While we all stand to lose if climate change continues on its current terrifying trajectory, no one has as much at stake as the young people growing up in a world less liveable than their parents’.
But they’re not taking it lying down. More and more, youth are leading the climate marches, the anti-pipeline blockades and the co-ordinated acts of civil disobedience.
To say they’re disappointed with the government’s climate and oil-and-gas agendas would be an understatement. But what do they want to see from the parties vying to be our next federal government?
The Tyee reached out to several young people at the frontlines of the climate justice movement in B.C. for their thoughts on what parties are promising this election cycle.
Simran Sarai, 21, Metro Vancouver, BC
If a party isn’t pledging to stop fossil fuel exploration, they won’t be getting Sarai’s vote.
“There’s a lot of talk about carbon capture technology, and if anyone listened to the debate there was a lot of talk about ‘We can combat the climate crisis by creating jobs,’” said Sarai, who volunteers with Ocean Wise on climate change and ocean conservation initiatives.
But research shows that fossil fuel reduction is “the only way that we’re going to make a dent in the climate crisis,” she said.
For this reason, the Green Party of Canada has the only platform Sarai can get behind. Other parties seem too focused on appeasing corporate interests and individuals’ environmental actions, she said.
Sarai is also disturbed by the Conservative Party of Canada’s pledge to make it illegal to protest major infrastructure projects.
“Those projects are often protested by Indigenous nations because they run through their lands without asking a lot of the time,” she said.
Nevertheless, if her party of choice does not win, Sarai will not stop her advocacy.
“We’re going to keep pushing for climate action regardless of which party is in the Prime Minister’s Office,” she said.
Matthew Morin, 25, Vancouver, BC
A recent participant in the Fairy Creek blockades in support of remaining old-growth forests in B.C., Morin is not planning to vote in the coming election.
“It’s a bipartisan system, and no matter who I vote for, they still don’t represent what I want to see,” said Morin, who is Cree.
“I want to see a system that has proportional representation, where people can have free, prior and informed consent for things that affect their lives, instead of having to vote for two separate parties who will make the decisions.”
Non-status Indigenous people, those who are not recognized as Indigenous under the terms dictated by the federal government, are left out of the federal decision-making, he added.
Morin would like to see the federal and provincial government’s adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples tied to all climate change initiatives.
“There are climate change initiatives that arose out of the Paris Agreement, and it doesn’t include Indigenous rights as much as it should,” he said.
Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky, 23, Vancouver, BC
Guzman Skotnitsky has been involved in climate justice since she joined Kids for Climate Action in 2013.
She has volunteered to convince federal candidates to commit to emission reductions and adopt the Green New Deal, championed Dalhousie University’s fossil fuel divestment campaign and protested in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, as well as the Sipekne'katik First Nation fighting the Alton Gas project in Nova Scotia.
But while climate change is Guzman Skotnitsky’s main issue, she worries that, due to the pandemic, it’s not a top concern for most voters. “I feel like climate action is not as strong in people’s minds or in the political discourse,” she said.
Guzman Skotnitsky is looking for a party that focuses on both her current passion — expanding youth access to federal green jobs programs, like the national Science and Technology Internship Program — and stopping the Trans Mountain expansion.
“Only the Greens and the Bloc have committed to cancelling it. That’s a big concern for me and a lot of other climate justice advocates,” she said.
If the expansion moves forward, she said, “I don’t know how we’re going to get our emissions down enough to meet our climate targets.”
Raven Wolf, 24, unceded Lək̓ʷəŋən territory aka Victoria, BC
Wolf recently returned from participating in the forestry blockades at Ada'itsx, also known as the Fairy Creek watershed. So while they plan to vote, they haven’t had much time to delve into party promises.
Nevertheless, they know what they want from the next government.
“One of the key things that I’m looking for are solid plans and accountability for implementing changes that honour Indigenous sovereignty,” said Wolf, who is of Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw, Snuneymuxw, Irish, Melungeon, Cherokee and Lək̓ʷəŋən descent.
“Candidates who will be for proper climate action such as old-growth [logging] moratoriums, the removal of pipelines from Indigenous lands, and defunding the police.”
Wolf, who also participated in the February 2020 occupation of the B.C. legislature, in solidarity with the Unist'ot'en camp on Wet’suwet’en territory, says if their party of choice does not form government, they will continue working with their community and others to effect change on a more local level.
Avery Shannon, 23, unceded xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, səl̓ílwətaʔɬ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh territory aka Vancouver, BC
Shannon cut their climate advocacy teeth volunteering with the Protect the Inlet campaign to stop the TMX pipeline expansion, where they were fighting for Indigenous sovereignty — an experience that got them arrested twice.
Since then, they’ve worked nationally and locally with Our Time, a youth movement in support of adopting an intersectional Green New Deal in Canada.
“With climate justice, we recognize that things need to change both on an individual and largely a systemic level,” said Shannon, who identifies as a multiply disabled Autistic person of colour and a settler on xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, səl̓ílwətaʔɬ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh lands.
Climate justice must be intersectional, they added, focusing on low-income Indigenous and racialized communities that are most impacted by the climate crisis.
Shannon has a simple expectation for the next government: fully implement UNDRIP, follow the science about climate change and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
But they have little illusion that the next government will slow down climate change on its own.
“I agree with [Green Leader] Annamie Paul’s statement... that in order for us to be even close to meeting our emissions reduction goal, we need all parties to work together and all parties to prioritize this,” they said.