Teenage climate crisis campaigner Anjali Sharma has revealed the torrent of sexist and racist abuse she has received while fronting a legal case against the Morrison government’s approval of a New South Wales coal project.
Sharma, 17, from Melbourne, was one of eight young people who, with the support of octogenarian nun Sister Brigid Arthur, tried unsuccessfully to block the Whitehaven Coal Vickery mine expansion.
Lawyers for the group will announce on Tuesday that they will not appeal last month’s federal court judgment, which overturned a finding that the federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, had a duty of care to protect younger people from the climate crisis when considering fossil fuel developments. .
Sharma, whose family moved to Australia from India when she was 10 months old, has made some of the messages she has received through Twitter and Instagram public. They read:
Sharma told the Guardian Australia she had not reported the messages to the police or to the social media platforms.
“You won’t change people like this or make them reconsider what they say,” she said.
“If they are willing to say vile stuff like this, then there’s no chance of having a decent conversation, so I see no value in complaints about [the messages]. ”
She posted screenshots of the “absolutely vile racism” on social media, and added that nobody should expect her to be silenced.
“Now I’m paying it forward. To my young women of color, ”she wrote.
“Don’t let them laugh at your food, your culture, your traditional dress or your beautiful language.
“Don’t let them‘ other ’you. If you’re anything like me, your culture means more to you than you can express in words, so hold it close to your heart always. “
She said that while Australia is multicultural, “we have so far to go for adequate representation for people of color in the media and in popular culture.
“I have found myself wondering: if I was not a person of color, would the case have got more media?”
She had been hesitant to publicly reveal the abuse, she said, in case it opened her up to more – but said she wanted to be a role model for other young people of color.
Women of color have inspired her to fight, she said, such as Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate, Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, Melbourne writer Maggie Zhou and Varsha Yajman, a paralegal at the firm that took on the case.
In federal court in July last year, Justice Mordecai Bromberg ruled that the environment minister had a duty “to take reasonable care” to “avoid causing personal injury or death” to Australians under 18 “arising from carbon dioxide emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere ”From the approval of Whitehaven Coal’s project near Boggabri in northern NSW.
But the government successfully appealed that ruling. Sharma said it had been tough to come to a collective decision not to appeal, but that the case had succeeded in seeing climate science accepted in the federal court.
“We have exposed the true lengths that the government will go to continue business as usual,” she said.
“They spent 10 years in power and a lot of that time has been spent approving fossil fuel projects. They’re not willing to make a change.
“They will take eight children to court on taxpayer money to allow them to keep [the status quo] . We forced them to say the quiet part out loud. ”
Lawyer David Barnden of Equity Generation Lawyers, who led the case, said: “To have that evidence before a court and for it to be unchallenged by the minister forms a solid basis for other actions.”
The eight young people who brought the case were Anjali Sharma, Luca Saunders, Isolde Raj-Seppings, Laura Kirwan, Bella Burgemeister, Thomas Webster Arbizu, Ava Princi, Veronica Hester and Ambrose Hayes.
In a joint statement released Tuesday, they said: “We should never have needed to file this case in the first place. No new coal mines should be approved.
“The result is harm to children and the planet. Our case dealt with a duty of care that should exist between two parties when the actions of one will impact the other, and politicians, as per their job description, should owe a duty of care to the wider society. ”
The statement said the group remained “firm in our belief” that the minister did have a duty of care to protect all Australian children from the climate crisis.
“While this duty may now not be legally imposed, there is no denying its moral existence and we urge the Environment Minister, and by extension, all members of parliament and candidates, to listen to the voices of young people – the young people who are begging for more comprehensive action on climate change and urgent action to reduce carbon emissions. ”
The group added they would continue their advocacy, and the government “will not forget our names.”
“We will not just be on the streets, but using the full range of avenues available to us, be it litigation, education, media, or anything else. Eventually we will be old enough to hold the government to account at the ballot box, too. ”