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The Right to be Cold: An Inspiring Tale of an Activist and How it Impacted Me

By Shahana

In her day job, Lisa Kohler has the honour to work alongside young leaders propelling climate action. As the Regional Organizer for GTA West, Lisa has the incredible experience to be part of a large Canadian team of dynamic professionals dedicated, and driven to support a future that these young leaders seek. 

For her blog contribution Kohler felt compelled to share a story from Shahana. Shahana submitted this post as part of a local campaign called the HCC Reads. Over 850 community members participated in this campaign, reading Canadian Climate champion Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s book “The Right to be Cold”. They also had over 450 youth engaged, writing blogs about the book, creating social media content, and contacting their local politicians about their thoughts on the book, and local climate action. 

Shahana post was one of the brilliant submissions we received. Thank you Shahana for your sharing your story, and inspiring others to act on climate!

If you had asked me what my perception was on climate change before reading “The Right to be Cold”, I would’ve explained my vision of a helpless polar bear trapped on a drifting iceberg. Not once did I ever consider that climate change was actively affecting a community of people, I have to shamefully admit. But perhaps this isn’t a fault of my own. Maybe, it is a shortcoming of the media and even our own curriculum, that has clearly left out teaching and showing us, the youth, the harsher truth behind climate change. All this time, the fight to prevent climate change to me, was a fight to protect our environment and our wildlife. After completing this book, I’m left wishing that I’d learn that it is more than that. It is a fight for human rights as well. Though, I can’t be left wallowing in guilt for too long. In fact, there really is no time for that. Now is the time for action, to realize and accept the things that I have been doing wrong, such as my ignorance and more. To take these things into account and to have a change of heart.

This is not to say that the wildlife and the environment itself is not as important, in fact, it shouldn’t be a discourse upon what should be valued more or what is morally right. In the same way that we shouldn’t still be debating the future of our planet and the future of our economics either. Understanding that the wildlife, the environment and the Arctic people are all affected by climate change in connection to each other is essential to learn the true meaning of “The Right to be Cold”. There’s almost an order of the effects of the harm. For those who have not read the book, Sheila explains her personal observations and scientific observations about this. For example, chemical pollutants that have been dumped in the waters end up seeping into soils, snow, etc.

Wildlife will then ingest these toxins, whether it be a berry bush absorbing this from their roots or a polar bear absorbing the toxins from their meal of prey. I feel as though people have forgotten, including myself, that up North of Canada and many other nations, there is a community that needs to thrive off of both this environment and the wildlife, living there and hunting and harvesting. Dare I say, truly we southerners have a narrow vision, almost turning a blind eye to these things.

My parents are from Sri Lanka, both of them had immigrated here and had both my elder sister and me. They had come here and fought through struggles just for us to grow up in a more fortunate country that offered us more opportunities in our journey through life. I have always been a hundred percent grateful for all they have done and what they continue to do for us. Although, growing up here may have made us more southernized in ways, perhaps even some roots of our culture fading.

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Personally, I’m not skilled in our mother tongue, Tamil, nor do I know how to exactly go about many traditions and ceremonies my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents can perform. It’s definitely one thing that has left me disappointed in a way, but what I know for sure is that I wouldn’t let anything take away what I do have, not without a fight at least. It broke my heart hearing that the Inuit people were losing their ability to practice culture from the faults of our society and our wasteful quality of life currently. In many Hindu traditions and ceremonies, many different plants and flowers are used. To me, that’d be like a gradual shortage of these plants and flowers. I know if it were to happen, I wouldn’t accept the loss at all.

So why do we stand by and let these things happen to Arctic communities? Society can be undoubtedly selfish at times and we often ignore issues that do not affect us or that we aren’t seeing an extreme sight of. If climate change was having a large, noticeable impact on the south, maybe we would care more. Maybe if we suddenly saw climate change affecting wildlife and communities all in one spike rather than gradually, we’d scramble to help or spread awareness. One of the biggest things we need for us to be able to battle climate change is simply compassion for others and our planet. It comes with morals. To feel real empathy for people and the plant and to feel the need to change our ways in order to support them. We need to get over selfishness and ignorance and open our eyes to what is really happening.

The funny thing is, many of us actually know what is happening and have seen graphic sights of it. Sometimes I feel I’ve noticed that weather even here can be chaotic and the winter season has become less plentiful overtime. Continuous frustrating and pointless arguments still continue upon the science of climate change, as if it hasn’t been proven enough. It’s simply a waste of time, to continue assessing the impacts of it all, especially when we already know it all. The problem is that we think about these things so deeply yet shrug them off and live in the same way.

And to all of those things, I don’t see why they are holding us back, this is our planet we’re talking about. It’s not affecting us greatly now, but we will see it as time passes and by then, won’t it be too late? Once again, this affects all of us. Adjustments to your lifestyle won’t hurt you, in fact, as much a bother they can feel to you, these things will contribute to you continuing to live such a fortunate lifestyle for much more decades. 

And if you think you are like one tiny ant in this world, think about billions of us changing the way we live to be more sustainable. If you combine that all together, it is sincerely a global effort that will make a global impact. So don’t procrastinate on the solution to such a major problem, please. We youth may have to deal with the consequences of the actions and the neglect of the generations before us, so we shouldn’t leave it for the next.

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