11 Jul #CCWIL, Climate Change Where I Live
Everyone is always saying that the voice of the youth is the most important, that the generation who will have to deal with the gravest consequences of climate change should be listened to, that it is integral that youth be a part of the discussion on climate change. However, it is rare that one, as a youth, gets the opportunity to directly communicate our opinions, and those of many other youth to important figures in our governments.
Being Canadian, I have many reasons to be proud of where I live and love my country, but also reasons to be ashamed. One of those reasons being the completely inadequate action on climate change for the last dozen or so years. I want to be proud to be Canadian, I want Canada to be one of the global leaders in solving the climate change crisis, but, we’re just not there yet. Thus, it is so important that the voices of youth are voiced at this crucial time, when the country is ready to take action but not quite sure where it is going yet.
I had the amazing opportunity to be a student writer of a long document detailing the suggestions that the youth of Ontario have for the actions that the government of Ontario should take to mitigate climate change. Although, it did not begin with the 10 student writers who physically wrote the paper, it began in schools. Of course, as is usual when working with government, it was originally supposed to be presented to the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne but changed drastically as the process went on.
More than 30 high-school science classes, world issues classes, environmental classes and others from across Ontario, totalling more than 600 students partook in inquiries in regards to climate change affecting where we live. Students ranged from major urban centres like the city of Toronto, where I live, to extremely rural communities like Manitoulin Island. Groups worked together in classes to research questions about things they do or see in their everyday lives that have a negative effect on global warming, ranging from things like the impact of Uber on the environment, transportation, local food versus transported food and many more. These students and teachers then all participated in virtual town halls with the other classes in their regions where they presented their findings, brainstormed ideas for solutions to issues as a result of climate change where they live, and voted in polls detailing what they thought were the most important things for the government of Ontario to take action on in regards to climate change.
I participated in these class virtual town-halls along with my Environment-club staff advisor and her environment and resource management class. It was an amazing experience to see how technology allows people from such varying backgrounds and lives come together to discuss ideas for such a prevalent issue in our lives. Being an environmentalist can be terrifying, depressing, difficult, trying, and just plain sucks sometimes. It can suck when it seems like the world of capitalism, consumerism, practices like the tarsands, and unsustainable practices will never be overcome, will never become a world that will prosper and protect our planet for that seventh generation. It can suck when you realize that we have lost almost 50% of all the species on Earth and we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the universe. But, projects like these that bring people together and create real action and real change create hope.
I was then selected to be one of the 10 student writers from across the province to take all of the ideas that were generated in those virtual town-halls and prepare it into one white paper document that we later presented in a virtual town-hall to the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in our province.
The writing took place over one weekend at the University of Toronto. For me, it was just a jog downtown on the streetcar but other writers came hundreds of kilometers from Manitoulin Island, London, Carleton place, Thunder Bay, Belleville, and Ottawa. Starting out the weekend everyone brought something from where they live to share with the group which was an enlightening experience to realize just how different the lives of people living in different places can be. I brought a photo from the Evergreen Brickworks, a transformed brick factory into a green space in Toronto, but others brought items like deer antlers, medicine pouches and more.
After a long, and overwhelming process of gathering the thoughts of 600 individuals, the group completed the writing of the white paper. I wrote the Agriculture and Food section of the white paper, and later also presented it to Glenn Thibeault, the Minister of Provincial Parliament who is the parliamentary assistant to the provincial Minister of the Environment and Climate Change in a virtual town-hall with all the students involved.
It was an experience that I learned a lot from, including many useful skills that I can utilize in future communication in government, but, unfortunately, there has been very little response to our presentation or acknowledgement by the entire Government of Ontario of all of our requests. I spoke with the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change myself at a town hall for the National Climate Action Plan where he invited me to send him the white paper again and meet with him over coffee, but did not get a response to my email.
This was me as I spoke at the national climate action plan consultation that over 300 citizens attended that Glenn Murray, the provincial minister of environment and climate change, the federal minister, Catherine McKenna and many Ministers of Parliament.
Although the results weren’t fantastic, I have high hopes that the power of our youth voices WILL make a difference. But then again, there are days when I sit at home reading about all the climate catastrophes and acknowledging all the inaction of our governments to mitigate climate change and help us all adapt and it feels like we will never be listened to, that we will never be heard. I know though, that if I don’t pick myself up off the couch and continue fighting for a healthier planet and a better world that there is no way we will ever get there. So that is why I will continue lobbying governments, continue organizing education events, and continue being an environmentalist because, ultimately protecting the planet is protecting ourselves, our families, and our future.