'Our future is at stake': Greta Thunberg tells climate rally in Edmonton

By foot, by bus and by truck, thousands of Albertans made their way to the provincial legislature grounds in Edmonton, drawn by a 16-year-old Swedish girl who is trying to change the conversation about global warming.

'We aren't doing it because it's fun … We are doing this because our future is at stake'

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg spoke to hundreds of climate activists at a rally at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Friday. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC)

By foot, by bus and by truck, thousands of Albertans made their way to the provincial legislature grounds in Edmonton, drawn by a 16-year-old Swedish girl who is trying to convince governments to take action on climate change.

Wearing a turquoise parka, environmental activist Greta Thunberg marched among the hundreds of people along several major downtown Edmonton roads, ending at the Alberta Legislature where hundreds more were waiting to greet her.

Among the crowd were more than 100 people who set out early in the morning from Calgary to show up for the Fridays for Future rally, the climate strikes that originated with Thunberg and have spread around the world. 

As Thunberg took the podium, she noted that it seemed like the rally had greatly exceeded that target.

"Today is Friday," Thunberg said early in her remarks. "And as always, we are on climate strike. Young people all around the globe are today sacrificing their education to bring attention to the climate and ecological emergency. 

"And we are not doing this because we want to. We aren't doing it because it's fun. We're aren't doing it because we have a special interest in the climate or because we want to become politicians when we grow up. 

"We are doing this because our future is at stake."

Hundreds of activists, along with some supporters of Alberta's oil and gas industry, gathered at the legislature. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

The event included prayers, passionate speeches from Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, and a performance by Chubby Cree, an Indigenous hand drumming group. 

Thunberg gave a special shout-out to the young and Indigenous leaders at the rally, saying "you are the hope."

Her speech touched on many of the themes she is known for: the need to heed science, the need for developed countries — like Sweden and Canada, she said — to lead the way in reducing their emissions to allow developing countries a chance to heighten their standard of living, and the desperate need to do things quickly.

"We need to start treating this crisis as a crisis," she said. "Because you cannot solve an emergency without treating it as one."

"And if you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets. Or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process."

A convoy of counter-protesters, in about 50 vehicles, made their way from Red Deer, Alta., to the legislature. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

Absent from the event were any representatives of the Alberta government. Premier Jason Kenney was at the Keephills power plant, to mark the completion of a 120-kilometre pipeline that will begin providing natural gas to replace the coal-fired power generators. 

During his news conference, the premier remarked on the protesters attending the rally.

"To those folks gathering at the legislature today I want them to know that when they charged their iPhones last night it was with power being generated out of this plant," he said to smattering of applause.

"When they power up the speakers at the legislature today, the power that lets them be heard came from power generated at power plants like this, that will be cutting their green house gas emissions in half because of practical measures like this."

In addition to oil and gas supporters in the crowd, a convoy of about 50 vehicles made their way to the legislature, about half of which had made the journey from Red Deer, Alta., earlier in the morning. 

The United We Roll counter-rally, planned by the group that organized a pro-pipeline convoy to Ottawa in February, was to express frustration with celebrities visiting the province and telling Albertans how to run their business.

"We're not there to be bullies. We're just there to show our support for oil and gas," group spokesperson Glen Carritt said Friday morning. "This is Alberta and we're hurting. We've lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in Alberta and we've lost hundreds across Canada."

While organizers said 10,000 attended the rally, Edmonton police estimated the crowd at about 4,000 people. No arrests were made.

"Both groups on both sides of this issue were very co-operative with police," said Insp. Jonathan Coughlan.

For Priya Migneault, a 15-year-old who joined the Calgarians coming by bus to Edmonton, the counter-protest made it even more important for Thunberg to have supporters in the crowd.

"I really just want her to feel supported in Alberta and I want her to feel welcome," said Migneault, who is an organizer with the group Fridays for Future YYC. "I definitely don't think they [the United We Roll group] are the enemy. I think they're just expressing their opinion.

"I just don't want Greta to feel like she's alone in her fight for climate action in Alberta." 

On the eve of the federal election, you're invited to Cross Country Checkup's twin town hall live from the MacLab Centre for the Arts in Leduc.