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Opinion

Feeling Powerless about Climate Change? Join Our Shift

Trek to Victoria this weekend, where hundreds of youth will rally to demand a clean energy future.

By Sam Harrison 3 Oct 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Sam Harrison is a Grade 12 student at Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver and the director of Kids for Climate Action, a youth group advocating stronger political action on climate change. He enjoys cooking, skiing, riding his bike and protesting.

When it comes to climate change, today's young people have the most at stake. When we look at charts projecting temperature and sea level increases, it's not some distant future. It's our lifetime! We will be the ones left struggling to cope with the consequences of runaway climate change if current decision-makers fail to act. It's time Canadian youth stood up for our future. It's time to shift the power.

This weekend, hundreds of young people will gather in Victoria to educate themselves about challenges our generation will confront. We'll learn from today's environmental and First Nations leaders, but also participate in hands-on workshops to gain the skills we need to create social and political change, including grassroots organizing, campaigning through social media, crowd-funding, investigative journalism, and non-violent direct action. It's called Power Shift.

With the release of the International Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment of the state of climate science, things are looking grim. Last year was a record-setting year of drought, high temperatures, wildfires, and deadly storms. Calgary was hit with a "100-year flood" only five years after the last 100-year event in that region. Toronto experienced extreme rainfall, causing flash flooding rarely seen in the area. In each case the consequences were devastating. Lives, homes, crops, and property have been lost. And this is with a 0.8˚C temperature increase over the last century. Things are going to get a lot worse, especially if we continue to ignore scientists' urgent call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Time to make demands

Despite all that's at stake, today's youth have developed a reputation for political apathy. From low voting rates to the unwillingness to pick up a newspaper, sometimes it feels like my generation has earned that reputation. But youth engagement in social movements around the world has had an extraordinary impact. Look at the university students getting arrested during anti-Keystone XL protests, First Nations' youth involvement in Idle No More, and young people tweeting from the streets during the Arab Spring. Over the past few years we have seen social movements take hold of our political systems, and young people have been actively involved.

Imagine if that level of engagement in protests and social movements translated to voting. In the last federal election, if those under 35 had voted with the same frequency as those over 35, that could have tipped the outcome in 18 ridings, resulting in a minority, rather than majority, Conservative government. Youth can have an impact on decisions that will profoundly affect our lives, at the ballot box and beyond -- if we start standing up for our future.

Beyond protest and voting, young people have another, unique kind of power. Humans are born with an innate drive to protect those they love and leave them with a positive legacy. We are sons, daughters, and grandkids. If we start speaking up loud and clear, at the dinner table, in the streets, in classrooms, and in boardrooms, our parents' generation will listen. There is a feasible clean energy future out there, and if today's leaders can't see that, youth must demand it.

Are you in?

I'm not saying it will be easy. Rallying a youth movement for action on climate change is a tall order, but it's critical for the health of our democracy and for the health of our planet. My generation will need to step out of its comfort zone to engage our peers and learn how to organize and build networks. It will be tough, but we can be stronger, louder, and more effective if we act together.

It's easy to feel disheartened by climate change, especially for young people who will suffer the impacts yet often feel powerless to prevent them. But I know one thing for sure: the times I feel most hopeful are when I am doing something.

We need to build a dynamic and inclusive youth movement in high schools, on university campuses, in our communities, and on the front lines of the climate crisis. I hope that young British Columbians will join me and hundreds of our peers this weekend in Victoria. We're building a movement for our generation, one to reclaim our future. Are you in?  [Tyee]

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