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'My future is on the edge of a knife': Young climate activist fights for his right to a safe world

11-year-old climate activist Mikaeel is one of 15 youth plaintiffs who sued the federal government. A federal judge dismissed La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen on Oct. 27, 2020, and attorneys for the youth have filed an appeal.

11-year-old climate activist Mikaeel is part of a lawsuit, on appeal, against the federal government

Mikaeel and 12 other plantiffs suing the Canadian government over its role in climate change stand together on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Our Children's Trust)

Mikaeel Mahmood, 11, dreamed of growing up to become a farmer.

But he soon learned about the struggles many farmers face today. Farms around the world experience increased crop failure due to changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, chiefly due to climate change. The more Mikaeel learned about the environmental crisis, the more his dream seemed impossible.

"It felt unfair to me, that I was going to inherit this earth and the problem created by past generations [that] I had to solve," he said on the CBC podcast Mic Drop.

This feeling of unfairness prompted Mikaeel, along with 14 other young Canadians, to file a lawsuit against the federal government in October of 2019. The youth alleged that the government was violating their Charter rights by perpetuating dangerous climate change. They argued that the government's inaction threatened their right to equality, because climate change disproportionately affects young people. The lawsuit also asked the government to develop a science-based plan to reduce emissions and protect young Canadians.

Beyond potentially not being able to pursue his passions, Mikaeel already notices that his life is affected by climate change. As a student in Mississauga, ON., he has experienced both heat waves and polar vortexes, which have made it difficult for him to focus in class or even get to school prior to the province's transition to distance learning. Extreme temperatures in recent years have also prevented him and his family, who love spending time outdoors, from enjoying their favourite activities.

On October 25, 2019, Mikaeel and his co-plantiffs and activist Greta Thunberg announced the lawsuit to thousands of people ahead of a climate strike in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Out of the 15 plaintiffs in the case, Mikaeel is the youngest, at 11 years old. Adults are often surprised by his maturity, or that he is involved in environmental activism at all.

"I would really rather that people were more focused on climate change itself. If anything, the reason I'm like this is because I've been forced to have to worry about this. 'Cause it's my future," he said.

Even if we don't win, we still tried. And although trying doesn't change anything, I'll just know that I did my part.-Mikaeel Mahmood

On Oct. 27, 2020, a federal judge dismissed La Rose et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen. The case is currently being appealed. Mikaeel was aware from the start that it might not succeed. He also doesn't think that lawsuits or protests are the only ways to do your part. He encourages people to drive less, eat less meat, and do everything in their power to protect their only planet.

"Even if we don't win, we still tried. And although trying doesn't change anything, I'll just know that I did my part."

Want to learn more?

(CBC/Ben Shannon)

Mic Drop is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and Stitcher. All Season 2 episodes are out now.

Written by Judy Ziyi Gu