What do we want ~ CLIMATE JUSTICE
When do we want it ~ NOW
Such was the call and response chant which rang out this past Friday along a downtown Kamloops route hoping to catch the attention of local officials and anyone who would listen. Organized by the Valleyview Secondary Environmental Club participants spanned more than just the high school crowd. A few of us over sixty years old joined the parade.
The protest was one of several events across Canada as students skipped school on Friday, Sept 24th for a climate strike. Organizers say they want Canada to stop using fossil fuels. As one Ontario student said of a different strike, and of her conversion to this kind of protest: “I was sitting there . . . and after, I was crying. I remember thinking, ‘It’s real, this is happening,’ and afterwards I saw Greta Thunberg and other youth, and was like, ‘Oh it’s not just me.’” Not long after, she said she became the first person — along with her dad — to strike in her small town of Fenelon Falls..
In a news release, Fridays for Future Toronto said Monday’s election “has confirmed that Canadians are worried about the climate crisis, and we must make sure the newly elected government prioritizes climate action.” Such a plea is not unique to young students, but their interest and motivation is unique. They will immediately inherit the situation previous generations have created. Their sense of urgency is real and determined. The question however is to whom should our protest be directed? Who is really responsible? And what sacrifices will all generations actually make, to create not more climate change but real, tangible and obvious social change.
A teacher of geology, earth systems science, climate literacy and the present human-caused climate and ecological crises at John Abbott College on the island of Montreal, Heather Short recently resigned her position after nearly fifteen years in the classroom. She explains her decision:
“We (privileged people in wealthy countries) have a very short window of opportunity to take decisive, systemic action to avert the worst consequences of climate breakdown. Not only do our current emissions targets put us far behind where we need to be, our province’s 50-year-old education system lacks the support our students need to face this reality.”
One would think she wants to remain in such a role, but she is done with teaching, all because of a particular moral despair.
“Teaching this (material) to an 18-year-old is like telling them that they have cancer, then ushering them out the door, saying “sorry, good luck with that . . . It is also fundamentally unfair and unjust for us — part of the generations that have benefited from unmitigated resource extraction and emissions — to drop the responsibility to fix (or adapt to) the climate crisis in their young laps. They deserve a livable future.”
Well yes, they sure do. It is good that Kamloops has committed to a Community Climate Action Plan which includes both a template and a timeline. Each component of the plan however must now be prioritized, funded and implemented. During our recent federal election there was much talk of climate change response though in each party platform questions remain about the strategy and achievability of targets, timing and initiatives. The United Nations Conference of Parties (UNFCCC) will convene in Glasgow, Scotland for yet another round of negotiations and assessments of progress building on the 2015 Paris Agreement. (Canada is voted as the “fossil of the day” at each and every one of these meetings – I’ve been there – it’s not a proud Canuck moment). Talk is cheap; real economic and environmental change is expensive, though essential.
If the strengths of student climate strikes include connection with a global movement, the emotive use of the term “strike” often combined with “climate emergency,” the nurturing of an emerging generation of civil society leaders, other assets likely need cultivation and support. Beyond the forum of the street, how can such advocacy find its rightful place in industrial and commercial boardrooms in a way that moves well beyond greenwashing? Older consumers with surplus wealth can influence capital markets (read Mark Carney on this) though the pace of change is so very, very slow.
Youth are saying that they have different expectations for fulfillment in life – sustainable lifestyles, different approaches to housing, mobility, professional responsibility etc. – time will tell what extent younger Canadians will indeed live and function differently. The question remains however, how best to advocate urgently and effectively. Annual events; weekly events; petitions and letter writing; physical non-violent protest; aggressive social media engagement? All are appropriate; some will be more effective than others.
Possibly the best way to create energy (sic) for change is to find points of convergence amongst movements and events. As yesterday’s group gathered and shouted its message, a logging truck was stuck underneath a rail bridge across the street from City Hall. As the high warning sign warned of a safe height of 4.1M likely 1M too small for the fully loaded double trailer load. Stuck! Ouch! Someone had a bad day at work for sure; and why was the truck going in that direction anyway? A larger-than-life game of pickup sticks ensued in a city in a province which has serious problems with forest resource management and development.
Connections were quickly made with the months long Fairy Creek Forest Protests near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island. Various environmental and indigenous groups continue to blockade roads to put an immediate halt to the logging of ancient forest on unceded Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territory. The number of arrested protesters now well exceeds those charged in the so-called War-in-the-woods in 1992. Something has not changed it seems; something needs to change. And yes, at least one forester yesterday noted the problem of butt rot in the logs.
So good on these young climate action leaders. You rock; you are prepared to stand up, find your voice, tyke possession of your future as much as possible and demand change. Those of us over sixty were honoured that you found room for us in your protest (we often lament your absence in our meetings – truth be told, we need to join you more than for you to join us). Everyone would have preferred to have several hundred marchers than the several dozen who attended. Many of us over sixty are admittedly tired, and have hoped for more progress over recent years, even decades than has occurred. You have energy which will inevitably sustain one generation as another leads the present charge. The climate energy strike movement is a vital component of a maturing and hopefully growing impactful voice. So thank you.
What do we want ~ CLIMATE JUSTICE
When do we want it ~ NOW