1st Prize Winner - Ages 15-18 years

December 2023


Judges’ comments:  A powerful story written from their own experiences and feelings. This piece expresses the anxiety and helplessness many young people feel in regards to climate change and other global influences.


What If We Chose to Love

by L. Wang

The Reality of Earth’s Unrequited Love By Lucy Wang I think love is an alluring yet beautiful force – a phenomenon irresistible and craved by the world. At times, it can be a gravelling emotion, catapulting us into a dark, empty and lonely pit. However, love recognises that until our dying breath, each longing breath, each faint heartbeat and each heavy sigh of exhaust is a cry for its presence.

Love bestows power and strength upon us, serving as a refreshing source of energy and motivation. It can be a long-lost memory of our youth, a connection to our roots or even our greatest possessions. Love is a paradox of heartbreak yet it is also a spark. Love, in its diverse forms, teaches us valuable lessons. Love manifests in the warm embrace of a mother or the inhalation of the natural environment. Sometimes love fades, but as one spark dies out, another ignites. Love resonates in the sound of waves crashing on Brighton's grainy shores, in the towering hills of Adelaide, and in the fusion of cultures within the city's heart.

Love extends beyond interpersonal relationships; it encompasses our connection with the Earth. Every grain of sand and speck of soil establishes a relationship. In this relationship, we must treat our roots and connections to the Earth with the same care and mutual respect as we would in human relationships.

Love shouldn’t be confined to holding someone close to your heart; it extends to caressing the Earth. Love is an ethereal beauty, it touches the hearts of those suffering with unparalleled forgiveness and compassion. Why choose love? Because true love endures and stays throughout, repaying your deeds and choosing you in return. Love serves as a protector, but reciprocally, you must wholeheartedly protect love. Love is not only a romantic and personal emotion but a universal essence that binds us with others and Earth itself.

Although we express love to one another, we fall short of truly embracing its boundless nature. The capacity of our hearts is infinite; they could burst from the overwhelming surge of empowering love. Yet, they don't, not because our hearts lack the potential, but rather because we fail to love intensely enough, with complete sincerity and wholeheartedness.

Once upon a time, the world chose not to love the Earth, resulting in the burning of coal, extensive littering and various forms of pollution. The past generations made the choice of not loving, affecting and forcing future generations to bear the consequences of their actions. They chose to prioritise industrialising the world rather than keeping Earth alive.

Once upon a time, I was a 5-year-old Asian girl, joyfully skipping hand in hand with my mother towards the zoo. My hair was tied up in two pigtails, jet black wisps brushing against my shoulders after each carefree skip. With every skip, a zephyr whispered on my neck, tingling my ears. I recall pressing my nose against the glass of the panda enclosure, making the glass blur with my breath. With my hands pressed up against the glass, I would look up into my mother’s glistening, dark brown eyes and question, “Mama, why does it say the pandas are endangered? Why are they in danger?” My lips pouted, eyebrows furrowed with a saddened expression. Mama hesitated to respond, she patted my head lovingly, “Well, the world’s an ugly place and the pandas are dying out.” I was reluctant to accept that pandas were just ‘dying out’, so I questioned further, “What is making them die out?” She paused once more, gathering thoughts in her head before answering. Mama crouched down to be at eye level with me, “Our hearts were filled with too much greed. We wanted too much but failed to give back. We failed to love.” “What did we want?” I asked. Mama sighed, “We thought we were making the world better by stealing. We took what wasn’t ours and we are now faced with the consequences. Not only that but we have brought the innocent to suffer with us. We wanted power.”

It occurred to me that Lei Lei, the panda hiding in her enclosure, had been torn away from her home as an act of ‘protection’ from the destructive environment, but little did we want to realize that we were the cause of the destruction. Our destructive power brought harm to animals living in peace. We believed we were doing good, but instead, we slowly began to entangle ourselves in the problem, refusing to seek for a resolution. We hear politicians worldwide claim to address the issue, saying, 'We will stop climate change by 2050.' Yet, their words become meaningless without accompanying action.

Once upon a time, a five-year-old worried about her future. She feared that she might not live a long, healthy life due to the hatred and destruction inflicted upon Earth. She became frantic over the possibility that her future children might be deprived of experiencing fresh air, interacting with animals, and visiting zoos. The feeling became uneasy, it made her horror-struck over the thought that instead of witnessing living animals, her children might only see carcasses and skeletal remains, akin to dinosaurs. She dreaded the idea that her favourite animals could become extinct, disappearing from the face of the Earth. And in her innocent heart, she blamed herself for these impending fears. She knew deep down in her heart, she wasn’t solely at fault, but she couldn’t shake that feeling. Perhaps if she stopped using single-use plastics, non-disposable items, or contributing to global warming and climate change, she could save her precious Lei Lei trapped within the glass frames of the enclosure. It was a far-fetched dream, basically impossible for that fi ve-year-old girl to achieve alone. No matter how many fundraisers she participated in, the exploding love in her heart couldn’t spark a fire in others.

Once upon a time, a 12-year-old girl cut twenty centimetres of her hair off as an act of love from the depths of her heart. She sympathized with those unable to experience the tactile sensation of hair. The idea of others missing out on feeling the chilling breeze brush the ends of their hair against their shoulders unsettled her, reminiscent of the carefree days when she was five. She wished for others to experience a childhood filled with fresh breaths of air and the sight of both heavenly and bewitching wonders, whilst being confident in doing so. Even though cutting off a substantial chunk of her hair made her feel insecure, she harboured no regret, not even for the slightest second. Maybe that 12-year-old girl wouldn’t have felt so insecure with her bare neck and neck rolls if society didn’t provide her with a reason to despise it. Maybe, if they chose to love her, she wouldn't have felt so disheartened.

But instead of love, they chose to hate her, just like how the world treated Earth. Every day, she felt more and more connected to the Earth, as if a gravitational force was pulling her toward its hidden emotions. We treat Earth like a tool, as if it's an endless supply of resources, forgetting that Earth is also life, our habitat that gives us life. The twelve-year-old girl felt compelled to follow everyone else's lead rather than make decisions for herself. As she grew up, she became capable of forming her own opinions and making her own decisions. Unfortunately, for Earth, we made it unable to make its own decisions. Earth had to involuntarily give itself to us because we enforced unnatural habits on it.

Instead of a green planet, Earth became grey—a spherical epitome of sadness, anger, and helplessness because we forced unhealthy and toxic changes upon it. Earth was ravaged by greenhouse gases, coal burning, masses of littering, air pollution, light pollution, water pollution, and more. Yet, Earth allowed us to do as we pleased, not choosing to fight back until irreversible scars formed, cutting deeper than any human wound. Earth’s anger brewed in a pot of mixed emotions until it became uncontainable, releasing upon us as revenge. The rising temperatures, uncontrollable oceans, and absurdly strong winds represented Earth's anger. Sudden earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and bushfires embodied Earth’s hurt. Mother Nature became enraged as she was awakened from her peaceful slumber to fight our battles.

Earth’s love for us trespasses the depths of the oceans and the altitudes of the sky, but we refuse to give even the slightest hint of love back, leaving our one true lover behind in all our complications. Earth gives a home to 8 billion humans and billions of living organisms yet instead of appreciating and coexisting harmoniously, we exploit the resources we're given. We have this sense of entitlement to possess everything, including the stolen homes of other living organisms.

I yearned to become one with Earth. My fingers clutched onto the grass as I gazed into the drifting clouds. Lying on my back, my wish was to merge with Earth, to intertwine our hearts. I wanted to become closer and closer in proximity to Earth, I longed for a profound bond with the roots of trees, Mother Nature, and Earth itself. My desire was for Earth to envelop me in a warm embrace. However, no matter how near I drew, Earth seemed to withdraw, distancing itself further. Earth was afraid to recognise me as a friend, perhaps due to the harm inflicted by other humans.

Earth feared love, unwilling to endure further pain. So Earth tried to drive us away in an attempt to shield itself from the torment.

Once upon a time, a twelve-year-old girl playfully fogged up her car windows, drawing large hearts that faded away with each breath. Amid her weekly routine of basketball games at Unley High School, she dedicated herself to rigorous winter training, pouring blood, sweat, and tears into the pursuit of victory. Regardless of the game's outcome, the winter nights were always dark after each match. As she looked up at the night sky, seeking comfort, she found it difficult to seek solace. No matter how hard she trained and worked towards her goal, it would never be enough, and she knew that. Her relentless training, fueled by both determination and the echoes of her father's advice, was her response to every critique. Win or lose, the girl's gaze was drawn to the heavens. The twelve-year-old girl held her head up high but despite this, a tinge of sadness still lingered. She hoped that maybe she would be able to see the slightest little glimmer from the stars but it was as if the stars were hiding. She couldn’t even catch a glimpse. She hoped for a spark of motivation to illuminate her path forward.

Light pollution marred the once-clear night sky, it robbed the twelve-year-old girl of the ability to indulge and seek comfort in the wonders of the night sky. She lifted her hand up toward the night sky as if she were reaching for the stars. She longed to keep the stars close to her even if they weren’t visible to the naked eye. It was as if the stars in the night sky were engulfed in Earth’s sorrows and the shadows of our own hearts, a consequence of our collective failure to embrace love. The hues of each sunset served as both a marvel and a reminder of another day slipping away. Earth, in its silent despair, continued to lose hope because we continued to go on with life with no substantial action taken for climate change. World leaders claim to stop climate change yet their actions contradicted their words — wars persisted, projects like the Alaska drilling moved forward, and public opinions went unheard. Many teenage voices like Greta Thunberg were drowned out by the cacophony of greed. Instead of fighting for Earth’s life, we found ourselves in a race against time, unintentionally contributing to the demise of our one true love.

That twelve-year-old girl was ravenous to love Earth but even she couldn’t do so wholeheartedly. Every 40-minute drive home from school contributed to another large amount of oil used and turned into carbon emissions. Every ride to her extracurricular activities added to the toll of oil consumption. The meat on her plate represented a life bred for consumption, causing immense amounts of greenhouse gases. She understood it was hard to remove the convenience of harmful manufactured products but she treasured the life of Earth more than mere convenience. Her thoughts often wandered to the past—a breath of fresh seaside air, the scent of the ocean, and vibrant greenery. However, reality brought her backto a world of smoke, carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, tall grey buildings and an overabundance of transport reliant on atrocious amounts of unsustainable fossil fuels and non-renewable energy.

What if we chose to love? What would our planet that we walk, eat, sleep and live on be like if we chose to give and reciprocate the love Earth gives us? Our lives would be vibrant, painted with a spectrum of colours from the rainbow, and enriched with wondrous attractions untarnished by our perpetual actions.

The twelve-year-old girl could feast her eyes on the stars in the night sky and the prospect of showing her future children alive animals in their natural habitats would be a reality. The five-year-old girl wouldn’t have so much anxiety building up inside of her about where her future lies. But this remains only a dream, a parallel world that we don’t inhabit. It could have been our reality if only we had chosen to love Earth. But we failed to do so; though we claim to love every day, we struggle to find enough love in our hearts to give to Earth. And as a result, Earth gives up on us. Consequently, Earth loosens its grip on life, aging and eventually transforming into a captivating, prepossessing display of remnants. When that time comes, we will become echoes of Earth’s pain and suffering. Despite Earth’s own wounds, Earth must stay resilient in order to withstand the population of 8 billion homo sapiens and billions of other living organism species.

The five-year-old girl, now fifteen, is gradually losing hope as she witnesses the world increasingly embrace greed instead of releasing it and offering Earth an everlasting embrace of warmth. The conclusion of this story remains unwritten — maybe Earth will get its happy ending, maybe not. However, Earth won’t achieve its happy ending until the 8 billion people on Earth decide to continue the narrative. From the conflicts in Ukraine and Russia to the strife between Israel and Palestine to the ongoing gun violence and mass shootings in America, there hasn’t been a moment of repentance or decisive change. If change doesn't manifest in my lifetime, I hope to witness it in subsequent ones until decisive action is taken. I long to see you in my next lifetime, Earth. As my father drives past Unley High School for the last time, I find myself clinging to my last bit of hope, curled up in a ball and holding it as tightly as I can.