Last month, 10,000 people left their classrooms, offices and homes to march across downtown Halifax. They started in Victoria Park and marched to the steps of city hall. Overlooking the Grand Parade stands a monument dedicated to the men and women who fought to overcome the greatest challenges of their respective generations. Below, stood men, women and children calling for action against our own greatest challenge.
Universities granted academic amnesty for students who were striking. The old and young walked together to the rhythm of drums, songs and chants. A general feeling of bonhomie and solidarity spread throughout the city, as it did in many other cities around the world.
It’s now been a month since that day.
What has happened?
A second strike occurred, however it raised more discussion about the logistics of the strike itself than the issue it was meant to be highlighting. In a federal debate, prime-minister designate Justin Trudeau refused to give a direct answer when asked if he would support forming a non-partisan cabinet with members from all parties that would work to fight the climate crisis. And, for most of us, we returned to school, work and business as usual.
Today, the news is a rough shoreline, full of waves that grow into significance only to break and fizzle on the sand, replaced by the wave behind it: a tweet, an outrageous video, or anything that offers solace through distraction. Passionate speech rarely seems to beget passionate action, and political momentum swings like a Newton’s cradle. It becomes easier by the day to slip into apathy and idleness.
However, I don’t feel disheartened. There is something about the September climate strike that felt different.
Although there have been discouraging words and events since, the energy that fueled the climate strikes hasn’t dissipated. This doesn’t have the insincere, flavour-of-the-week social justice feel that #Kony2012 had. This isn’t just another re-tweet.
There is a genuine passion to act on climate change.
So, what are King’s students doing? What can we do?
I asked a few students these questions over the past week. At first, I was looking for organized movements and initiatives King’s students were taking part in, but a running theme emerged. When I asked what we could do to remain politically active while facing the climate crisis, the most common answer was in hindsight, the most obvious: Vote.
On October 21, we have the chance to cast a vote for our vision of what Canada should be. We can vote for leaders who will take the climate seriously. We can vote for leaders who saw the climate strikes for what they were. A multi-generational will for a sustainable future, not a publicity stunt or an excuse to play hooky.
An opinion piece in the October 1 edition of the Chronicle Herald, called out people who criticize politicians and corporations for inaction, but take full advantage of environmentally harmful “creature comforts” in their daily lives. For example, buying non-local foods or driving when you can bike or walk. I would argue that this is a fair point. We should do what we can in our day to day lives to mitigate climate change. But King’s student and NSPIRG board member Lily Barraclough has other thoughts:
“Doing stuff in your personal life is really great, it’s important and it makes a difference, but it’s not gonna solve the whole issue of climate change. A lot of times people try to focus on changing individual behaviour —sorting the garbage right, driving less — all super important, but that has to be paired with creating change at a systemic level because the majority of fossil fuels are emitted by corporations, not individuals.”
We cannot take all of the burden individually. We must push for systemic change.
We must vote for legislation that will make it easier to buy local, easier to travel without using fossil fuels, easier to heat our homes and use technology without polluting the environment.
We can do this with our vote. But we can’t stop there.
Being an environmental activist doesn’t mean going to one strike. And being a citizen in a democracy doesn’t end with casting your vote and waiting for the next election. If the environment matters to you, live like it, vote like it, and keep the pressure on.