| Madeline Jafarnejad
On August 20, 2018 a 15-year-old girl sat on the steps of parliament in Stockholm, Sweden when she was supposed to be in her Grade 9 class.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Greta Thunberg, is the reason 120 countries including Canada are advocating for climate action. Children barely old enough to read are protesting and supporting Thunberg out of fear for the future.
“If we don’t clean up we’ll die. Please try,” said a young boy being carried by his mother at a recent Toronto global climate strike.
Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and allies crowded the front of the Ontario Legislature – most of them, holding hand drawn signs.
“What do we want? Our futures! When do we want it? Now!” A group of young activists yelled as they marched. Some were toddlers in strollers. Many were on the verge of tears.
These weren’t adults standing up for one of the biggest threats to humanity, they were just kids. But how can kids understand a concept so big?
“People and animals have died, are dying and will die because of the climate crisis,” said 11-year-old Sophia Mathur, a first Fridays for Future activist in Ontario as she stood on the podium. “We have not come here to beg politicians for change. We have come here to show the change is coming.”
Mathur first heard of Fridays for Future after watching a video of Thunberg. She followed Thunberg’s lead by striking the first Friday of every month in support of the movement. The Sudbury student comes from a family of activists. Her mother, Cathy Orlando, is on the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. According to its website, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby is a non-profit advocacy organization that works to create political actions toward a livable planet.
“The youth have risen!” Mathur made the protesters shout five times in a row. “I will not rest until our future is secure,” she said.
Back in Sweden, Thunberg held a sign that read “kolstrejk för klimatet” (school strike for the climate). Thunberg ditched class to protest against the lack of attention the life changing topic of climate change is getting. In her mind, her demands were simple. She wanted Sweden to align with the Paris Agreement, which is under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, because she feared for the future of herself, her peers and her country.
The now 16-year-old has told CNN that her inspiration for the protest stemmed from the Parkland, Florida teens. They started the infamous March for Our Lives when a mass shooting took place at their high school.
This is the kind of action to fight climate change that is inspiring the lives of many young people around the world thanks to activists like Thunberg. Soon after starting her “School Strike for Climate,” she began gaining a lot of attention worldwide. By December 2018 more than 20,000 students participated in strikes called the Fridays for Future School Climate Strike.
On March 1, 2019 the United Nations announced a major call to action called the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Since scientists all over the news are predicting catastrophic consequences of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the UN adopted an idea that was proposed by El Salvador in 2018. The idea is that due to the alarming rise in global temperatures and biodiversity loss, the UN will dedicate the years 2021-2030 to restoring ecosystems.
By 2030 most people born in Generation Z, 1995 to 2010, will be in their late twenties and early thirties. Making it an issue that will inevitably have an effect on their futures. The years until 2030 will be vital to those in Gen Z. During this time period they will likely be starting their careers, getting married and having children. Assuming the Earth holds up until then.
Students like 19-year-old Alienor Rougeot are worried that climate change will get in the way of reaching these milestones. Rougeot attends the University of Toronto with a double-major in Economics and Public Policy. She was born in Aix-en- Provence, France and grew up surrounded by a community and a nation where protesting was second nature.
Fast forward to now, she lives in Canada, a country she thinks is afraid to stand up for what they believe in. Rougoet has been helping Fridays for Future Toronto organize protests. She helped organized the protest on March 15.
“Since I was a little girl I cared about people and human rights, but I remember one day I read an article that pointed out how climate change will be a huge human rights issue. I decided to combine my passions. When I came to Canada, I realized how much this country is taking for granted and I knew I had to take action so I started getting involved with activism at my school,” said Rougeot. “But I felt like more had to be done. In France, people will light a fire at the doorstep of politicians and demand change.”
“We are the first generation born into climate change. For older generations it’s still a fairly new thing but we are the ones that are going to have to grow up in a world of natural catastrophes,” she said. “It’s our world, our futures and we have to do something.”
Another young Torontonian who is joining the fight against climate change is 19-year-old Rachel Parent. At age 15, she started a GMO awareness campaign called Kids Right to Know and spoke at a TED Talk in 2014.
Parent has almost 50,000 followers on Twitter and has displayed her support for Thunberg’s cause by starting Gen-Earth in 2018, an annual Earth Day event in Toronto.
“Youth hold a specific platform that nobody else does simply because we are the future and there’s no denying that,” said Parent. “We have to stand up more than any other generation has ever had to, we face issues that no other generation has. We are lucky to have the ability to spread a message globally in seconds and we have to use that.”
Parent was also invited to speak at the global climate strike at Queen’s Park. She stood confidently and spoke loudly for the whole park to hear the passion in her voice. It definitely wasn’t her first time speaking her mind to a crowd that large.
“We need to say enough is enough to corporations destroying our planet for profit,” she said. “The environment should never be a partisan issue. It is a part of every single one of us and we are a part of it. It is up to us to decide what kind of world we leave for generations to come.”