Sydney Whiting is an environmental activist, Grade 12 student, and a leader within the Climate Hub of Southern Alberta (@climatehubsa). She cares about the intersection of government, youth, and environmental action, prompting her to pursue studies in political science in the fall.
As I read Dr. Michael E. Mann’s new book, The New Climate War, Iwas 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 perspectiveis rooted in the American political battles, the climate wars are not lost onus 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 thosebehind 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 thelatest environmental and conservation trends, we will not slow the global climatic effects of continued carbon emissions. “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 knowwhere to start.” There are dozens of advocacy groups — many based here inAlberta — 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, grassroot hubs and advocacy groups are working towards similar eco-goals. Find your people and invest in their efforts howeverpossible.
With local elections fast approaching, the next action that we cantake is demanding a climate-responsive municipal government. New voters, thismessage 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 asa crossover to the physical space of activism. We need to use networking opportunities and video conferencing 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 thetable.
As a student, I recognize the power of collective voices, energy, and enthusiasm that is present on high school and post-secondary campuses. Students are hopeful for the future of climate justice and social change— and we’re ready to work for it. To contribute to these efforts, reach out to campus groups doing incredible work with environmental research, leadership, and community engagement. And if they don’t exist just yet, take that step. Collaborate with your peers, professors, and social networks to influence and advocate for sustainability, or draw on support from your local Climate Hub and the CampusCorps program at The Climate Reality Project Canada.
So, 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.
Campus Corps is a special program for students to take meaningful action while connecting with fellow activists and gainingnew leadership skills. With direct support from Climate Reality Leaders, students at participating campuses receive guidance in designing campaigns and organizing fellow students to convince their schools to embrace clean energy and sustainability and raise awareness about the climate crisis. By joining Campus Corps, students can take countless initiatives to pressure campuses such as strikes, rallies, petitions, letters to boards, lobbying and more. We’re at a tipping point in the fight to solve the climate crisis and you have the opportunity to be a part of the solution.