2020 Top 25 Youth Engagement Activists


 |  The Starfish

An author of the early 1900s, Aldo Leopald, defined environmental stewardship in his book, A Sand County Almanac, as the following: 

“[An] ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.”

Today, this term coined by Leopald a century earlier embodies a number of meanings in different communities around the world: investing in eco-conscious products, volunteering to organize shoreline clean-ups, and protesting for legislature to mediate climate change. However, the main driver responsible for progressing environmental protection to the global stage is education. Whether at the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary levels, environmental educators have instilled new ideas and values in our youth; to care for their future and work to mediate natural consequences using technological, political, and social tools. 

In September, I spoke with three of these educators, Taylor Maton, Hailey May, and Joelle Moses, who were selected in The Starfish Canada’s Top 25 in 2020. With the recent announcement of last year’s winners, read on to discover the creative and collaborative approaches of these women to youth engagement, current initiatives, and life outside of environmental affairs!

Taylor Maton

Hometown: Edmonton, Alberta

Traditional Territory: Treaty 6 Territory

“Instead of being apart from nature, we must be a part of nature.” 

– David Attenborough

Taylor Maton is a twenty-four year old environment conservationist, currently working with the City of Edmonton to run their Roots for Change program. She leads guided tree and wildflower plantings in urban green spaces to look out for the native species in the region. Prior to taking on this new adventure, she was highly influential as the Conservation Outreach Coordinator for the Northern Alberta chapter of the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society (CPAWS), being a major player in their movement against the Government of Alberta’s decision to remove and close one-third of provincial parks in the spring of 2020. 

She affirms, “Increasing accessibility to parks will not only allow us to foster a greater appreciation for nature, but hopefully increase our willingness to protect it.”

Taylor organized two online, full-capacity town halls, as well as the Mapping Memories and Art for Alberta Parks campaigns, to educate the public on the impacts of privatizing protected areas and engage them virtually. Additionally, she coordinated putting up 2,000 “Defend Alberta Parks” lawn signs around Edmonton, in addition to a “Rally from Home,” which encouraged residents to camp out at home, instead of the legislature, and call their local government officials to voice their concerns. The Minister of Environment and Parks’ office was overwhelmed with calls asking for Alberta’s parks to remain protected and public and over 20,000 people had written to their Members of the Legislative Assembly. 

“With the Lawn Sign Campaign, it demonstrated the shared values between neighbors and was confirmation to them that they weren’t alone in their thoughts. It was an unprecedented campaign that was so much larger than I ever imagined.”

The impact Taylor had in Alberta can be still seen today, as rally signs continue to be spotted across Edmonton.

Taylor’s fascination with natural systems was evident since she was a little girl, collecting rocks for her mother to carry in her purse, tracing leaves in her school notebook, and watching Zoboomafoo. This led to her pursuit of an undergraduate degree in biological sciences from the University of Alberta and eventual acceptance into Ocean Bridge in 2019, a volunteer program that provides mentorship and opportunity for Canadian youth to co-create and deliver projects in their home communities to promote ocean and waterway literacy.

“I think because the ocean doesn’t touch our borders here in the province, it can be easily forgotten – out of sight, out of mind,” Taylor says. “It is important to be aware that the carbon we emit and the plastic we dispose of here [Alberta] goes beyond our local streams and major rivers. Conservation doesn’t end at the border; our land, freshwater water and ocean systems are all interconnected.”

In terms of her plans from here on out, Taylor is looking forward to completing her Masters in Hydrology, continue building Alberta’s collective voice through constant engagement and education, support the interconnectedness of nature, and see where life takes her. In her free time, she enjoys kayaking, tending to her balcony garden, drawing native species, baking bread or oatmeal cookies, spending time with her friends and partner, and you guessed it, powerlifting! 

She acknowledges that burn-out is very real for environmentalists, since she knows the mind space of working 60 hours a week.

“I had amazing people around me to lean on and I learned to take breaks and prioritize self-care. Working in conservation can feel like an uphill battle, so having a supportive network to help you keep pushing against the grain is really important. At the same time, celebrating yourself and your wins when you have them is just as necessary.”

Hailey May

Hometown: Victoria, British Columbia

Traditional Territory: The Lekwungen Peoples and the Songhees, Equimalt, and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to change.”

– Dr. Suess (The Lorax)

As a Policy Manager for the B.C. Green Caucus, Haily May knows a thing or two when it comes to sustainable and sound governance. And with Canada slowly reopening, the twenty-four year old activist says that there are “1001 schemes” on her agenda, the most important of which are the safe supply of illicit drugs, speaking with drug users, wildfires and climate change management. A major problem she is hoping to change is using GDP to evaluate economic growth, rather than the Global Progress Indicators, “social cohesion, state of healthcare system, and social discriminants of equality”. 

Despite her interest in policy, her roots are in agriculture and food security, growing up on a 100-year-old family farm of fourth generation farmers in the urban landscape of Richmond, British Columbia. She acknowledged that they were “conventional” farmers, who were not aware of the benefits of sustainability. May earned a Bachelor of Science in Conversation from the University of British Columbia and majored in Global Perspectives. Based on her childhood and academic experiences, she believes that education diversified her perspective to include both conservative and progressive values.

She asserts, “Coming from a traditional family, I’ve become a messenger for social and environmental change for my family. Seeing my father accept that wildfires are caused by climate change, after much resistance, is real-time evidence of education in action. It was not that he didn’t care about the environment earlier; he just didn’t have the tools to understand. Overall, it is critical for us to learn how to communicate with all the generations who constitute society.”

Speaking of generations, Hailey is a firm believer in youth empowerment and education. She shares a long-spanning history with the youth-led organization, Youth4Future, where she serves as a Global Ambassador and a Co-Lead of the Policy Task Force, formerly working as a Managing Director. She has long helped Youth4Nature represent the interests of young people at international conferences, leading a delegation to the UNSG Climate Action Summit in New York and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid. 

“The last time I attended a conference was back in 2019 and with ten new additions to the [Youth4Nature] team, who I have never met in-person–a consequence of a global team,” May reflects. “So I have to say what I’m anticipating the most is traveling again and meeting my team face-to-face.”

Hailey also volunteered as a Mentorship Coordinator with Climate Guides (predecessor to Youth4Future), managing their mentorship program, which connected youth in Vancouver to mentors and provided them with seed funding to lead incredible climate action projects. The initiative was largely successful and the win was credited to May’s unwavering commitment and genuine care for the youth participants and their visions.

“Hailey approaches her environmental work with a deep and genuine care about the people around her,” wrote the co-founders of Youth4Future. “Everything that she does for the environment, she also does for and with people, especially youth. It is this intersectional approach to environmentalism that makes Hailey a true leader of her generation.”

When asked about her relationship with the First Nations, she recollected her experience recruiting an indigenous woman to Youth4Nature. 

“She was very critical of us during the interview process, since we were three white women who did not possess the tools to talk to indigenous youth. From her, I learned that the language our organization used (e.g nature-based lens) could be interpreted as being contentious. We knew we had to take her.”

In addition to her never-ending list of achievements, Hailey is bilingual and enjoys sowing her own clothes, rock climbing, camping, and skiing in her down time. Her advice to budding youth environmentalists: “Seek new experiences and talk with groups you don’t usually talk with or represent. You are never alone. You have countless allies, wanting to make the same change as you; it’s up to you to find them.”

Joelle Moses

Hometown: Vancouver, British Columbia

Traditional Territory: Coast Salish Peoples

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” 

– Henry Ford

Growing up her entire life in Vancouver, the move to Montreal to pursue university would have been a significant one for Joelle Moses. The twenty-three year-old is taking a different educational track than most of her fellow environmentalists; she received a Bachelor of Arts in International Development and Psychology from McGill University, rather than conservation. She has since been researching narrative theory and economics to identify whose views and interests are represented in economics, whose are absent, and for what reasons. She aims to use the study to uplift the marginalized voices of poor countries within international politics.

“Adopting a human-rights based approach symbolizes an acknowledgment by international leaders that climate change is disproportionately harming the world’s most vulnerable and strengthening existing inequalities,” she writes in an article summarizing COP23, which she attended as a delegate, for McGill’s student-run magazine, The Bull and Bear. “This enforces the understanding that climate change is not just a concern for environmentalists, but also a holistic societal concern.”

In her first year of university, she secured a job with the BC Council for International Cooperation. Joelle was responsible for designing and facilitating a study on the barriers and enablers to youth engagement with global issues, and specifically, with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She learnt that accessibility and unequal opportunities were the biggest barriers to youth taking action, and that collaboration was one of the most effective enabling factors, which has informed all of her work ever since. 

This includes the SDG Bootcamp to educate young advocates on the SDGs, the national Youth Champions Project, which provides intergenerational mentorship and entry work experience to vulnerable youth in SDG-focused jobs, as well as the development of an online network called For Life to support BIPOC climate activists around the globe. In a blog post for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, she explains the reason we are in drastic need of mobilization and climate change is not acknowledged. 

“Someone might believe that climate change is a colossal existential issue, but still get into a car and drive every day. To live with themselves, they must either stop driving fuel-powered cars, or silence their beliefs about the threat of climate change. Unfortunately, the latter is often the easier and more common route people take.”

Adding on to this impressive list , she inspired her community to wear green outfits for 30 consecutive days to build excitement for voting Green and activating hundreds of young voters in the 2019 federal election. She was soon after recruited to work as the National Volunteer Coordinator of Meryam Haddad’s campaign for leadership of the Green Party of Canada. Joelle’s supported Meryam, a young, queer, eco-socialist, immigrant, and woman of color, through the additional obstacles and discrimination the team had to face. She recruited, trained, and coordinated over eight people, many of whom were young and first-time political activists, who later left with the knowledge to launch careers in the field. She demonstrates first-hand that young people are capable of holding positions of power and influence national climate politics.

Meryam Haddad writes, “It is not financial nor reputational motivation that drives Joelle, it’s her whole-hearted passion. The impact of all these folks that Joelle integrated into the [Green} movement will continue to spread action in immeasurable ways long into the future.”

Joelle is noted for her contagious energy and enthusiasm on social media and in-person. Thus, to end off in her own words: “Until the climate action ‘walk’ outpaces the climate change ‘talk,’ people like me will not shut up about climate change, I can promise you that.”