The Last Generation: to Act on Climate Change - theHumm February 2021

The Last Generation: to Act on Climate Change - theHumm February 2021

By Emily Pearlman

“I am inspired by empowered young people coming to realize our place in the world as the last generation to challenge Climate Change and environmental injustices,” says Ahlena Sultana-McGarry, one of the facilitators of Climate Network Lanark’s Youth for Climate Action group. She speaks with a quiet confidence which seems the right note to strike with the twelve young people from across Lanark who recently assembled as strangers for the group’s first meeting.

Sultana-McGarry, a graduate in Cross-Disciplinary Art from the Ontario College of Art & Design, will be training with David Suzuki’s Future Ground Network and then facilitating the CNL Youth Team as they collectively build a local vision for change. “Looking into my own life experiences, I became aware of a severe disconnect in our education system in responding to the climate crisis, and in fostering space for young people to engage in these critical conversations and to act. The Youth for Climate Action group was formed in recognition of this.”

Meeting each other for the first time in an online format, the group listens quietly to start, but it becomes clear that if action is the panacea for fear, they want to get moving.

“All these new people moving from Ottawa already expect organic waste pick up — how can we leverage that expectation?” “Local businesses often have the desire to change their practices, but not the time to figure out how to do it — how can we support them?” “Can old people just please stop making Tik-Tok videos to try and influence us, and let us do the influencing?”

Inside each of those questions is the seed of an idea, and with the knowledge that municipalities influence over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions, the team is set to find ways to create the changes required for a livable future.

Many of the members of Youth for Climate Action are already involved in causes in their community or school. Each time one of them makes a step, they are contributing to a culture shift that keeps gaining traction. Here are two who are taking their message out:

Emma Andrigo —Encouraging a Change Mindset

“Emma! That girl you talked about last year is on the news!” A teacher at Notre Dame High school rushes excitedly to deliver the news. The girl in question was climate justice wunderkind Greta Thunberg — and long before her name was a household one, she had been the subject of one of Emma Andrigo’s high school presentations.

“I wish I’d heard about her in the school context. We have a unit on Climate Change, and they tell you about the science behind it and all the reasons it is terrible and urgent, and then we move on to the next unit,” says Andrigo. Young people leave these classes upset, shrug their shoulders and push it from their minds.

Thunberg’s Ted Talk, which inspired Emma’s school presentation, was a galvanizing moment. “I had been feeling so overwhelmed that it pushed me to a place of ‘why bother doing anything’, but then here was someone my age saying ‘You can make change’ and that shifted the entire way I approach the role of the individual in Climate Action”.

Part of that action involves storytelling; last year while Andrigo was acting in a short play she wrote about zero-waste living, she caught the eye of Pinegrove Productions’ Franziska von Rosen. Von Rosen was looking for a young person to work with her on creating a series about youth action around climate change. Together they are working on a pilot that takes on the environmental impact of fast fashion. 

Emma considers art to be a form of action as it encourages people to be open to change. “We need large community demands before governments and corporations are going to make big changes. But if change is going to happen in a community you need people to be open to it! So step one is putting people into a change mindset.”

Ellie Murphy —Thinking, Talking, Asking

It was Shark Week that turned then 8-year-old Ellie Murphy into an environmentalist. Her brother was watching for the blood and guts as she was falling in love with the great white sharks. When she learned they were dying with bellies full of plastic, she took her first step into activism and vowed never to use a single-use water bottle again. “As apex predators, great white sharks are integral in regulating the ocean’s entire food chain — from the giant blue whale to teeny microplankton. If you take any piece away, you jeopardize the balance of the ocean.”

The relationship between Climate Change and ocean plastics is not immediately evident, but when plastics are exposed to the elements and begin to degrade they release methane and ethylene, which together put climate change on steroids.

Murphy, now 21 and currently on a year-long pandemic hiatus from studying Marine Biology at Dalhousie, is taking the time off to explore and create eco-initiatives in her home town of Smiths Falls. She was selected as a UN Junior Ambassador to create an initiative to better her community, reflective of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

She knew that plastics were going to figure into that initiative, and that in her landlocked community, having a way to grab people’s attention was imperative. Her current project involves selling artwork made with biodegradable plant-based eco-poxy — an alternative to destructive plastic resin. Her setup involves two tables at markets in the region: one for art, the other for information about ocean plastics. This sets the stage for her ultimate goal: conversations that get people thinking, talking and asking.

A tangible empathy for the oceans and their inhabitants makes Murphy an emotional spokesperson for climate justice — an empathy that extends to people who don’t feel as strongly about the environment as she does. “I think that often people just don’t know what’s happening — because if everyone knew why this was so important, they would already be taking the steps, so I’m just trying to bring awareness.”

Within Climate Network Lanark, Ellie is hoping to be the Lorax of the ocean and speak for the seas — keeping in mind that regulating and taking care of our water sources is in itself a nature-based climate solution that looks to the wisdom of mother nature to fight increasing rates of climate change.

Join the Network!

The Lanark Youth for Climate Action group meets on the first Tuesday of each month from 3–4:30pm via Zoom, and people can get more info by contacting . New youth members age 13+ are always welcome. To register, ask questions, or if you need access to a computer for the meeting, send us an email or give us a call at 698–9343.

Inspiring Resources

Instagram: fridaysforfuturetoronto , piecesagainstplastic . : a Government of Canada website with loads of information on participating in meeting our 2030 Climate goals.

How to Save the Planet: A podcast for people exploring jobs in climate change and who want to learn how to make a difference.

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis: a collection of essays from women at the forefront of the climate movement.

The Good On You app: an app that rates the ethical and environmental impact of various clothing companies.

One Small Step: one of the rare documentaries about climate change that isn’t all doom and gloom.


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