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Climate change enviromentalist Mia Sutherland. Photo/Ken Downie

A Christchurch teen fends off trolls on climate change mission

Christchurch teenager Mia Sutherland isn't letting nasty online comments discourage her on her mission to fight climate change. 

Fighting for a better future isn’t an easy job if Mia Sutherland's experience is anything to go by. The 17-year-old high school student and secretary for the School Strikes 4 Climate NZ group, had a busy 2019 organising protests in her hometown of Christchurch. And when she's not fermenting social action the teenage environmentalist is busy working on her fortnightly column for Stuff.

Sutherland’s journalistic ability impressed Stuff’s top brass so much that earlier in 2019 they made her guest editor for the day. “They flew me up to Wellington – it was great!”. Did you fire anyone while you were boss? “No, everyone was really nice, I ran the desk and commissioned lots of stories! Mainly about climate change."

In the past year she’s been involved in the Model United Nations and the UN Youth Model Parliament, and is also a member of the Christchurch Youth Council. “It’s essentially role play but good practice for what one day might be the real thing." 

Recently, she was invited to high schools to talk about how to run a social activism campaign. “The teachers asked me to talk to their students, who were really engaged,” she says. “Young people don’t have the luxury of ignoring climate change.”

Sutherland is unfazed by nasty social media comments.

Somehow, Sutherland manages to squeeze in her studies and hold down a part-time job, while also facing the criticism that comes with being just a little “outspoken”. 

“I’ve had some strange things said about me lately on social media, including being called a smug cow!” she says. “That’s one of the nicer ones.”

When she said that the future was no place to bring up children, and that she had no intention of having any children herself, she got a surprisingly powerful kickback on social media. People got nasty. “Good”, was the response. “We don’t need more of you... Good luck finding someone to have babies with anyway...” 

Read more: Inside North & South's new issue: Saving the earth one (less) child at a time

But the young activist seems unfazed by the hateful comments. She feels a strong sense of duty, to educate and change people’s attitudes on climate change issues. “It's something I’ve always been passionate about.”

She's discovered there are people out there who don’t appear to believe in climate change. “Or they simply don’t want to know about it, [or] maybe they just don’t want to know from someone like me.” And she still encounters those who would prefer “girls to be seen and not heard.” 

“I’m always getting comments like uninformed, foolish, clueless, or just a silly girl who should go back school.”

Along with a bunch of cohorts, Sutherland successfully lobbied Christchurch City Council to declare a climate and ecological emergency. “It's an official recognition of the magnitude of climate change, by an official council.”

Not content with waiting till they are old enough to vote to have a say, she and her colleagues arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister instead. “Jacinda Ardern was amazing, we put pressure on her to make the changes we want and we talked about progressive climate change solutions as well as the Zero Carbon Bill.” The Bill has since passed its final hurdle in Parliament.

Sutherland plans to study science and law at Canterbury University in 2020. "In science I want to gain the skills to investigate our world,” and law “plays to my passion for justice, while finding the evidence to fight for the planet we live in.”

In the meantime, she helps the planet by eating a plant-based diet, not driving a car, only wearing second-hand clothing, trying to cut down on waste and being mindful of her energy use. “I try to make my consumption as local and as sustainable as I can.” 

And when she’s not pushing for climate change solutions, or asking the big questions that need to be answered, she’s not afraid of some hard work – there’s always a littered beach somewhere that needs a good clean up.

Follow NOTED on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to our email newsletter for more on climate change issues. Find out more about the carbon footprint of having a child and how not having one is the biggest impact you can have on climate change, in the latest issue of North & South.