“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land… Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.” – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC Report – AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Climate Change Basis)
Now more than ever, environmental activists need to not only take action against the climate crisis but to educate others on issues that are happening both locally and globally. We cannot be ignorant anymore. Here’s what these four Top 25 Under 25 Program Winners are doing to educate others.
Maggie Chang, 22
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario
Traditional Territory: Mississaugas Of The Credit, The Anishnabeg, The Chippewa, The Haudenosaunee And The Wendat Peoples
When Maggie learned about the deforestation of the Amazon in first grade, she could not believe that humans were inflicting so much damage on our own homes. She “refused to accept that our quality of life had to come at the expense of beings who share the Earth with us”. Thus, she began her environmental journey by educating herself, peers, and joining her school EcoTeam. Fast forward to high school, Maggie was an executive of the EcoTeam at her high school, and she spearheaded an annual dead battery collection bake sale, where students were able to trade in e-waste, light bulbs, and other items for baked goods. This was just the beginning of her environmental activism.
In her first year of her undergraduate degree of Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, Maggie was the lead organizer of a United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Training workshop, the first ever to be held in Waterloo, Ontario. She planned a day-long conference with a keynote speaker Ravi Karkara, a senior advisor to UN women, that successfully certified over 120 attendees as SDG trained.
Sustainable Campus Initiative (SCI) Day was another project Maggie led. It was a one-day sustainability conference in January 2019 built to empower the community, particularly students, with concrete examples of exciting cutting-edge environmental solutions and how they could be part of them. The conference connected over 100 students, volunteers, and community members in empowerment to raise their voices and make a difference in their own lives. Positive feedback was unanimous; dozens of attendees spoke to her personally about how they couldn’t wait to apply what they learned and that they couldn’t wait for next year’s conference.
As an advocate for environmental and sustainability issues for many years, Maggie always had a nebulous idea she wanted to address, which was “how do you make people care enough to take action?” In addition, after reflecting on her EcoTeam experience in high school, she noticed that about 90% of the team were of East and South Asian descent, but 80% of the school population was white.
With this in mind, she conducted her thesis addressing the question “What are the barriers for BIPOC individuals, what sorts of environmentalism do they engage in and why?” To summarize her findings, she found many logistical barriers such as lack of representation, and conceptual barriers of societal constructions such as “what environmentalism looks like” that don’t often consider BIPOC experiences. To address these barriers, Maggie believes there is a need for more BIPOC representation in the field, to tackle the structures that promote the centering of the white experience. From her study, she also advocates for the importance of studying environmentalism through an intersectional lens.
Harry Bajwa, 21
Hometown: Surrey, British Columbia
Traditional Territory: Semiahmoo First Nation
Growing up in a small village in India, Harry experienced the detrimental impacts of severe environmental conditions on human health. Poor infrastructure led to frequent flooding in his village, there were very few resources to stay cool in temperatures above 35℃, and it was uncommon for a household to have access to clean electricity.
He says the lack of education in the village largely impacted the way they lived. Without learning about the environment in school, they were unable to care for it, resulting in an increase in environmental issues. After moving to Canada at a young age, Harry was able to learn what many Canadian students do in school – to reuse, reduce and recycle amongst other sustainable practices. The gap in education, he found, was not uncommon in various parts of the world.
In 2017, he began to volunteer with Mannkind Charitable Society, a charity that works to provide impoverished children in developing countries with a safe and caring environment through which to explore the world. As the Director of Operations, Harry liaises with overseas members of Mannkind to work through procedures and budgets for over 600 children in their program. Most recently, Harry led the charity’s efforts to provide computers and Internet access for over 400 children living in orphanages in Nepal and India.
In the same year, Harry co-founded Knowledge Builders, an online tutoring service. Proceeds from the tutoring sessions fund their mission to provide free internet access, computers and education to children living in developing countries. Since the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, some children without Internet access were not able to go to school, and were forced to begin working. In developing countries, Knowledge Builders has been providing education to hundreds of children and working with governments to build broadband infrastructure.
Currently, Harry is working on various projects, many of which arise on a case by case basis, such as providing relief for different populations experiencing natural disasters.
Beth Eden, 25
Hometown: Waterloo, Ontario
Traditional Territory: NEUTRAL, HAUDENOSAUNEE AND ANISHINAABE PEOPLES INCLUDING THE LAND OF THE HALDIMAND TREATY AND TREATY 3
Representing Canada in the Merit 360 program, Beth created an action plan for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, Climate Action, alongside a group of five international delegates. Together, they launched climate education in rural schools in the Moroccan Atlas mountains and partnered with local non-governmental organizations to empower youth to understand and take action on climate issues. Beth wanted to build on the Merit 360 program, and co-founded World Merit Canada, a global youth movement that works directly with the United Nations to achieve their 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In addition to the SDG work at Merit 360 and World Merit, Beth also partnered with Greenpeace International to create a documentary, In Your Palm. The goal of the documentary was to educate and aid action against the palm oil industry, primarily in Indonesia through a local human lens. The documentary she produced showcases the palm oil industry’s life-threatening health impacts on the environment and communities through peatlands’ burning.
Beth found that there is a common disconnect with environmental issues because people are unable to connect them to their daily lives. The social psychology of environmental issues left her increasingly interested. After conducting research with the University of Waterloo, she found that communicating tangible actions and solutions to audiences was crucial to enable change. Palm oil is the most commonly consumed vegetable oil globally, and if consumers become aware of its impacts, she believed we could gradually influence corporations to change their production lines.
Hence, she created an Impact Guide for the documentary film through global partnerships and research with global organizations and professors. It focuses on educating a global audience about the issue of palm oil, its impact on the environment, climate, and human health, and how we, as consumers, can aid change to stop deforestation from palm oil production. In Your Palm was launched in Fall 2020 and won four international awards!
This summer, Beth worked on a new film titled Salmon Parks, a part of the Salmon Parks initiative. It is an Indigenous-led movement to recover key watersheds and restore wild salmon in the ha-ha-houlthee (chiefly territories) of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht and Nuchatlaht Ha’wiih (hereditary leaders). She continues to educate and invoke action against a variety of environmental issues.
TJ Turenne, 25
Hometown: Gibsons, British Columbia
Traditional Territory: SḴWX̱WÚ7MESH ÚXWUMIXW (Squamish Nation)
A week-long adventure of learning in nature at the David Suzuki Foundation’s “Camp Suzuki” inspired TJ to join the climate movement. During the camp, he spent the majority of his time in nature, connecting with the land, and learning about the Indigenous peoples that lived there. He said, “inspiring environmental action begins with connecting with nature, joining a community, and undertaking adventures with purpose”.
TJ wanted to give back to Camp Suzuki, so the following year, he began to volunteer as a counsellor at the inaugural children’s camp, a program that still exists today. The camp focuses on climate change, environmentally conscious living, Indigenous cultural learning, and outdoor experiential education.
He then spent the next four years educating himself and getting as involved as he could in his community. TJ was on the organizing committee that successfully coordinated the “Walk for the Salish Sea”. This was a four day, 100km fundraising walk uniting communities from Victoria to Burnaby around social and environmental justice. Together, they successfully raised over $25,000 in legal defense funds for Indigenous communities.
TJ also led the development of youth programs that combined self-propelled adventure travel and climate change education at Fireside Adventures. He created and led multi-week adventure-based climate education courses in British Columbia and Yukon Territory, teaching youth to take care of the land, each other, and to be a leader in any social movement they want to be a part of.
Following this, TJ became a Facilitator/Environmental Educator for the BC Sustainable Energy Association’s “Cool it” Climate challenge. This was a 4 week program full of climate leadership workshops for elementary and high school students in science class, focusing on greenhouse gases, carbon footprint, and the impacts of climate change. The challenge was for each class to reduce their own carbon footprint, competing against other classes across BC with a scoring system. Over 150 classes participated in the challenge, and the program highlighted the impact one can have as an individual and as a group.
For someone looking to get more involved with the environment, these Top 25 winners advise you to reevaluate the decisions you make in your life and to educate yourself about what’s going on in the world. Being aware of issues that are happening both locally and globally is just the first step to becoming an activist. From there, you really need to convey your voice and concern for the environment. Educating yourself and others is crucial to our fight against the climate crisis.