Learning to climb at a climate conference

Photo: Kim Mathieu

Photo: Kim Mathieu

I’m writing to you today about a super cool youth-organized climate conference happening right now in Ottawa, yet these photos look like I’m preparing for an expedition up Mt. Everest. How did I end up in a 3-day intensive climbing workshop at a climate conference?

By totally pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

I’m the kind of person who feels a rush of adrenaline as I jaywalk. I think change comes slowly and takes a long time. I respect institutions and generally think highly of our government, schools, economy and Canadian ways. But I am very open to challenging these values and opinions which is exactly what I did during this conference by attending the intensive workshop on direct action (think Greenpeace repelling down a bridge to stop oil tankers or activists climbing trees to stop deforestation).

Photo: Kim Mathieu

Photo: Kim Mathieu

Direct action is non-violent civil disobedience: to use your body and to put it in a position where it makes it harder for authorities to remove you from there, consequently drawing media attention and making a point about a certain (in this case, climate-related) issue. Independent volunteers who have the technical ability to climb buildings, statues and bridges are teaching us how to do it safely. These are no ordinary climbing skills.

Strapped into our heavy-duty harnesses, we watched our instructor slowly crawl up a rope secured to the 20ft ceiling. He would use different parts of his body through a series of movements: foot up, push, torso up, arms up, move the knots around, rest, repeat. When he reached the top, he noticed he had forgotten to “leash” one of his piece of gear to his harness.

When things go wrong, all eyes are on you. Any small mistake is scrutinized by the media and can result in really serious consequences. Dropping something from height can be very dangerous for those below you but when there are cops and bystanders around, simply forgetting to leash your hardware and dropping it could potentially turn into a case of assault -- or worse.

So for three days, about a half dozen of us are learning some hard skills to make sure stuff like that does not happen and to assure our own personal safety when doing these stunts. We’re only on day one right now, but I look forward to hearing more about what these sorts of actions look like and why people do them. Stay posted for my next post about this.

Photo: Kim Mathieu

Photo: Kim Mathieu


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About the author

A graduate from McGill University with a degree in environmental sciences, Kim Mathieu is passionate about the relationship between human health and the environment. She is a polar expedition guide working in the Arctic and Antarctica. In 2017, she was named one of two Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors, a position that gave her national exposure to encourage youth to become interested in the conservation and preservation of the beautiful places in Canada and beyond.

Kim Mathieu