by Aaron Hawkins, Mayor of Ōtepoti Dunedin
Aaron Hawkins - Mayor of Ōtepoti Dunedin — Image by: Dunedin City Council

Kia ora tātou

Greetings to you all from Ōtepoti Dunedin, here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

When we talk about young climate activists, it’s easy for us to deal in platitudes. Pat them on the head and patronise them as ‘future leaders’ as if their desperate calls for help were some kind of school project, rather than a raw and existential fear.

I was brought to tears at a public meeting on climate action when my wife was pregnant with our son, such are the anxieties of modern parenting. A couple of years later I took him on a protest march and was overly proud of the ‘Three Feet High And Rising’ sign I made for him.

I’ve watched the School Strike for Climate rallies with a mixture of optimism and embarrassment, because it is so very unfair of us to have placed so much of this burden on them.

As is often the case, we can turn to The Onion for the best summary. One headline simply reads: ‘“These Kids Should Be In School Instead Of Protesting”, Say People So Tantalizingly Close To Getting The Point.’


Similarly, we’ve spent the last few decades devaluing the role of art in our education system. Young people are encouraged to pursue their studies with an eye to ‘better employment opportunities’, at a time when the skills of a liberal arts education are more important than ever.

Art and writing are as necessary to building a movement for change as the latest IPCC report is, because they can translate the science into a language of values. A conversation built on values is the best tool we have to involve our communities in this most critical issue.

I’m proud of our status as a UNESCO City of Literature on any given day, but even more so when we use it as a platform such as this. The opportunity to highlight young talent, from around the world, in support of the single greatest issue humanity has ever faced.

It reminds us of the global consequences of our actions, or our inaction, and also that these are not, and will not, be felt equally.

The tendency of some of us in ‘developed nations’ to think of climate change as a future problem is no comfort to our friends in the South Pacific with waves lapping at their feet.

Finally, I want to say thank you to all of the creators who produced work for this volume. Like so many of their peers they have been compelled to put any other of their dreams and aspirations on hold to focus on this issue that is far greater than themselves.

This isn’t what childhood and young adulthood is supposed to be, but we have made it so that they don’t have much of a choice.

I sincerely believe in the role the arts can play as a public service, in the way they can build shared understanding and common cause in complex and urgent debates.

This collection is another fine argument made in defence of that one.

Kā manaakitaka

Mayor Aaron Hawkins