A Year six student was the only person in her country town to attend the climate change strike which saw millions of protesters rally across the globe.
Ariel Ehlers, from Chinchilla in Queensland’s Western Downs, was one of more than 300,000 people across Australia to participate in the strike on Friday.
But the 12-year-old was forced to put on a brave face as the sole protester in her town, which locals say is largely populated with climate change skeptics. Chinchilla’s economy relies on the production of coal seam gas and the local coal fired power station for employment.
A lonely picture of Ariel sitting on the ground outside the Western Downs Regional Council service centre with her ‘school strike for climate’ poster was shared to social media.
Ariel Ehlers, from Chinchilla in Western Downs Region of Queensland, was one of more than 300,000 people across Australia to participate in school strike for climate on Friday
‘In my old home town of Chinchilla one grade 6 student, Ariel Ehlers, carried out a one-person climate strike,’ the Facebook post read.
‘What a champion! Chinchilla is the centre of the biggest coal seam gas fields in the country.’
In a thread on Reddit, a teacher from Chinchilla praised Ariel’s actions in a place which she claimed was home to ‘too many climate change deniers’.
‘I’m a teacher in Chinchilla (though not at Ariel’s school),’ the teacher said.
‘I actually looked up the climate strike to see if anything was happening. If I’d known anyone was doing something I would have tried to make it.
‘She’s a brave girl, and I support her action. Sadly, for all its wonderful qualities, Chinchilla has too many climate change deniers, not to mention a total aversion to any kind of political action.’
Another local agreed with the sentiments, writing: ‘As a fellow Chinchillaite it’s pretty awful to see the climate denial but you have to recognise that the town would be nothing without the CSG industry’.
Queensland Gas Company’s (QGC) Coal Seam Gas Central Processing Plant and Field Compression Station is seen near Chinchilla
Research conducted by The University of Queensland found that Chinchilla was historically a ‘quiet little town’ before the introduction of coal seam gas caused a ‘boom’.
Housing prices in the area, 300 kilometres west of Brisbane, soared during the construction of the nearby Kogan Creek power station between 2005 and 2006.
The town’s population then jumped 19 per cent between 2008 and 2012, with an influx of workers moving in alongside the coal seam gas development.
But by 2015, with most of the major coal seam gas projects moving from construction to export phases, jobs began to dry up and workers moved out.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016 Census, 5.5 per cent of Chinchilla’s 6,612 population worked in the oil and gas extraction industry.
Queensland were key to the 2019 Federal election which saw the re-election of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
The Coalition successfully argued Labor’s plans would hurt the economy and a focus on renewable energy would force up power prices.
David Littleproud, the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management and member for Maranoa, was born in Chinchilla and is a representative of the Liberal National Party.
Ariel was commended by Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi who told Ariel’s mother ‘we’re with her all the way’
Ariel decided to skip her last day of the term, where her local school enjoys ‘Celebration Day’, to demand action on climate change, Chinchilla News reported.
‘I am pretty worried about what kind of world we’re going to be living in when I am an adult,’ she told the publication.
‘I decided to come down and join in the protest today even though I’m from a small town a long way from Brisbane, I knew I could still do something to make my stand for climate action.’
‘We can all make a big difference if we choose to make a stand together.’
The Year 6 student also said she put together a PowerPoint presentation for her class, to explain how climate change is already impacting their future.
Hundreds of like-minded Australians commented on the Facebook post about Ariel’s protest and praised the young school student.
‘Thank you, Ariel! Australia needs more people like you,’ one person said.
Melbourne saw the biggest number of protesters in Australia with 100,000 people flooding the streets
‘Good on her, so much respect! It’s easy to protest in a crowd of thousands but to stand alone is deeply courageous. I hope that she hears how proud even strangers are of her!’ said another.
‘So brave! So wonderful! It’s really scary standing up against the mainstream in small towns.’
Ariel was also compared to Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg who started the global initiate with a solo protest.
‘Thank you Ariel. Today one person, tomorrow (like Greta) you will inspire thousands!’ one person said.
‘This is how Greta Thunderberg started,’ said another.
The 12-year-old was also commended by Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi who told Ariel’s mother ‘we’re with her all the way’.
In a thread on Reddit, a teacher from Chinchilla praised Ariel’s actions in a place which is home to ‘too many climate change deniers’