They Call Themselves Sustainabiliteens and They Are Formidable

Meet three young activists taking their elders to school on the climate crisis.

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Learning by doing. Rebecca Hamilton (at right) speaking to climate strikers at the Vancouver Art Gallery on March 18, 2019. Photo by Jackie Dives.

On a Vancouver fall evening, a handful of teenagers met for dinner to make last-minute preparations for the climate strike they’d been planning for the next day. As they ate chili and peered at their event page on Facebook, they wondered how many would show up to join them when they walked out of classes and took to the streets.Our lineup of captivating speakers will explore this place we call home. Feb. 18 in Vancouver.

They’d organized a similar strike in May, and a few thousand people had turned out. But this one, slated for Sept. 27, felt different.

As Grade 12 student Naia Lee rode the 99 B-Line home from dinner that evening, she spied a stranger holding a large sign and asked if she would be striking. Yes, she would, and she was bringing her friends, too.

Later that night, 17-year-old Rebecca Hamilton was working on her speech when her mother guessed she might be addressing 40,000 people, even more. “Don’t talk about it,” she told her mom. “No, that’s crazy.”

The morning dawned clear and bright. As Hamilton approached city hall, where the march would begin, her SkyTrain car was jam-packed, and when she emerged from the station, the streets were teeming, a sea of people stretching across the Cambie Street Bridge.

The crowd was officially estimated to be 100,000. The teens put the number closer to 150,000. Either way, this would be one of the largest mass mobilizations in Vancouver’s history, linked with similarly huge protests in cities across the world over the past two years, coordinated by Global Climate Strikes and FridaysForFuture.

“We couldn’t even comprehend the amount of people there,” says Hamilton, thinking back at the rush she felt joining the meandering mass as it coursed through downtown Vancouver.

Samantha Lin, a Grade 12 student, remembers being shocked at what she’d helped pull off. “There wasn’t really any precedent for what was going to happen just the next day. There was nothing to prepare me in my mind for the amount of people that I would see.”

Lee, Hamilton and Lin — and the other youth climate activists they organize with — call themselves the Sustainabiliteens. In the year they’ve been working together, they have organized classroom strikesoccupied a B.C. cabinet minister’s office, mounted a die-in outside the Vancouver offices of fossil fuel company Teck Resources Limited and staged funerals for their future, one of them outside of an international fracked gas conference.

Their lives are busy with classes and exams, meetings, and interviews with journalists. They could be playing volleyball, dancing, or, as Lee laughs, “spending a lot more time with my family.”

But “the urgency of the climate crisis,” says Lin, “wasn’t something that was going to wait. And I didn’t see any action happening from governments.”

Hamilton finds it “really confusing” to see so many adults complacent in the face of the climate crisis. “People go on just living their daily lives, and the politicians talking about other things, and we go to school and learn math, and nobody’s really acknowledging that we’re living in a really pivotal time in human history.”

She knew she had to do something. “I had this one moment when I realized, if we can’t live on our planet, nothing else matters.”

Even well-meaning environmental efforts at school didn’t seem to match the urgency students like Lin feel. Growing up in Vancouver, she came to appreciate the outdoors and the beauty of nature. As she grew older, she became more aware of the massive levels of waste generated by our economy. “Just seeing our overconsumption, our world system. We’re not sustainable.”

Lin started working and organizing events around sustainability with people in her school, but she felt like a lot of it had what she called a “very non-urgent” perspective on the climate crisis. “It was very ‘let’s reduce waste’ or ‘let’s think of how we can make changes in our school’ instead of the climate justice lens that we’re looking at it through now.”

Hamilton agrees with the sentiment. “It was really hard to figure out how to get involved because all the youth groups I could find were talking about, like, recycling.”

In spring 2018, Lin and Hamilton crossed paths at a climate activism workshop. After the school term and over the summer, the two attended a climate activism camp. A friendship was born.

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‘What’s important in a group, I think, is having trust between everybody,’ says Rebecca Hamilton. Photo by Carolyn Pinsky.

In fall 2018, a teen emerged on the world stage who projected a fiercely pragmatic, the-time-is-now message about the climate crisis. She was 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, gaining notoriety for spending her school days climate striking outside the Swedish parliament. Thousands of daring Australian students, too, were marching through the streets of major cities. They paid no mind when a federal cabinet minister scolded them, saying their futures would see them “up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge of your life and getting a real job.”

“There was just a great public consciousness around the climate crisis and just how much of a crisis it was,” Lin recalls.

And it was inspiring. “My parents have always raised me to be very aware of what’s going on. And not only to be aware, but also to understand that I need to care about what’s happening,” Lee says. “It was just a matter of time before I started to really take that on myself.”

Lee had already been involved in a housing justice initiative and also runs a gender equity club with one of her best friends from school. About this time last year, she was walking out of school in support of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders in opposition to the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline in northern B.C. when she met a bunch of teens who had gone to the December strike. She became friends with Hamilton on Facebook and joined the Sustainabiliteens.

Lee is quick to credit members of older generations for preparing the way. “It’s the work of frontline communities and most-affected individuals who’ve started this movement and who have been pushing it for decades,” she says.

“This isn’t a movement that we started,” agrees Hamilton. “We’re really following in the footsteps of Indigenous land defence, which has been going on for 500 years. And the continued assertion of Indigenous presence on their land has really stemmed, I think, what could be a much worse situation and has halted a lot of destruction.”

Hamilton used to think about climate change as a really scary thing that is coming at all of us. It is, but now she understands that “the big and scary thing” had come for some people already.

For some it has meant surviving historic-level floods. Others have experienced the melting away of their previously frozen homelands. Others find themselves on the frontlines of forest fires. For these people, many of them Indigenous, the climate crisis isn’t about saving the future, it’s already a matter of life and death.

You can’t separate environmentalism and climate justice from advocating for human rights or issues that affect marginalized communities, notes Lee. Climate change “exacerbates other issues, and other issues exacerbate climate change,” she says. “We’ve just really tried to make that a core pillar of how Sustainabiliteens interacts and engages with the movement.”

Hamilton would like older people who find teenagers like her inspiring to not assume “OK, the kids have got it from here.”

“The point of us being inspiring is for you to act. It’s not about just us doing our thing and doing it well,” she says.

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‘The urgency of the climate crisis,’ says Samantha Lin, ‘wasn’t something that was going to wait. And I didn’t see any action happening from governments.’ Lin is at centre of photo with Rebecca Hamilton over her left shoulder. Photo by Carolyn Pinsky.

A week before the Sept. 27 strike, Thunberg delivered a speech to a United Nations summit that rang in the ears of world leaders. “How dare you,” she’d said. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet, I’m one of the lucky ones.”

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line,” she said. The world leaders applauded. None of the major goals of the summit, nor any of those required to reduce carbon emissions in any meaningful way, were pledged.

Right now, Hamilton says, adults need to be speaking up in their communities and organizations they’re a part of, working to transform every level of society and transition to a post carbon future. They should ask themselves, “What does this transition look like for our industry?” And, “Is what we’re doing in alignment with the recognition that we’re living in a climate crisis?”

The Sustainabiliteens are trying to move beyond just mobilizing people for strikes, and into creating long-term organizing structures. The group set up a school leads program to ensure high-school students across Vancouver have access to a strong community that is taking action on climate justice in their schools.

In October, the group organized their ninth climate strike, a stop on Thunberg’s world tour. Recently, the teens helped launch a walkout in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en land defenders.

The three climate activists have grown to be very close friends in the year they’ve been organizing together. They are thinking of taking a gap year to travel B.C. and meet other communities of climate strikers.

“What’s important in a group, I think, is having trust between everybody, and having relationships that extend outside of organizing,” Hamilton says.

“I’m really grateful, having met Naia and Rebecca because they are two of the closest friends that I have to this day,” says Lin.

“And I’m really grateful for them, because I know that there’s a certain sense of shared responsibility that we all feel and that’s the reason why we organize together. We just very much enjoy our time together and I’ve come to really trust them as people and just trust their intentions.”  [Tyee] SOURCE

David Suzuki: Why we’re almost out of time on climate change

“Climate disruption is not going to hit us next generation, or next century. It’s here now ... When voters head to the polls in October, we must put climate at the top of the political priority list,” writes environmentalist David Suzuki.

In 1989, I hosted a CBC radio series, It’s a Matter of Survival, featuring interviews with almost 150 scientists and environmental experts from around the world. Their warning was consistent and stark: Human beings were causing unprecedented changes to Earth’s systems, the detrimental effects were already taking shape, and people would need to reinvent how we live, consume, use energy and move around in order to avoid a looming global crisis.

The public response was impressive. In this pre-internet era, the CBC received 16,000 handwritten letters from listeners eager to act on climate change and other environmental issues. (This would eventually lead to the David Suzuki Foundation’s creation.)

That was 30 years ago.

Today, I’m experiencing a strong — and discouraging — sense of déjà vu…

Last October, hundreds of the world’s top climate scientists, representing almost every nation, gave us another, even more dire warning: We only have about 12 years to reduce our global emissions by half in order to avoid the catastrophic, irreversible effects of locking too many emissions into the atmosphere for years to come — everything from widespread drought, crop failure and water shortages to intensified wildfires and mass human displacement. The world’s best-known medical journal, The Lancet, also tells us the health consequences for humanity — from heat stroke to the spread of diseases and parasites — will be enormous.

This UN report — by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading body on climate — focuses on what we need to do as a global community to meet our Paris Agreement targets and limit average global warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. This is the target we must all focus on, and governments, industries and citizens must have the courage to change the way we think and act if we are to meet it.

The IPCC is just one of many organizations with a similar message. In November 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists, representing some 15,000 scientists, issued a second “Warning to Humanity” (their first was in 1992). It was “the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article.” The BioScience article stated, “By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.”

Luckily, signs of hope are emerging. In many cases, this hope is embodied in young people who have everything at stake.

Just last week, Greta Thunberg — the 16-year-old founder of #FridaysForFuture climate strikes and the unofficial figurehead of the international youth climate movement — landed in New York after journeying from Europe in a zero-emissions yacht to address the United Nations, before she travels to Montreal for the Sept. 27 global youth climate strike.

Earlier this spring, inspired by Greta, millions of young people took to the streets to strike for climate, sending a clear message to governments worldwide: We need climate action now. As Greta says, “I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”

Canadians will soon face another important moment: the Oct. 21 federal election. With just over a decade left to take massive strides toward decarbonization, politicians representing any party must agree that the threat of climate chaos is real and must be met with the same type of response we give to war. When voters head to the polls in October, we must put climate at the top of the political priority list.

This is why co-conspirator and fellow “silverback gorilla” (as we amicably refer to ourselves) Stephen Lewis and I are touring Canada in September and October. We need to spread the message: Everyone in Canada and all political parties must rally together to take action on climate disruption. This isn’t a partisan issue.

We’ll speak in at least six cities, with a special focus on connecting with Canadian youth who have the most at stake from the repercussions of global heating. Other notable Canadians — Indigenous leaders, musicians and public figures — have signed up to help.

Climate disruption is not going to hit us next generation, or next century. It’s here now. And the way we live is still exacerbating it.

Stephen and I have a life’s worth of knowledge and nothing left to prove. Our responsibility now is sharing our wisdom with a new generation, and giving young people the tools they’ll need to navigate the challenges of the world they will inherit.

I’ve been sounding the alarm for more than 30 years, but we don’t have another 30. Please join us and help put the #ClimateFirst this federal election. SOURCE

Fear and Frustration Over Climate Trigger New Climate Movements

“I was wilfully deluded until I began covering global warming,” says author and journalist David Wallace-Wells. He’s the author of The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story Of The Future which begins with these gripping opening lines “It’s worse, much worse, than you think” that are like a voice from your worst nightmare. “People should be scared – I’m scared,” says Wallace-Wells.

Fear for our future and frustration with the inability of the political establishment to deal adequately with the climate crisis are driving the world’s youth to rise. And they will not take no for an answer. They are not, in any way, deluded about their future.

Wilfully Deluded

I began following global warming and climate change over a decade ago. At first I naively thought that climate science—the facts—would galvanize the world into taking rapid and immediate steps to bend the curve on greenhouse gases and the warming of the planet. But that did not work out that well. MORE

How to Keep your #ClimateHope Tanks Full

How To Keep Your #ClimateHope Tanks Full, Below2C

The tide of public opinion about the urgency of climate action is turning. And once it crosses that tipping point, it isn’t going back. We are close to that historic moment.

The promise of youth striking from school around the globe under the banner of #FridaysForFuture, combined with the groundswell of ordinary citizens flocking to the Extinction Rebellion movement, is causing consternation to world leaders who are failing to deal adequately with the world climate emergency before us.

My recent piece on #climatehope for 2019 is followed by this blog post resourced from the Climate Reality Project.  MORE

Related:

What gives me Climate Hope for 2019

What Gives Me Climate Hope For 2019

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Sunrise, founded a year and a half ago by a dozen or so twentysomethings, has established itself as the dominant influence on the environmental policy of the Democrat’s young, progressive wing. Photograph by Michael Brochstein / SOPA / Getty

Will global leaders continue to inch slowly forward on addressing the climate crisis? Or will the world make a giant leap ahead to solve this most critical existential challenge ever encountered by we humans?

Four Reasons For Climate Hope

1. Youth Rising

I’m energized by the worldwide rise of youth in the climate movement. The voice of youth resonates loudly, and with unencumbered clarity, with politicians and world leaders.

Once we start to act, hope is everywhere ~ Greta Thunberg

Their innocence grips adults at an emotional level, in the gut and in the heart. I see the promise of their ideas, their energy and their resilience. MORE