Youth are speaking up: A message from the Global Climate March in Vancouver.

Photo by Lisa | flickr.com

Photo by Lisa | flickr.com

On November 29th, just one day before the launch of the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, thousands took to the streets of Vancouver to make a very clear statement: We need better climate policies – now. Other cities around the world – from Ireland to Japan, and from the Philippines to Egypt – participated in The Global Climate March, bringing necessary attention to the need for immediate climate action as we strive to save our planet from the consequences associated with further warming.

Many perceive these types of international conferences as formal proceedings with involvement restricted to ‘grown-ups’ only. But when it comes down to it, who better to represent the voice of young people around the world than youth themselves?

I spoke with Shannon Walker, youth spokesperson for the Global Climate March in Vancouver, about the importance of youth involvement in both local climate initiatives, such as rallies like this, but also opportunities at a larger scale, such as the COP21 climate meeting. 

Mandy: Why do you think it is important for youth to be involved and invested in things like the climate talks in Paris?

Shannon: It's important for youth to get involved. We have been stuck on this idea that only future generations – our children’s children – will be to be affected by climate change, but what youth need to realize is that we’re going to see changes in our lifetimes. Climate change is happening now. We’re living through the sixth extinction, so it is very important that we all work together to create a more positive world.

M: How can Canadian youth have their voices heard when it comes to the future of our climate and COP21?

S: Social media is a really amazing tool that we have right now. Posting things on Facebook and sharing important articles is key. I have a lot of activists on my Facebook feed, and so I am constantly exposed to knowledge. Social media has really become a learning tool, rather than a way to just creep on people’s lives. I find there is more substance to social media today.

M: Youth have the most to gain in the years to come from this sort of event (COP21) with many implications affecting youth on a global scale. That being said, do you think youth have enough opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas with political leaders and the rest of the world?

S: There may have been fewer opportunities in the past, but I think this area is really opening up, especially in Canada. With the new leadership that we have, it’s going to be easier for youth to share their views. I think the biggest thing to realize is that everyone needs to work together to make a healthier climate possible. Youth need to be active participants in these sorts of conversations to understand the big picture. We’re the 99%; we have the numbers to make a difference and to send our message.

M: What advice do you have for youth gathering here today and other youth around the world who are concerned about the future of our planet and want to make a difference during the next few weeks?

S: I think that spreading the word is the best thing that we can do right now. There is some hypocrisy happening right now with the leaders of our provincial and federal governments attending the climate talks in Paris, while at the same time pushing for pipelines and LNG [liquefied natural gas] projects in our own backyard.

In B.C. specifically, we really need to work on shutting down fossil fuels. Vancouver has made a pledge to use 100% renewable energy, which is amazing, but we can’t have a goal like that, and also have these fossil fuel projects going on. It is important for youth to put pressure on our leaders, and if we do that, we can make all the difference. Right now, we’re at a very critical time, but we have a lot of hope, and a chance to change our direction.

M: Why should Canadian youth feel optimistic about the future of our planet?

S: I see two ways we can go: the pessimist side, where we keep going along this road that we’ve been traveling on for the past 100 years, and our world burns – floods are happening, there are no more fish – but, on the optimist side, it is a completely different outlook.  I have faith in humanity that an bright future lies ahead of us, and that we can turn everything around. 

Canadian youth should be optimistic because it’s not too late.  There’s still time to change; there’s still time to shut down fossil fuels, there’s still time to make the switch to renewable energy – there’s still time. It’s not over yet.