Nfld. & Labrador

Climate strike draws thousands to march on Confederation Building in St. John's

A youth-propelled demonstration marched from Memorial University to Confederation Building in St. John's Friday to demand action on climate change.

'We will stand by this no longer,' says organizer Erin Lee

Thousands of people march up Prince Phillip Drive in St. John's, from Memorial University to Confederation Building, to demand action on climate change. (Renee Ryan/Twitter)

A youth-propelled environmental protest grabbed the world's attention Friday, with thousands of people filling one of the busiest streets in St. John's to demand action on curbing the harm of climate change. 

"The climate crisis is the most epic threat the world has ever encountered. Our house is on fire, so why aren't we acting like it?" said Erin Lee, one of the organizers of the Climate Action Now March.

"Governments all over the world, Canada and Newfoundland included, claim they are taking action, but the politics and solutions are nowhere to be seen.… We will stand by this no longer."

Erin Lee of Fridays for Future, one of the groups organizing the march, addresses the crowd gathered at Memorial University. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Thousands of demonstrators gathered at Memorial University on Friday morning, and shortly after 11 a.m. took to Prince Philip Drive, a divided thoroughfare that connects a variety of institutions. 

The students marched on Confederation Building, the seat of the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

The climate march reached the steps of Confederation Building shortly before noon Friday. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

"We should not be forced to choose to skip classes and work to fight about our future, this is not fair," student Alice Ferguson-O'Brien told the crowd at a rally outside Confederation Building. 

"We don't want to fight for our future, but you have given us no choice.'

The speakers at Friday's march spoke on the 'death of Mother Earth' on the steps of the Confederation Building. (Cec Haire/CBC)

March organizers urged the large crowd on the steps of of the building to vote for representatives who would act to fight climate change. 

People also took out their smartphones and emailed Premier Dwight Ball en masse to request change.

Organizers encouraged the crowd to email Premier Dwight Ball to demand the province do more to combat climate change. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Candidates for the Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Green parties running in the federal election all addressed the marchers with their plans.

Organizers said another march on Confederation Building will be held Friday, Nov. 1.

'Every individual can make a change'

Grade 9 student Marco Del Rizzo said he was inspired to take part in the march because of the work of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.

"If one person can make a change, every individual can make a change about the world too, it's incredible," said Del Rizzo. 

Thunberg also tweeted her support for the St. John's event Friday.

Emily Talbot, 10, said she was encouraged to come out for the march because of the fires in the Amazon rain forest.

Emily Talbot says she would have liked to have seen an even larger crowd for Friday's march. (Katie Breen/CBC)

But Talbot said she wanted to see the whole city to call for climate action.

"I know it was a lot today, it didn't look like [all of] St. John's. I still see people driving right now, so I didn't think enough people came out today."

While the strike was driven by youth, but it wasn't only young people taking their message to government.

Gene Long said older generations owe it to younger people to fight for change.

Gene Long says older generations need to support youth in their efforts to fight climate change. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"I think older folks have to show up, we have made a mess of things," he said

"I've been fighting for social change for a long time, but the kids are saying 'what a mess' … it's our time to show up and get behind the young people because the world belongs to them."

Student challenges premier

Grade 11 student Alice Ferguson-O'Brien is one of the organizers of Friday's Climate Action Now March in St. John's. (Paula Gale/CBC)

Ahead of those marches across the province Friday, Alice Ferguson-O'Brien — a 15-year-old Grade 11 student at Holy Heart of Mary High School — asked Ball if he would declare a climate emergency in the province and commit to reducing oil production. 

Ball wouldn't make a commitment to moving away from fossil fuel production just yet, but said oil from the province's offshore has a lower emission rate than the world average.

"We put in place solutions recognizing that, over time, the world will come off of fossil fuels, but if you're going to use it today, it's best you use the least carbon intense oil," Ball said Friday on CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

Ferguson-O'Brien presses Ball on the province's action on climate change Friday. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

As for a climate emergency, Ball said the House of Commons passed a motion to declare a national climate emergency in June.

That motion, however, is non-binding and according to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice guide "is a declaration of opinion or purpose; it does not require that any action be taken."

The marchers, many of them young people, made signs to call for climate action. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

When Ferguson-O'Brien challenged Ball on the provincial government's further exploration of the offshore, the premier put the responsibility on the province's people to fight climate change.

"What it comes down to is an individual jurisdiction, individual people, in Newfoundland and Labrador reducing their own carbon footprint," he said.

Ball said the effects of climate change are visible in the province, and that the provincial government has enacted its climate change action plan to address those issues.

'They don't need to read about this in a book'

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District allowed students to participate in the marches, with a permission slip from a parent or guardian.

But one St. John's parent says the district should have done more.

Brenda Halley says the school board should have done more than just allow students, with parent permission, to take part. (CBC)

"They don't need to read about this in a book, they can experience it. And I think that's very powerful," said Brenda Halley. 

"I think it's a good first step, but I think that we're in a crisis. We're in a climate crisis and I think that we really need to take this seriously."

Halley planned to take her two eight-year-old children — students at Bishop Feild Elementary — to the rally in St. John's. 

MUN allowed its faculty and staff to leave work to take part, and Metrobus offered free rides between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in support of the protests.

There were similar marches planned across the province, in solidarity with Greta Thunberg's worldwide #FridaysForFuture movement, in which more than 150 countries have taken part.

Stephanie Stoker, the owner of the Georgestown Cafe and Bookshelf, closed her business during the climate strike. (CBC)

Hard work ahead

For Simon Hofman, this latest climate movement is especially powerful.

Last month, Hofman started the Memorial University Climate Action Coalition, and earlier this week the group signed a pledge to not only declare a climate emergency, but also vow to take meaningful action at MUN in light of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports calling for reduced carbon emissions.

These are some of the signs made for Friday's march in St. John's. (Adam Walsh/CBC)

MUN's decision to allow students and staff to participate in the climate march is remarkable, Hofman said.

"This year's been very important. This wouldn't have been successful — I've been pushing for climate action at this institution, for instance, for a year now and I didn't get nearly as good a response, that's for sure, last year," he said.

"People have the consciousness right now to make change and this is why this coalition is so successful because everyone's like, 'Oh, we're in trouble.'"

She and other young activists filed a UN human rights complaint against five countries for jeopardizing their futures. 3:40

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Cecil Haire and The St. John's Morning Show

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