Canadian climate strikers demand action from new government

Published 2021-09-27 01:00
UPDATE:This article originally published on Sept. 23. On Sept. 24, CBC Kids News received a response from the Canadian government. Scroll to the bottom of the article to read what officials had to say to climate strikers.

Canadian kids join global #FridaysForFuture strike


Fifteen-year-old Sophie Kaloudas remembers the moment she became a climate activist.

It happened back in Grade 7, when she and her class were watching a documentary on climate change.

“I was sitting there, so dialed in, and after, I was crying. I remember thinking, ‘It’s real, this is happening,’ and afterward I saw Greta Thunberg and other youth, and was like, ‘Oh it’s not just me.’”

Not long after, Sophie said she became the first person — along with her dad — to strike in her small town of Fenelon Falls, Ontario.

Two years later, following many #FridaysForFuture climate strikes worldwide, Sophie and other kids across Canada will once again be skipping school, this time to demand action from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, which was re-elected on Sept 20.

The climate strike will take place across the world on Sept. 24, and is expected to be the biggest since before the pandemic.

For this strike, Fridays for Future Canada is using the hashtag #UpRootTheSystem, which is meant to highlight how climate change unfairly affects people who are already struggling, like minority communities. (Image credit: @fridays_for_future_canada/Instagram)

Demands behind the protest

In a news release, Fridays for Future Toronto said Monday’s election “has confirmed that Canadians are worried about the climate crisis, and we must make sure the newly elected government prioritizes climate action.”

Climate strikers have many demands for the government, but the main focus is a move away from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal.

For context, some experts praised Trudeau’s climate plan during the recent election campaign because it included ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gases and a carbon tax, among other things.

However, others said it didn’t go far enough, as the Liberals didn’t say how they planned to achieve those targets by 2030, and because they’re continuing to work on pipelines.

We asked three climate strikers what they would say to the Canadian government if they had the chance. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Small town, big message

Sophie said that despite the small numbers in her town, she’d be protesting rain or shine on Friday.

Sophie Kaloudas has been protesting for more climate action since September 2019. (Image submitted by Sophie Kaloudas)

“I’ll be having a socially distanced climate strike. We don’t actually have a city hall in our town, so we’ll be striking on the main street.”

Sophie said that the pandemic has motivated her more than ever because delays in vaccine distribution to poorer countries have exposed inequities on the planet.

She said she’s worried that people in poorer countries will also be the last to get help when it comes to addressing climate change.

When asked what she’d say to the government, she questioned Canada’s mixed messaging.

“You aren’t really taking any action and still investing in fossil fuels and pipelines, and yet you pretend you’re a climate champion. You’re really not.”

‘Stick to the plan’

Aishwarya Puttur, a 16-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario, said her lightbulb moment came when she was in Grade 4.

Aishwarya Puttur said she wants world leaders to stop talking about climate change as some future event and acknowledge that it’s happening now. (Image submitted by Aishwarya Puttur)

Although she’s from Canada, Aishwarya was living in Saudi Arabia at the time.

“I was in the car going to school and I realized there was a lot of plastic trash on the sidewalks and everywhere and thought, ‘Does no one do anything with this?’

“That exact same day, we were given lollipops at school and all of the kids decided to throw them out the window,” she said. “I got so angry and thought, ‘People just don’t care about the environment.’”

This Friday, she’ll be co-ordinating a digital strike with people from around the globe, with workshops on things like eco-anxiety and racial justice within climate justice.

When asked what she’d say to the government, Aishwarya said she wants more accountability.

“TIme and time again the Liberal government has proven to say they’ll do things, but [they] fall behind on every single plan and goal they make.

“We need to ensure that whatever you’re doing, you’re going to stick to the plan because this isn’t just my future, but millions of people’s present.”

Leaving carbon behind, not Canadians

Mackenzie Cumming, a 16-year-old from Calgary, Alberta, helped organize an in-person strike in Calgary, but it was changed to a virtual strike due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Mackenzie Cumming, left, says that the main goal of this protest is to pressure the government to transition Canada away from fossil fuels. (Image credit: Mackenzie Cumming)

The plan is to have strikers take photos of themselves while holding signs, then they’ll “tag politicians and spread awareness on social media” as a way of demanding action.

Mackenzie said that although strikers are demanding a move away from fossil fuels, they want to focus on a “just transition” that ensures that those in the industry aren’t left jobless.

“Cutting things will have big impacts on people. Climate action isn’t supposed to make people suffer. We want a transition plan that helps everyone get past fossil fuels.”

When asked what she’d say to the government, Mackenzie acknowledged Canada’s capacity to create change.

“I don’t think any levels of government are doing enough on climate. And we have the power to be a climate leader, but we’re not a climate leader yet.”

Government response

In an email to CBC Kids News on Sept. 24, the Canadian government said it shares the concerns of young people across the country.

“This is a critical time for climate action to limit the devastating effects of climate change,” wrote Samantha Bayard, spokesperson for Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Bayard said that Canada has already taken “ambitious” steps to act on climate change, but is committed to doing more as time goes on. 

She said Canada's emission reduction goals “align with what scientists say we need to do to limit global warming to 1.5 C.”

Canada is taking steps to meet those targets, Bayard said, by creating incentives for Canadians to switch to zero-emission vehicles and green sources of power.

She also said the government is setting up Canada’s first Environment and Climate Change Youth Council, in the hopes of creating “meaningful opportunities for dialogue between young Canadians and the federal government.”

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