"If you want something done, ask a busy parent": Meet the parents taking Australia's biggest polluters to court

Here’s how Australian parents from all different backgrounds are coming together to fight the country’s biggest polluters and secure their children’s futures.

Sarah Smith
February 1, 2024
5 min read

Like many Australians, the 2019 Black Saturday fires were a pivotal moment for Nic Seton, CEO of Parents for Climate Action. Having studied climate policy and worked in the space for years, being confronted by the terrifying reality of a smoke-filled city shifted his perspective from academic to something more primal. Particularly when his three-year-old son was hospitalised on multiple occasions with respiratory difficulties. 

“That's when it kind of dawned on me that I wasn't fighting climate change, I was fighting for his climate,” Nic reflects. “I needed to change the way I was engaging with people, and really speak to people – not about science, but about protecting the people that they care about, and the communities they care about and the things that they care about.”

Becoming a part of the Parents for Climate Action team was the perfect fit. Founded in 2019 by six mums who met online, the organisation now has 20,000 supporters and last year launched legal action against EnergyAustralia. The founders all came from different backgrounds and different parts of Australia. The one thing they had in common? They were all looking after young people, whose futures they wanted to secure.

“If you're trying to cut the country into different categories, parents are about half the population,” says Nic. “I think it kind of dawned on everybody that there's this almost Sleeping Giant of public pressure hiding in plain sight.”

Breaking through political lines and the cost of living

According to research nearly half of the 70% of Australian parents who are concerned about climate change know that we need to shift the system but – like most people juggling work and home demands – don’t have a way to act on these feelings. Parents for Climate specialises in activating disengaged and disenfranchised parents by helping them overcome these barriers to action. 

Inclusion plays a big part in this. Parents for Climate Action is strictly bipartisan, hoping to act as a unifier that crosses political lines. “We've already seen losses in policy at the federal and state level where one side of politics can undo the promises of another,” Nic says. “That's just not good enough.”

They’ve already had some big political wins with their campaign to get solar panels and batteries in every school and early learning centre in Australia, with both the NSW Coalition and Tasmanian Liberal governments setting up trial solar programs. “They implemented those policies with direct reference to our advocacy and to our community's interests,” says Nic.

Representing their community’s interests is what Parents for Climate Action is all about. “We're not asking them to become activists so much as we're trying to say that your concerns are connected, and we want to represent them,” explains Nic. “We don’t need to convince parents that this should be their priority, but we need to convince them that this is something that will support their priorities: whether it’s cost of living, health and education outcomes, future job prospects, and economic prosperity.”

Taking Australia’s biggest polluters to court

Recently, Parents for Climate undertook one of their biggest efforts yet – launching legal action against EnergyAustralia for greenwashing. The greenwashing case focuses on the company’s marketing of “green” products that claim they can offset pollution, when the science behind offsets doesn’t work that way.

“We think that it's not just misleading but potentially hoodwinking well-meaning and conscientious consumers into backing further fossil fuel use,” says Nic. “Worst case scenario, the company is getting away with peddling coal-fired electricity and gas as having a positive impact on the environment. We really want to test that, because if that's the norm in Australia – and it's definitely not the norm in other markets – then that's going to create a lot of loopholes and weakness in our emissions trajectory.”

It was a very considered decision, not undertaken lightly. Parents for Climate want to seek real and tangible outcomes and have engaged EnergyAustralia directly on making changes. “We need to think big and think smart – we’re not going into this as some kind of battlecry,” says Nic. “We’re quite convinced that this is an important action for us to take in that there's an opportunity here to do something that creates a genuine contribution to the conversation, but also to improve the practices of this really massive company, and potentially other companies like it.”

Coming off the hottest year on record and with a possible federal election on the horizon, Parents for Climate have a big year ahead and welcome everyone to be a part of the action, big or small. “I would invite any parents – or adults with children at home – to just take that first step of connecting with other like-minded parents, because it creates this terrific community of support and confidence to do a lot more.”

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