When Amy Lamont speaks at Sydney’s climate rally on Wednesday, her bags will already be packed back at her family home in case a bushfire forces her to evacuate.
“It’s definitely something we’ve been thinking about,” the 17-year-old told HuffPost Australia. “Going out of my house and going to rallies, it’s kind of like, ‘When I come home, will the house still be there?’”
Lamont lives right by the Garigal National Park in Sydney’s north, and was on the verge of fleeing her house last week when savage flames crept up as close as two kilometres from her front door.
“It was just me and my brother who were home because my parents were out. I don’t actually have a licence but we were just worried,” said Lamont.
“It was just a case of me and my brother trying to find our pets and grab them and put them in the car. We were lucky enough to have that fire put under control in a couple of hours but everyone in my neighbourhood was packing or driving to a safer area, wherever that is.”
Since then, Lamont’s left the house with her passport and laptop in hand, admitting she’s “worried and scared” not only about her home, but the climate crisis at large.
“Like the rest of the population, I’m worried and scared,” she said. “If you’re not actually seeing the fires, you’re still breathing in 30 cigarettes a day.”
As bushfires continued to blaze on Tuesday, Sydney was swept with extremely thick smoke, with its air quality index reaching as high as 11 times hazardous levels.
“As well as being scared and worried, I’m also just angry,” said Lamont who recently finished her year 12 exams. “Angry that I have to be packing my bags and checking that the car is running.”
It’s this anger, “despair” and eco-anxiety that has driven her to join other Australians at Sydney’s climate emergency rally taking place on Wednesday.
“I definitely think the despair about climate change, it does have the ability to make you look inwards to yourself,” she said.
“Obviously I empathise with Greta Thunberg in that aspect. Before she was an activist she said she was kind of crippled with despair of the climate crisis. So, I actually think that’s a really important reason to be an activist because I really think it’s the only way to actually combat the constant feeling of dread when faced with the fires and the crisis generally.”
The crisis has put pressure on Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who critics say has not done enough to address the impact of climate change, which meteorologists have said is extending fire season. At least six people have died since NSW bushfires struck over a month ago.
In September he addressed the UN general assembly in New York, saying children had a right “to their optimism”, and that the anxieties of young people about the environment were being exploited.
“Above all, we must let our children be children, let our kids be kids, let our teenagers be teenagers while we do the work positively together to deliver the practical solutions for them and their future,” Morrison said at the time.
Lamont said the PM’s words were “totally outrageous”.
“I’m sure the amount of kids displaced by fires and coughing up smoke every day also just want to be kids. Like [it’s] kind of, ‘how dare you’ in a way.
“We have to leave school and we have to fight for climate justice because you’ve led us to this point,” she said.
Wednesday’s climate strike is expected to attract “thousands” of Aussies to Sydney’s Town Hall, according to organiser Chloe Rafferty.
Protesters have been encouraged to bring their P2 masks along as the haze isn’t expected to subside any time soon.