What if you felt your future was literally going up in flames, but the politicians and business leaders in charge weren’t doing enough to fight it?
That’s the sentiment driving thousands of young people across Canada to rally outside government buildings and corporate centres every week to demand action on climate change, an issue they don’t have the option to ignore.
It’s called #FridaysForFuture, a global movement started by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg. She sat in front of parliament every school day for three weeks in August 2018 because she felt Sweden needed to do more to tackle climate change. Canada became the third country to hold a rally in solidarity on Nov. 2, 2018.
Within months, students were holding events every week, including several large-scale rallies like the International Climate Strike on May 24, when thousands of youth across the country took to the streets alongside others in 133 countries.
“When we started we were less than 100, but since March 15 we are always above 400,” says Aliénor Rougeot, the 20-year-old University of Toronto student co-ordinating Toronto’s strikes. “On May 3 we were over 2,500 and on May 24 we were probably 800, and we blocked Bay St. for a little bit!”
It’s all coordinated through a series of Facebook groups and other social media accounts, as well as a global map that shows more than 1,000 upcoming strikes planned in locations around the world as of May 30 (it’s not always up to date). Toronto’s is on May 31 is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Yonge-Dundas Square.
As conservative governments and political parties across Canada fight carbon pricing and politicians are accused of dropping the ball on climate change, we asked Rougeot and other young activists what’s at stake, and what action they would like to see leaders take.
Aliénor Rougeot, 20, Toronto
Striking is a disruption of the “normal”, the “usual way of life.” And that’s exactly what we need to make people understand, because if we keep living our lives as usual and acting like everything is normal, we will not have much time left on this Earth.
I am striking because our governments, but also the private sector and many individuals, are not taking the climate crisis seriously. I was born under the threat of climate change and while I was always told to listen to science and experts when it came to everything else, it seems that for climate change our whole world still lives in a haze of denial.
I am also striking because I care very deeply about human rights and justice, and climate change is fundamental a symbol of injustice. It was created by a few and will affect disproportionately those who have not contributed to it. It is going to affect marginalized communities, Indigenous people, lower-income families, and people from poorer countries. Climate change is going to lead to more wars, more water shortages, more floods and fires, and that is going to lead to more refugees and death than we are already seeing right now. I just couldn’t live with myself knowing these facts and not doing my everything to stop it.
I want a climate emergency declared, which would allow to implement faster and fully the TransformTO plan. I also want bid polluters to be held accountable, which is something the government can do. I want Indigenous Peoples’ rights and sovereignty recognized officially and enshrined in the law. I want the three levels of government to commit to bold emissions reductions targets, and in doing so, I want them to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and start helping all Canadians transition to a cleaner economy. There are a lot more things to be done so I could keep going forever but if there is one immediate thing I would also enjoy, is that we plant more trees, stop paving green spaces and start protecting wetlands and forests. When well-maintained they can be huge carbon sinks!
Sama’a Salama, 17, Ottawa
I am rallying for societal realization and change. No one can deny climate change, but people can choose to ignore the disastrous implications and their ever-accelerating speed of onset. I want them to realize that the power lies in our hands, we the people. When we realize that corporations and governments were never working for the interest of the people, only then will we bring forward change. We don’t want to have to explain to the generations after us how we failed them as the generations before us had.
I want people to realize that this is a societal struggle that knows no borders. It doesn’t matter your age, gender, religion or ethnic background. This isn’t a “liberal” issue, nor is it an issue only for avid environmentalists. It’s a global issue. We need people from all walks of life and all areas of expertise to help us reach our goal.
Finally, I am rallying for the much-needed change in the way our governments run and what their priorities are. Corporations need to be set aside and the future generations and this generation need to become their priority.
We want the government to start off by telling the full truth about climate change and how it is going to change the world as we know it. Spreading misinformation to further a political agenda, supporting corporations that are obviously a lead cause in the destruction of our precious home and blaming the consumer is no longer acceptable. The government also needs to stay committed to the Paris Agreement and must put in some real effort in keeping the global temperature rise under 2 C. Time is of the essence and they must realize that. We need to see direct action, and fast.
Kieran Anand, 16, and Alexia Chambers, 17, Calgary
As non-voters we grew tired of not having our voices heard in a crisis that will determine the scope of our lives and human history.
We’re primarily calling for the Canadian government to meet the terms of the Paris agreement that we signed on to and do our part in protecting the future against the threat of climate change. We want our municipal government to take actions such as banning single-use plastics and converting buses to electric. As Calgarians, we fully understand the importance of Alberta’s oil industry in upholding our economy, however we are calling for reduced use of carbon in energy sources, initially through reducing imported oil, and in the future through the promotion of renewable energy as a primary energy source for Alberta and Canada. We believe an important short-term action would be proper, regulated, unbiased environmental testing and reports on the oil sands.
Stefano Mezzini, 23, Regina
I believe a clean environment, clean water, food security and job security are fundamental human rights that can often only be achieved with a stable climate. Thus, it is our duty to unite and fight for a better world for all people around the globe. The fight for such fundamental human rights must transcend all levels of discrimination, including borders, ethnicity, gender, sex and religion.
This is why I want all governments to make climate action a priority. But I realize it is hard to speak globally for an individual, so I want to focus particularly on the Saskatchewan and Canadian governments. I would like both of them to make climate education a priority for people of all ages, particularly people in school. I would like them to also recognize the sovereignty of the many Indigenous groups in Canada, since they must have the major role in climate action. We should also keep in mind that climate change affects homeless people and poor people disproportionately more than richer and more advantaged people, so they should also have a role.
Finally, I strongly believe that it is wrong to view any of these changes as business plans. These actions must be taken to improve the world for the sake of humans and many other species that inhabit the Earth. No changes that sprout from greed or business objectives will be able to truly help anyone, particularly the least advantaged ones.
Since these issues and their consequences (as well as their solutions) are complex, we should take action as soon as possible, while still considering the rights and history of all people affected, particularly those who were living on Turtle Island (name for North America used by Indigenous rights activists) before the arrival of the colonizers.
Although fast action is definitely necessary, we must still take into consideration all the potential side effects that each action (e.g. renewable energy sources) may have. For instance, wind turbines have been shown to cause high bird and bat fatalities, and any engineering project such as flooding for a hydroelectric dam or solar panel installation should have the full approval of any Indigenous groups that are affected by the project.
Stephanie Vienneau, 18, Mississauga
I am rallying for my future and the future of all the amazing kids around the world. As an 18-year-old it is scary to hear that I will be dealing with the effects of the climate crisis in my late 20s! I really want to travel and do volunteer work in many different countries to help address social issues because that is what I am really passionate about. But because of rising seas levels and increasing temperatures, those countries may be inhabitable. I am also striking for the millions of animals that will go extinct because of humans.
I want to see the government take action towards cutting carbon! The conservatives are choosing to pay polluters instead of tax them. This plan will never be successful and I wish the government would use cap and trade or carbon taxing in Ontario.
I also hope the government will work towards putting in a plan for renewable energies. We will need to cut our carbon by over 50 per cent in order to stop our global temperature from warming. We are a wealthy and diverse country, we can afford to put our resources to stop the rise in global temperature.
Halifax strike committee
Julia Samson, 17
I am striking for climate action because there’s nothing else I can do. Our government and governments around the world are not acting on the climate crisis. They are throwing away our futures and the lives of future generations for money. I am not voting age so the only way I can tell them I’m not happy with the way they’re treating the climate crisis is by striking. So I will continue to strike until I see climate action.
I want to see our federal government cutting carbon emissions by 50 per cent for 2030 in order to stay in line with the Paris agreement. I want to see them switching to renewables and helping homeowners and small businesses switch to renewable energy by adding more financial aid. I want to see them respecting Indigenous rights, which means not building more pipelines and protecting Indigenous land and water — which means our provincial government needs to stop Alton gas.
I want to see our municipal government banning all single-use plastics by 2020 and switch our transit system to green energy. But most of all I want to see them stick to a climate plan. In the past, our government has made promises related to climate action and not kept them. The Paris agreement is a perfect example. They promised to cut our carbon emissions in order to keep the rise in temperature below 1.5 C. But right now, they’re not on track to keep that promise. I want to see climate action, not just climate plans.
Willa Fisher, 16
I am rallying for the safety of my future and the future of the whole world because I think that humanity deserves another chance to be a wonderful species. I also believe that we as humans have no right to ruin the chances for any other species to thrive.
I would like to see our government implement rigorous environmental plans such as a Green New Deal. I would like to see our government separate oil and state. I am not a scientist so I want the politicians to listen to the scientist who do have the answers.
But most of all I want them to care.
Emma Goulden, 17
I am rallying for climate action and awareness. To educate our community and to make a statement.
I would like Canada to follow a Canadian Green New Deal. I want to see single-use plastics banned, and I want to see Canada treat our climate emergency like an emergency!
Wyn Lumley, 15
I want to do all that I can. I am too young to vote, but striking is a way to express myself and hopefully help induce the big changes that need to happen to slow the climate crisis.
I want our government to listen to the people who are educated, and follow the Green New Deal.
Responses were edited and condensed.
Sahar Fatima is a Toronto Star digital producer. Follow her on Twitter @sahar_fatima