Top 25 alumni Kale Black talks COP21 and youth environmentalism.

Image from Kale Black.

Image from Kale Black.

We had the chance to catch up with one of our Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 alumni, Kale Black, at the Hamilton2Paris rally that took place in Hamilton, Ontario on November 29, alongside millions of others participating in the Global Climate March prior to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris. Here's what he had to say about the role of Canadian youth in climate change conversations.

Steve: What inspired you to attend the Hamilton2Paris rally?

Kale: I attended with BurlingtonGreen Environmental Association, an organization I've been involved with for about seven years. I wanted to show my support for something that I care about. There's going to be some very important decisions made in these upcoming days at the summit and the more support we show, the better. I tried to get as many people as I could to join me and went out with some friends from our organization to show solidarity and support for our community.

S: What stood out for you at the Hamilton2Paris rally?

Kale: One of my favourite things about the rally was how diverse it was in so many different ways. I found it interesting that not all of the presenters necessarily agreed with each other’s views. It showed me that although we're all on the same side, there are still many different opinions within the community. To see this diversity in the representatives of the various organizations and to look out into the audience seeing every sort of human you can imagine, made me think about how welcoming Canada is and how we're made up of so many different kinds of people. All of those groups, who believe in protecting the planet for future generations, are able to come together and use their voices.

S: The representation of youth at Hamilton’s rally and in Paris seems to be significant. Why should youth be involved in these discussions?

Kale: It doesn't matter if you're voting age, a young person, an older person, or any where in between; we all have to drink the same water and breathe the same air. Global equality is important. For a long time, youth haven't been listened to as intensely as older professionals, and to see massive numbers of youth come together is great. I think the internet and social media has been really pivotal in not just spreading awareness and getting the message out, but also helping to collect and get people together.

In the changes that are happening, it seems like there's kind of a consensus among much of the younger generation. Just the fact that youth are participating in such large numbers is very encouraging. And there seems to be a tint of open-mindedness because for my generation, me being 26 now, we grew up surrounded by every culture you could think of and now that we have access to the internet, things are a lot less divided and we have a lot more access to information. We also have younger people like Rob Stewart or the Water Brothers that are spreading the news to younger generations and are making it a little more cool and hip.

S: As someone who is involved with environmental initiatives and engages youth in environmental issues, how responsive are youth to global discussions like the ones in Paris?

Kale: I feel youth are becoming even more active and aware than previous generations. I also think that like any other age group there is variability within the youth population. It varies just as much as it does in the adult population. Even though youth have more access to the information and they're much more open minded, there's still a large amount of the youth population that aren't engaged or passionate about these issues.

S: How can youth influence these climate talks?

Kale: I would say that one of the smartest things to do is get involved with an organization that you feel good about. There are some really good organizations out there that already have a tool kit for those wanting to get involved in the Paris summit. I’d say find an organization that has put a lot of time and work into creating the tools for you to do that. It's also much more important than just influencing the Paris talks; it's about being an example in your everyday lives. I remember talking with someone from one of those organizations and his main piece of advice was to go to Ottawa and come to this weekend's Powershift event, where participants learn how to lobby and protest. That's absolutely fantastic idea, and there's definitely a lot of young people interested in that sort of thing. But I also know that there's a lot of people that would like to take action in different ways.

The example I use is: If you want your government to support renewable energy projects one of the things you could do is look into Bullfrog Powering your home or look into different transportation. If 30 million Canadians choose to support Bullfrog Power and sources of renewable energy, it would make a big impact. I think it's important to remember each of us are contributing in some way to environmental issues everyday, and we should be continuously working on making a positive impact.

S: As a young environmentalist, what does having a voice in local issues mean to you?

Kale: I've been delightfully surprised at the responses that I get anytime I advocate for something I care about. The first step I took was getting involved with an organization, which helped me get the confidence to use my voice for advocacy. I'm grateful all the time that I live in Canada and that my voice matters and my voice does make a difference. What's also very empowering is not just my power to influence the government or corporations, but to also influence my friends and family members to consider the same issues. That is something every Canadian has access to. If you care about an issue, you can educate yourself about it enough that when you're talking to your friends and family, you can be an effective advocate for these things. And hopefully you can empower them to use their voices, too.

S: If you could, what would you tell the world leaders at COP21?

Kale: I hope that you think about the impact of your decisions, not just on the economy, but also on our society and the environment. Everything is connected, and all of these very important, pivotal, historical decisions that you guys will be making are going to be affecting the future of our entire planet. We're just such a little drop in the span of life on this planet, so this is a wonderful opportunity to make the choices to help humanity flourish instead of continuing to degrade it to a point where we won't get it back. Make very deep, thoughtful decisions that are not just based on the good of humans or the generations of humans to come, but also consider the billions of other lifeforms that we are so lucky to share the planet with. Your decisions have a huge impact and they should be as thoughtful, compassionate, and wise as possible.