Action on climate change is urgent, say our youth 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde

When Whistler Councillor Ralph Forsyth said he didn't want to pay for the long-promised Community Energy and Climate Action Plan coordinator last week, I could only wonder at this type of head-in-the sand thinking, while understanding that it is exactly this type of denial that has landed the world where it is today facing an environmental crisis.

Said Forsyth at the March 12 council meeting: "There's things like the (Community Energy and Climate Action Plan) coordinator. I don't want to pay for that position..."

His disconnection was in stark contrast to the actions of some of the young citizens of Whistler, who marched in the village last Friday, March 15, in solidarity with tens of thousands of students and their supporters in 1,659 towns and cities across 105 countries to mark FridaysForFuture.

(Full disclosure: my son Matthew spearheaded the march in Whistler. Though it was entirely his own endeavour, I fully supported it.)

This movement has grown out of a protest that 16-year-old student Greta Thunberg started last year in Sweden, when she chose to miss school every Friday to sit on the steps of the Swedish parliament with a hand-painted sign that read "School Strike for Climate." 

It is now a global phenomenon.

"Why should we be studying for a future that soon may be no more?" asked Thunberg. 

Indeed.

Last October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued an alarming warning that the world has only about a dozen years to take action or face rising temperatures that will result in a catastrophe of droughts, floods, and extreme heat—not to mention the extinction of species such as coral and pollinating insects. The impact on the human species will be severe. Already, places such as the Sundarbans Delta in India is regularly flooded due to snow melt in the Himalayas, so that families that have lived there for hundreds of years are being completely displaced to camps.

"You're Stealing our Future," read one student protest sign. "I'm Skipping School to Teach You," read another. These messages are indicative of a generation that have never known a reality without climate change.

Yet some of our leaders still do not see the situation for what it is.

Whistler straddles this crisis. On one hand, we rely on visitors to come here by car, bus and train, creating the very emissions that are fuelling climate change, and on the other, we peddle the natural environment and our amazing snow sports, all of which are in peril from climate change.

Our glaciers are melting, our summer skies are thick with the smoke of wildfires and we are failing to meet our own emission reduction targets—they have gone up 16 per cent since 2015.

Whistler's student marchers asked to meet with the mayor to deliver a letter signed by 150 students outlining their concerns. With the mayor committed to another meeting, Coun. Arthur De Jong not only met with the students but also hosted a Q and A session that lasted well over an hour. What he heard were the voices of worried youth who wanted to be part of the solutions that will keep Whistler a relevant, responsible and sustainable community.

Youth are frustrated and dumbfounded that adults can't create change to address obvious problems, such as propane fireplaces burning all day outside at local businesses with no one sitting around them, or shops opening their doors during a polar vortex, or why we still have single-use plastic bags or ... well, the list was lengthy.

For his part, De Jong listened, took notes and committed to taking the concerns back to local government.

Youth want elected officials to take climate change seriously. (Let's not forget that many of those marching last week will be voting next time around).

They want panic, they want action, they want change.

Activists Thunberg and Ann Taylor said it best last week in an opinion piece published in The Guardian: "Politicians have failed us. We've seen years of negotiations, pathetic deals on climate change, fossil fuel companies being given free rein to carve open our lands, drill beneath our soils and burn away our futures for their profit. We've seen fracking, deep sea drilling and coalmining continue. Politicians have known the truth about climate change and they've willingly handed over our future to profiteers whose search for quick cash threatens our very existence.

"The kind of changes that need to happen mean everyone recognising that this is a crisis and committing to radical transformations. We strongly believe that we can fight off the most damaging effects of climate change—but we have to act now."

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