Mobilizing youth for systemic climate action

This First Person article is the experience of Sydney Whiting, an environmental activist, grade 12 student, and a leader within the Climate Hub of Southern Alberta. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

As I read Dr. Michael E. Mann’s new book, The New Climate War, I was astounded by his accounts of climate denialism theories, political opposition to reasonable market-based climate solutions, and organized attacks of hypocrisy towards prominent climate scientists and spokespeople.

As a 17-year-old environmental activist, this was an eye-opening encounter to the polarization that has been manifesting between fossil fuel and corporate advocates and progressives for much longer than I have been alive.  

While Mann’s perspective is rooted in the American political battles, the climate wars are not lost on us in Canada.

The recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada deeming carbon pricing as constitutional was controversial among political opponents. But as Mann explains, “There is nothing intrinsically divisive or partisan about [carbon pricing] … market mechanisms for dealing with pollution actually have their origins in the Republican Party.”

It is the other forces, such as fossil fuel interests and those behind the funding of troll campaigns who are using social media, as Mann writes, “to advance the cause of denial, deflection, doomism, and delay.”

Individual action is important, but if we get caught up in the latest environmental and conservation trends, we will not slow the global climatic effects of continued carbon emissions. 

Don’t become complacent

“We should all engage in climate-friendly individual action,” Mann concedes, “But don’t become complacent, thinking that your duty is done when you recycle your bottles or ride your bicycle to work.”

Strong policy leading to corporate accountability influences societal change, whereas lifestyle choices merely affect one individual. 

Talking with other people my age, I constantly hear, “I don’t know where to start.”

There are dozens of advocacy groups — many based here in Alberta — which can assist youth in their mission to lobby government, speak on policy, or bridge conversations between fossil fuel and renewable interests.

I represent the Climate Hub of Southern Alberta (CHSA), but regardless of personal affiliation, grassroots hubs and advocacy groups are working towards similar eco-goals. Find your people and invest in their efforts however possible.  

With local elections fast approaching, the next action that we can take is demanding a climate-responsive municipal government.

Individual action is important, but strong policy leading to corporate accountability influences societal change, whereas lifestyle choices merely affect one individual, says environmental activist Sydney Whiting. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

New voters, this message is for you: consider using your vote to support progressive climate action. Incoming councils will undoubtedly have the power to instill strong local climate policy and influence higher levels of government to follow suit. There is power at the polls.  

During a recent presentation, I had the opportunity to ask Dr. Mann a few questions.

I spoke of how young people have mounting concerns, especially in Alberta, about the future of  industry and job prospects as a direct result of climate change.

Increasing digital trends — and the isolation brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic — have resulted in people turning to online forums or social media to voice these concerns and participate in the climate discourse.

But even though individuals may support the climate cause, it can be difficult to extend their actions beyond social media. So how can we mobilize this online group and tap into their abundant energy?  

Mann’s response was succinct; we need to use the digital space as a crossover to the physical space of activism.

Lift one another up

We need to use networking opportunities and videoconferencing platforms to connect with people in our communities (and around the world) who have similar climate goals.

We need to lift one another up, instead of engaging in polarized digital battles against the internet trolls. And we need to encourage our peers and colleagues to do the same. 

I understand, because I also struggle with the pressures that make young people sit idle.

It has been a difficult year of navigating social justice, environmentalism, the pandemic, and racial reckoning, while still finding personal ways to act to support these changes. But the evidence presented in Mann’s book, and by other local and international climate scientists, is undeniable. Young people deserve — no, need — to have a voice at the table.  

To my youth peers: Reading climate literature such as The New Climate War is important for personal awareness, but true action only occurs when individuals band together and take action.

Consider supporting the work of local advocacy groups. Vote. And never stop pushing for the future we deserve.

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