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Time to Follow the Green New Leaders

Young people are rapidly changing the political calculus on climate in this country — even though many of the leaders are too young to vote

Youth in Ottawa take part in the Friday Climate Strike on May 3, 2019.

Youth in Ottawa take part in the Friday Climate Strike on May 3, 2019. (Photo: Julie Weder, Twitter)

Last week, the first state of emergency in what many British Columbians now just call "fire season" got underway. And yet, with her Ottawa riding weeks into an epic flooding emergency of its own, our federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change urged us not to move too fast. "Climate action is a marathon, not a sprint," she declared in an op-ed.

We were born 30 years apart, one of us a veteran filmmaker and organizer, the other a newly graduated environmental science student. We met through our mutual support of The Pact for a Green New Deal. And here's something else we passionately agree on: given the decades of failure by governments of every stripe, the fight against the climate crisis is now a marathon that must be run at the speed of a sprint.

We're pretty sure that Catherine McKenna knows this too. In 2015, she helped ensure the Paris text included the goal of holding global warming to 1.5 C. She’s read the followup report that gives humanity 11 years to cut global emissions in half, or put hundreds of millions more people at risk of starvation and death from climate-driven disasters.

And she surely knows that speed must be matched with justice. That means Indigenous leadership on climate action, including full implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the foundational right to free, prior and informed consent.

But despite declarations of climate emergency and grand bargains around pipelines and carbon taxes, on Canada's fair share of global climate action, we are not even at the starting line.

You know who is, though? Young people. Hundreds of thousands have walked out of school to demand that governments start responding to this existential emergency with "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society."

And this is not just a race to reduce emissions. In fact, putting climate action in that technocratic box is one of the reasons we are stuck. The vast changes necessary represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enact a just transition for everyone: a fairer, more prosperous life for all who live and work in this land.

This idea is catching fire. The Pact for a Green New Deal was launched this month and it already has tens of thousands of signatories, and more than 200 town hall meetings are hastily being scheduled.

Why are youth leading this charge? Consider the experience of a young person finding their voice in the extraordinary climate strike movement.

You're in high school, and it's chaos. Your supersized classes are getting bigger thanks to provincial cuts. Or you’re in university, working for peanuts in the gig economy, with a mortgage-sized debt on graduation.

Speaking of mortgages, that's one stress you'll never have, because a house in your city costs more than a lottery jackpot.

And if you're a racialized, Indigenous, queer, or migrant youth, you face all this precariousness plus the heart-racing, everyday fear of discrimination, hate, or violence — whether from emboldened white supremacists, or the traditional institutions of the state.

Climate is clearly not the only crisis you face, but it's the one that best displays the destructive scale of the economic logic behind all the others. So you go to a meeting with a couple of friends. Somewhere between the first sign-painting party and the final "grieving circle," you find a community of like-minded peers, a sense of purpose and connection. You start to organize your school's next climate strike, calling for a Green New Deal that leaves no one behind.

Young people are rapidly changing the political calculus on climate in this country — even though many of the leaders are too young to vote. The next step must be a multi-generational, multiracial movement, big enough to force action at the scale and speed that science, justice, and Indigenous knowledge require.

The climate strike movement has been clear in its most revolutionary demand: don't praise us, don't patronize us, join us. That's what has to happen next.

You know how we run a marathon at the speed of a sprint? We make it a relay.

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Julie Weder

Julia Weder is a National Youth Organizer for Climate Strike Canada. Follow her on Twitter: @jubesweder 

Avi Lewis

Avi Lewis

Avi Lewis is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and long-time television journalist. His films include The Take and This Changes Everything. He is one of the co-authors of the Leap Manifesto and is the Strategic Director and Co-Founder of The Leap.

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