VANCOUVER—This is a story about life in Canada, 30 years from now.
It’s not about wildfires tearing through forests, thick smoke settling over cities or suffocating heat waves. It’s not about coastal communities swamped by annual floods, hordes of mosquitos or the spread of disease.
It’s an encouraging vision of the future, as imagined by three teen climate activists in B.C.
Rebecca Wolf Gage, 13, Naia Lee, 16, and Rebecca Hamilton, 17, are in high school. They helped organize the strikes in Victoria and Vancouver on Friday that saw tens of thousands of people leave school and work in the middle of the day to demand stronger action on climate change.
“There’s no planet B,” said Wolf Gage. “You can’t just sit around and let your government burn the Earth to the ground; you need to act.”
The good news is “the transition to a fossil-free economy is full of opportunities,” said Hamilton.
Many of the young people raising their voices about this crisis won’t be able to vote in October’s federal election, but the decisions made by the incoming government could dictate their lives decades from now.
By 2050, Wolf Gage, Lee and Hamilton will be in their mid- to late-40s. Here’s what they hope to see:
The streets are lined with trees that help keep cities cool. They soak up raindrops, slowing the rush of water over concrete and asphalt into storm drains, and pull carbon from the air.
People are walking and biking and taking public transit. Cars no longer rule the road, and those that remain are powered by renewable energy.
Cars are “just such a strange idea,” said Hamilton, who questions why we live “so much of our lives inside of these individual metal pods.”
“I don’t believe this is what’s most fulfilling for humans; I think humans want to be together and want to be moving our bodies,” she said.
“You don’t feel joy necessarily riding in a car, sitting in traffic. I frequently feel joy on my bike.”
In 2050, the choking burst of diesel fumes when a delivery truck pulls away from the curb is a thing of the past — and so is the fossil-fuel industry. Workers have new, livable jobs in sustainable sectors.
The agricultural industry has changed too.
“Food is our biggest connection, I think, to the natural world. The health of our bodies is directly connected to the health of the earth,” said Hamilton.
In 2050, more food is grown locally, at smaller scale, organic family farms. Healthier soils not only grow nutritious fruits and vegetables — they are also a crucial form of carbon storage.
Eating local means eating more of what’s in season and less of what’s not. Grocery stores are zero-waste. Shoppers not only bring their own bags for the check-out, they bring their own containers for everything. Plastic packaging has disappeared from the shelves.
The entire economy has shifted. Consumerism has tempered, things are built to last and people find ways to repair and reuse. Rather than buying their own tools or gadgets, people share, borrowing from neighbours or lending libraries.
“Our economic system is predicated on people constantly buying new things,” said Hamilton, but it’s not sustainable or fulfilling.
Slashing greenhouse-gas emissions is just part of the transformation for which these teens are advocating.
Climate action is an “opportunity to envision and change communities in a way that we haven’t before,” said Lee.
The communities of the future are inclusive and diverse. Canada is welcoming of immigrants and climate refugees. People are happier and more focused on relationships. And all people have safe, affordable and sustainable housing.
“The climate crisis will disproportionately impact homeless people and people who are vulnerable in terms of housing,” said Lee. Ensuring everyone has access to a home will mitigate the impacts of the crisis on the most vulnerable communities.
Overcoming climate change will require “radical co-operation,” said Hamilton.
“It’s going to require us to change some things, but it’s not going to require a worse world,” she said.
Kathryn Harrison, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia focused on environmental and energy policy, said the teens have presented “a really lovely and encouraging alternate vision for the future.”
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It’s a good reminder of the benefits of climate action: inclusive, walkable communities, where “people are healthier because they’re moving, they’re biking, they’re walking, they’re seeing their neighbours,” she said.
But the current climate plans put forward by Canada’s four main political parties aren’t strong enough to get us to this “very ambitious” vision for 2050, Harrison said.
Canada is not on track to meet its existing commitments under the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
While the Conservatives say their plan will give Canada the best shot of reaching the existing Paris targets, the Liberals, Greens and NDP are all promising more ambitious climate action, pledging to work toward net-zero emissions by 2050.
Hamilton and Lee want to see an even stronger commitment: net-zero emissions by 2040.
Canada has both high per capita emissions and high historical emissions, Hamilton said.
“We are disproportionally responsible for this crisis,” she said.
Now, they say, Canada has a responsibility for more aggressive action to solve the problem.
They’re calling for the next government to fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including a commitment to Article 32 to obtain “free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting (Indigenous) lands or territories.”
Indigenous people have been stewards of the land for thousands of years. A United Nations report released this spring found the natural areas managed by Indigenous people are declining less quickly than other areas.
Hamilton and Lee have also called for an end to all fossil-fuel subsidies.
“It’s inconceivable to me that the government that’s supposed to be protecting my interests is pretty much paying corporations to burn my future,” said Hamilton.
Major investments in renewable energy, sustainable building, transit, housing and community infrastructure are also needed to achieve the visions Hamilton, Lee and Wolf Gage laid out.
“We really need to elect representatives that will actually care about our future and actually do something,” said Wolf Gage.
Simon Donner, a climate scientist at the University of British Columbia, said many aspects of the teen activists’ 2050 vision are feasible but decisions need to be made now to achieve it.
“What’s nice to see is the students have a really broad inclusive vision, and it’s not just about climate change, it’s basically trying to make a better world for them and their children in the future,” he said.
“The challenge of fighting climate change is that there’s just such a great legacy to decisions you make.”