Canadian climate activist Emma Lim details the frustration youth feel in the face of constant delays on climate crisis action by the world’s decision makers.
Last year’s climate protests attracted millions of people across the globe. The scientific consensus is clear: one quarter of the world’s population is facing a water crisis, one in every eight animals face extinction, and the economic impacts will be dire.
With every passing day, environmental concerns approach a fever pitch. We don’t hear about global warming anymore. Instead, it’s climate catastrophe, ecological breakdown, climate crisis, mass extinction.
Despite all this, last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 25) was a failure. Negotiations lasted two extra days, making it the longest in the conference’s history—yet key decisions about the global carbon market and emissions were shelved, put off to COP 26.
But we are rapidly running out of time to act. While those who run the world sit on their hands, young people in Canada and around the world keenly feel the consequences of inaction.
For example, Kolbi Bernhardt is from Tuktoyaktuk, a Canadian Arctic community encircled by ocean. In 2017, a highway was built from Tuktoyaktuk to Inuvik—the largest city in that part of the territory—and the remote community became accessible by land for the first time. Tuktoyaktuk is now the northernmost location you can drive to in Canada, and it is beautiful. The ocean is full of Arctic ice tinted an otherworldly blue. The sunrises are pale pink and vibrant orange.
But as the icebergs melt, the ocean rises, and Tuktoyaktuk is being lost to the sea. Erosion threatens its existence.
Nearby islands shrink with every passing year. Homes near the shoreline have had to be moved.
Traditional ways of life are disappearing along with the ice. Food is expensive to import, and people in communities like Tuktoyaktuk rely on the land to survive. But climate change is disrupting the weather patterns that animals have followed for millennia. The sea ice is becoming treacherous, melting earlier in the year and freezing later.
Pushing back key decisions on climate change is easy for world leaders, but a year might be too long for Tuktoyaktuk.
For Julia Sampson, who has been organizing climate strikes in the eastern Canadian city of Halifax, a year of waiting means another year of school strikes for climate action. Organizing and participating in strikes takes hours away from her friends, family, homework, extracurriculars and free time. Although some school boards have been supportive, Julia’s has not. She has faced disciplinary action for her weekly protests.
But Julia feels like she has no choice. Although Halifax has not been as hard-hit as some northern communities, the effects of the climate crisis are nonetheless making themselves felt. In 2019, Hurricane Dorian left 400,000 people without electricity as it smashed through Canada’s maritime region. People in Halifax were lucky compared with residents of the Bahamas, where Dorian destroyed entire islands, caused US$3.4 billion in damages and killed at least 70.
Like most young climate activists, Julia is prepared to keep striking until she sees action, even if it means protesting for the foreseeable future. She is hoping for academic scholarships to offset the cost of university, and knows her sustained protests will affect her grades—but she isn’t backing down.
Kyra Gilbert is a Mi’kmaq activist in Nova Scotia, Canada whose community is battling Alton Gas, an energy company that wants to store natural gas underground in the province. To create the underground caverns, the company wants to flush out salt deposits and dump the resulting brine into the Shubenacadie River. The salt concentration will be too high to sustain life. Indigenous groups are fighting to protect not only the water itself, but the fish their community relies on.
Kyra faced personal attacks and death threats last year after a video of her at a protest went viral, and her mother was arrested for protesting the Alton Gas project. But she remains undeterred. For Indigenous People, protesting is not a choice. It is often the only option left to communities who are not consulted properly, and whose rights are seen as secondary to corporate demands.
A year of inaction will mean homes lost to the sea. It will mean glaciers that melt and never reform. For youth, it will mean climate grief: sleepless nights and anxiety, crying when you read the climate science, and living with a constant boiling rage inside of you. For some of those youth, it will mean not being able to go to university.
The year of postponed decisions is another year where lives are at stake, where land is taken from guardians, where corporations can pollute with impunity. A year is just a year for the world’s decision makers, but for people like us, a year is too long to wait.
EMMA LIM, a guest writer for this issue, is a first-year biomedical sciences student at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. An activist since a very young age, she is now part of Climate Strike Canada (Fridays for Future Canada).
Today's young people will be disproportionately affected by what we do to our planet. But what issues matter most to youth in the Arctic, and how can we move forward together?
What image comes to mind when you think of climate action in Canada? Maybe it’s leading change, emphasizing inclusivity and being ethical. But when it comes to the Indigenous Peoples who have called the land now commonly known as Canada home for millennia, this is far from the truth.