Heather Roy

18 March 2019

While New Zealand school students protested in a climate ‘strike’ around the country about a perceived lack of action on climate change last Friday (March 15) a group of Fijian students took a proactive and lasting approach to the same issue. Students at Mataso Primary School (a school my TorquePoint business sponsored following Cyclone Winston in 2016) planted trees to mark the global call to action. The Mataso School facebook page posted this:

 Years 7 and 8 today planted 500 mahogany trees as part of the planting 1 million trees initiative which was facilitated by OISCA. Playing our part in the fight against Climate Change🌱🌳🌴

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Instinctively the Kiwi students’ approach just felt wrong. What could be achieved by taking the day off school to protest? A much stronger message and one that would have potentially had most on side would have been to do what the Fijian students did. Imagine the impact if every New Zealand MP had been invited by students around the country to join them in planting trees. They would still have had their ‘strike’ day from school, but the message would have been all the more powerful.

Also wrong was the encouragement for students to wag school by the Prime Minister, several of her Ministers and some government support MPs. Perhaps they were trying to portray themselves as anti-establishment by supporting the protests of future voters. If so, it has escaped them that they are the establishment. They have the power to make changes and in fact are doing so.

Saving the planet is a worthy aim but climate ‘striking’ isn’t going to do it. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) proposition is on the mark – “plant a tree seedling and save the planet”.

As a student I remember Arbour Day being marked by the planting of a tree. The whole school would gather around the headmaster and a chosen student to watch the tree be planted. In 1977 Arbour Day was changed from 4 August to 5 June to coincide with World Environment Day and because it was a better time of the year for planting.

Grand gestures and one shot protest wonders will do nothing to make a real difference. Planting a tree will, and as it happens Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has lots of trees that need to be planted. He’s struggling with his one billion tree planting target, with an early bungle seeing $160,000 worth of seedlings being mulched.

So, on Wednesday June 5th this year I would gladly support students willing to plant trees having their climate ‘strike’ day. Shane Jones could provide the seedlings and schools could provide history lessons about Arbour Day and biology and environmental lessons on how trees contribute to saving the planet. Real leadership is often by example. Our kiwi students should take a leaf out of the book of the 30 students from a village school in Fiji.