🌈🚴🏼 (@GaryNunn1) December 11, 2019

The NSW environment minister, Matt Kean, said earlier on Tuesday the fires were “not normal” and that we “need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately”.

On Tuesday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, was asked about concerns over how long the tens of thousands of volunteer firefighters – many who have been away from work for weeks now – were expected to continue without pay.

Morrison said volunteer firefighters “want to be out there defending their communities” and told media he was “pleased with the way those arrangements [between state and federal governments] are being worked out”.

Rapturous cheers at Sydney Town Hall to thank all the firefighters for their bravery#AustraliaFires #ClimateEmergency

— 10 daily (@10Daily) December 11, 2019

On Wednesday, former fire chiefs called for a national emergency summit on bushfires, and on Monday former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said it was a “national security issue”.

The NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge told the crowd of protesters in Sydney that the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was “missing in action” and Morrison had not done enough.

“His big policy announcement has been a draft religious discrimination bill,” Shoebridge said to loud boos.

Protesters rally during the “NSW is Burning, Sydney is Choking” Climate Emergency Rally organised by Uni Students for Climate Justice in Sydney, Wednesday, December 11, 2019. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts) NO ARCHIVING
Protesters rally during the climate emergency rally in Sydney. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Natalie Wasley from the Maritime Union of Australia said this week’s smoke haze was among the worst she had ever seen.

“As a wharfie, I work in extreme conditions,” she said. “We work in heat, we work in rain, we are exposed to diesel particulates, we are exposed to dust. But like you, we have never, never experienced what has been happening in the past couple of weeks in our worksite”.

High school student Amy Lamont told the crowd that a fire had threatened her home that very day.

“There was a fire two kilometres from our house, and one kilometre from old primary school,” she said. “And if you’re not directly experiencing these fires, you’re breathing in about 30 cigarettes a day.

“Students shouldn’t have to worry, when going to school, that they might come back to to a burned home.”


Naaman Zhou

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
'So grateful': Sydney Children's Choir raises funds, and spirits, for Balmoral bushfire victims
When the home of choir member Gabriel Kam was razed, his fellow singers decided to help out

Helen Davidson and Calla Wahlquist

29, Dec, 2019 @7:00 PM

Article image
Wind change fans blazes as Sydney hit by hazardous air quality – as it happened
Almost 3,000 firefighters deployed across New South Wales as more than 80 bushfires continue to burn.

Naaman Zhou (now), Helen Davidson and Michael McGowan (earlier)

10, Dec, 2019 @9:04 AM

Article image
'Doing nothing is not a solution': Matt Kean blames climate crisis for bushfires
NSW environment minister splits with federal Coalition to urge immediate emissions reduction, saying weather conditions are exactly what scientists warned

Paul Karp

10, Dec, 2019 @11:04 PM

Article image
Hazardous air quality warning as smoke from bushfires spreads across NSW
Residents in Sydney and other parts of the east coast advised to stay indoors where possible to avoid air pollution

Australian Associated Press

12, Nov, 2019 @9:18 AM

Article image
Canberra experiences worst air quality on record as bushfire smoke from south coast sets in
Residents of Australia’s capital are told to stay indoors and brace for more smog in the coming days

Graham Readfearn

01, Jan, 2020 @8:49 AM

Article image
NSW fires: almost 600 schools closed today amid catastrophic bushfire conditions
‘For heaven’s sake stay away from bushland,’ Gladys Berejiklian warns as conditions to worsen on Tuesday

Michael McGowan, Lisa Cox, Naaman Zhou and Helen Davidson

11, Nov, 2019 @9:16 AM

Article image
Tens of thousands flee in mass bushfire evacuation – as it happened
This blog is now closed. Our coverage will resume tomorrow morning

Calla Wahlquist and Helen Davidson and Luke Henriques-Gomes

03, Jan, 2020 @9:36 AM

Article image
Bushfire survivors join claim against ANZ for financing climate crisis
Three survivors joined Friends of the Earth to accuse ANZ of misleading consumers by investing in fossil fuel projects

Adam Morton Environment editor

30, Jan, 2020 @7:47 AM

Article image
Leading scientists condemn political inaction on climate change as Australia 'literally burns'
Climate experts ‘bewildered’ by government ‘burying their heads in the sand’, and say bushfires on Australia’s east coast should be a ‘wake-up call’

Lisa Cox

06, Dec, 2019 @7:00 PM

Article image
Hundreds of thousands of fish dead in NSW as bushfire ash washed into river
Ecologist fears the Macleay River may take decades to recover, with heavy rains likely to affect other waterways

Graham Readfearn

17, Jan, 2020 @11:29 PM