Thousands of activists marched in several major cities across Australia on Friday, calling on the government to act on the climate crisis and do more to stop the bushfires that continue to ravage large swathes of the country.
The protests, organized by national student organization Uni Students for Climate Justice, were set to take place in nine cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, indicating widespread public discontent after months of increasingly deadly fires.
New South Wales police told CNN more than 30,000 people attended the climate change protest in Sydney. Organizers put the number between 50,000 and 60,000 people.
“The bushfires are devastating communities and our government is not doing enough to stop it,” Ambrose Hayes, 14, told CNN at a rally in Sydney. “The Morrison government needs to act before it’s too late, before we reach a tipping point, before these impacts get worse than they already are.”
Protesters carried signs that read “Koalas Not Coal,” “Change the System, Not the Climate” and “Sack ScoMo,” with many directing their anger at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has faced heavy criticism for what they see as a lackluster response to the fires and for his climate policies, as well as support for coal mines.
“We’ve had decades to deal with it and successive governments have done nothing. The Earth is a finite resource. You can’t have an economy on a dead planet,” said Kris Stevens, who traveled to Sydney from the city of Dubbo in New South Wales (NSW).
Friday’s protests pushed for five main demands: funding for firefighters, relief and aid for affected communities, land and water sovereignty for indigenous communities, an immediate transition toward renewable energy, and a “just transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
A total of 27 people have died this fire season, around 2,000 homes have been destroyed and an estimated billion animals have been affected. State and federal authorities have been scrambling to respond, with thousands of firefighters on the ground and billions of dollars allocated in federal aid. But climate activists say it’s not enough.
“We’re protesting this Friday because we’re outraged about our government’s criminal negligence about the bushfire crisis, exacerbated by climate change,” said Uni Students for Climate Justice on its Facebook page. “We are protesting to give a voice to the tens of thousands of people who want real action on climate change and real funding for relief services.”
Authorities had urged protesters to postpone the marches due to dangerous fire conditions and limited resources. Victoria Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen said on Wednesday that the police force was already stretched thin and fatigued, and the protests would be a “distraction” and a “resource drain” on a day forecast to be hot and dangerous.
The organizers pushed back, posting on Facebook that the police, the media and the state government were “trying to paint ordinary people – who are fed up with their lies, theft and criminal negligence – as being a drain on emergency services.”