A heatmap of Hurricane Fiona from a satellite image
Hurricane Fiona, which tore through Atlantic Canada last week, was a powerful category 4 storm. Credit: The Weather Network Credit: The Weather Network

Last week, high school students and their allies geared up to take to the streets of Halifax to demand the release of a provincial climate plan and to refocus international awareness on the climate crisis. 

But in the days leading up to the event, the group known as School Strike 4 Climate Halifax decided to cancel the demonstration out of fear of “dangerous conditions.”

The dangerous conditions the group was speaking of? A historic hurricane that, at its peak, left 80 per cent of Nova Scotians without power and wiped out electricity across the entirety of Prince Edward Island.

Hurricane Fiona proved to be both a destructive and unprecedented storm, recording the lowest barometer (or atmospheric pressure) in Canadian history. 

Now, nearly one week after Fiona ravaged Atlantic Canada and parts of eastern Quebec, more than 100,000 Maritimers remain without power. Even more are without cell phone service and internet access.

In a statement issued Sept. 22, the climate advocacy group confirmed the event was cancelled due to the impending storm. The statement read: 

“Now, more than ever we are seeing the need for increased climate action including adaptation plans … Hurricane Fiona has left all of Puerto Rico without power, and has left hundreds without shelter. Climate change is increasing the severity and intensity of hurricanes such as Fiona due to warming waters.”

The hurricane left grade twelve student and event organizer Rae Steeves “horrified.”

“Young people are dismissed, ignored, and pushed to the side,” Steeves said in the statement. “The youth are watching, listening, and we are angry.”

For Steeves, the connection between the climate strike and the hurricane couldn’t be more ironic.

“These hurricanes are why the youth are scared, and why we have no choice but to speak out,” Steeves said. 

The climate strike was scheduled one year after youth climate organizers “greeted the provincial government’s Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act with hope and optimism.”

The Act, which states “the Government shall create a strategic plan,” that will later become the “Climate Change Plan for Clean Growth.” 

While the provincial government has until Dec. 31 to submit their plan, organizers say they’re becoming concerned about the delay, noting that there’s no time to waste in combating the climate crisis. 

The Progressive Conservative government in Nova Scotia, led by Premier Tim Houston, opposes a federal carbon tax and has faced criticism for failing to release an environment plan more than one year after winning a majority government. 

For Maggy Burns, the executive director at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, Fiona proved to be “devastating for Nova Scotia,” but at the same time, she says it’s “not unexpected that we would see that kind of devastation.”

In an interview with rabble.ca, Burns noted that she believes Atlantic Canada “got the message quite loud and clear” that the climate crisis can no longer be ignored.

“The heart of the story is really that these kinds of weather events are increasing in severity and increasing in frequency, and it’s part of what makes climate change both so scary and so costly — both for humans and for the economic cost of reconnecting people with power, rebuilding infrastructure,” Burns said.

She pointed out that politicians have known for decades that the cost of averting a climate emergency costs far less than what is spent on reacting to storms and other impacts of the climate crisis on public infrastructure and human health.

School Strike 4 Climate Halifax organizer Sadie Quinn agrees.

A student at the University of King’s College, Quinn called the historic storm both scary and disturbing.

“There was a lot of uncertainty, some sort of sadness of the destruction, but a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about it, especially before the storm,” Quinn said. “I thought, if we’re going to have these events more and more frequently, am I just going to be like this all the time?”

Quinn explained that she helped organize the strike to make clear to the provincial government that Nova Scotia can no longer afford to ignore the climate crisis, and a sense of urgency is needed on the part of politicians to make meaningful change possible.

“Hopefully this storm reminds people that climate change is not something of the future – it’s happening right now,” she said. “Every day that we delay releasing a strong climate plan is another day that we just go on and exacerbate the problems with the climate that we’re already facing.”

And as the clean-up continues from Fiona’s fury, another catastrophic storm, Hurricane Ian, is bringing storm surge of 12 to 16 feet and life-threatening wind and rainfall to Florida. According to the National Hurricane Center, “record river flooding” is expected across central Florida and locals are being encouraged to take “preparations to protect life and property.”

While the students weren’t able to take to the streets last week, if the storm was any indication, they managed to get their message across far wider than anyone expected.

Image: Gilad Cohen

Stephen Wentzell

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred...