The youth climate strike movement in Canada

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The youth climate strike in Canada. Image: Used with permission of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver.

Emma Lim is 18 years old and is a high school student in London, Ontario. Rebecca Hamilton is 17 years old and also a high school student, and she lives in Vancouver, BC. They are organizers with Climate Strike Canada at both the local and national levels. Scott Neigh interviews them about what they are doing to build the Canadian wing of the international movement of young people periodically striking from school to demand meaningful action on the climate crisis.

Growing up in the 21st century means that the only reality you have ever known is life in the context of the growing climate crisis. Today's guests -- both born since the turn of the century -- don't remember a moment of learning, hey, there's this thing called climate change and it's a big deal. For them, it has always been there.

They have, of course, learned more about it as they've gotten older. As that learning has progressed and as the warnings from customarily understated and cautious scientists have taken on ever more apocalyptic dimensions, they have had moments of awakening to the true magnitude of what the crisis might mean for their lives, families, and communities.

Until recently, a lot of the most obvious options around them for taking action have consisted of standard school-based environmentalism, which mostly focuses on things like recycling and lifestyle change -- in other words, on measures vastly inadequate to the scale of what we collectively face. And that meant that, in the autumn of 2018, when they started to hear about Greta Thunberg and youth in different places around the world going on regular strikes from school -- walking out, taking to the streets, often gathering at some central point in their city -- to demand climate action, they had another moment. It was a moment of, yes, finally, here we are being called to an action that might, if we draw in enough people, if enough people support us, begin to approach what is needed.

For Lim, she started out on her own -- it was just her striking in London, by herself, with a sign. Hamilton -- whose local climate strike organizing happens as part of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver -- wasn't quite on her own, but her first climate strike was a relatively small group of students who occupied the office of the B.C. minister of environment and Climate Change Strategy. And from there, both plunged themselves into organizing. They were constantly reaching out to other young people, having conversations about issues and logistics, making phone calls, holding meetings, and organizing more events -- and, of course, more strikes.

Through the hard work of Lim, Hamilton, and many others, local organizing has grown and has coalesced into Climate Strike Canada. They have developed a common set of demands. School strike actions in recent months have involved hundreds of thousands of students in cities across Canada. As well, organizers have emphasized not only these periodic large-scale actions, but have intentionally built on the energy of those days to get growing numbers of youth going back into their schools and communities to engage in various forms of local climate action. For those at the centre of the organizing, like Lim and Hamilton, it has been an intense crash course in how to make a movement.

In the summer, the organizing is going to look different, but it will definitely continue. It will vary from city to city, but in many places there will be an emphasis on community-building as well as on training to build movement-relevant skills (because, as Hamilton puts it, "High school doesn't prepare you well for the revolution.") There will be a focus on making climate action a central issue in October's federal election. And they are building towards the next big international climate strike, which will be part of an entire week of actions starting on September 20, 2019.

And, finally, a couple of logistical notes: During this interview, Lim was waiting for her high school graduation to start. Though she did her best to find a quiet spot, at moments there is quite a bit of background noise from bustling parents and graduates and so on. Please be patient with that. And at a certain point, she had to sign off because the ceremony was about to start, and Hamilton finished the interview on her own.

Image: Used with permission of Sustainabiliteens Vancouver.

Theme music: "It Is the Hour (Get Up)" by Snowflake, via CCMixter


Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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