Youth in over 100 countries skipped school on March 15 to tell our leaders that they are failing to take climate change seriously. The youth will continue to do so until our leaders commit to action ensuring they inherit a habitable planet. Sounds like a reasonable ask to me.
In Toronto, I stood with many of these youth as they chanted and cheered outside of Queen’s Park. I hear from countless “experts” on climate change policy as part of my job, but to be honest, none have spurred me to action like the youth I’ve heard from at the now-regular Friday rallies. With witty signs like “May the Forest be with you” and “You’re killing yourselves, dumbass!!!” they have underlined the fallacy of our elected leaders saying they want to do something about a problem threatening every human on the planet, but actually not doing much of anything at all.
My own activism started in high school too, more than twenty years ago. My friends and I raised money to build a pollinator garden next to the school by putting on a music show. I played drums in a Blink 182 cover band and we sold baked goods. A lot of people laughed at us. But we got our garden. Six months later, it was bulldozed by the city to make way for a bigger baseball diamond. We were devastated. But we didn’t give up. We called the city, and called the local paper, which ran photos of our teenage faces looking very stern standing in front of piles of dirt. And then, the City replanted it, deciding under pressure that the baseball diamond was big enough. That’s when we learned that causing an uproar is an essential part of activism. You have to fight for what you want, and then you have to fight to keep it.
Climate change is a problem so vast it can seem paralyzing. And unfortunately, the people benefitting most from this inaction are working hard to block change. But there are many examples of social movements that took on big, complex issues facing significant opposition from the powers that be, and won.
Tommy Douglas, along with many labour and farm organizations, inspired thousands to believe that every Canadian deserved the right to quality health care. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and many other activists believed everyone deserved equal rights regardless of the colour of their skin. Activists have fought and won maternity leave, voting rights, marriage equality, and many other changes we take for granted (although many are still fighting for these rights around the world). These calls for a better and more equitable world all faced strong opposition, but in the end built movements so powerful they could not be ignored.
The scale of action needed to fight climate change will not happen without a loud, powerful social movement demanding this action. Governments won’t take deeper action unless we make it impossible for them not to act. The youth leading this movement understand this in a big way – but they can’t do it alone. We need people of all ages to speak up in their own way.
If you agree with the youth taking to the streets, remember to raise your voice too. There’s lots of ways to do this: joining protests, making phone calls to your local MP or MPP’s office, signing your name on a petition, writing a letter to the editor of a local paper, organizing events or town halls to talk about solutions. Your voice will mean more as part of a bigger, louder movement making it clear that governments will be held accountable if they don’t take fighting climate change seriously.
I’ll leave the last word to 16-year old activist Greta Thunberg, who started the youth climate strikes by sitting alone with a sign outside the Swedish parliament buildings. “Adults keep saying that we owe it to the young people to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”