Generation Change

Inspired by the urgency of the climate crisis and international strikes, local teens are turning eco-anxiety into action

Gavin MacRae

© Ronan Futura

The attendance at Youth Environmental Action’s first climate strike wouldn’t have filled half a school bus. The second drew 300 people. By the third strike, roughly 3000 people — kids through to seniors — clogged the streets of downtown Courtenay.

The exponential growth is evidence of the global success of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future climate strike movement. But in the Comox Valley, the growth is also testament to the energy, work, and organizing of the student-led Youth Environmental Action (YEA for short).

The ranks of the group have grown as well, from a handful of founding members to around 30. YEA is now steered by a council of 10 members, each with a specific focus, such as communications, social media, and event coordination. The council meets regularly at the Courtenay library for after-school planning sessions.

The Watershed Sentinel sat down over gelato with Will Hatch, YEA council member and a student at Highland Secondary School, to discuss what’s next for the group, and what it’s like to be a teenager growing up in the climate crisis.

“So YEA doesn’t just organize marches,” Hatch says. “We do give speeches at the marches, and we organize them, but we are also creating a podcast. We’re working on the first six episodes and we’re going to release it on Spotify and our website. It’s called Generation Change.”

YEA also organizes year-round beach clean-ups, has a tree planting program in the works and, Hatch says, is planning an elementary outreach program.

“We would like to get kids in high school to go to kids in elementary school and talk about the climate crisis. Not like persuade them or anything, but just start a conversation.” Hatch laughs. “You know, get ’em while they’re young.”

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. YEA were finalists for the 2019 #YouRock award from the Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the students have met with officials from the Comox Valley municipalities, the Comox Valley Regional District, and the school board, to suggest specific policy measures.

“It’s obviously scary. But you’re also born into the most important time in human history. And if you want to change the world, you can literally save the world, basically. You don’t need Superman to do it.”

YEA is also part of a new consortium of politicians, community groups, and individuals working to draft a climate framework and action plan for the Comox Valley.

In his school, Hatch says maybe two-thirds of students are concerned about the climate, but many don’t know what to do about it, and YEA offers a way to turn gnawing concern into concrete action.

“It’s obviously scary. But you’re also born into the most important time in human history. And if you want to change the world, you can literally save the world, basically. You don’t need Superman to do it.”

Scene at a climate strike organized by YEA in September, Comox Valley, BC | author photo

But just as in society at large, the school has a minority faction of climate deniers that Hatch presumes take cues from their parents.

“It’s kind of sad at this point that some people still don’t agree. Because the people who don’t agree, they are giving an excuse for the people who are unsure to do nothing…. I think our generation has enough people who do believe in it. There’s no excuse for doing nothing.”

Hatch predicts a tipping point in climate action is coming soon, as his generation enters adulthood, and says some YEA members are basing their future careers around climate change. His activism and plans to become an environmental economist are backed by his climate conscious family, but not all YEA members enjoy such support, Hatch says. “My grandpa likes to say we need a mobilization just like World War II.”

Still, Hatch says the climate crisis is taking a toll.

“I know that with every decision I make, or if I see my family eating beef, if I see a truck drive by, I think about it…. And I know some people are very anxious because of the climate crisis. Anxious enough to not want to have kids.”

To cut their personal carbon footprints, Hatch says most YEA members have become vegetarian.

“I think we have to stay positive because it’s such a negative situation. And that’s exactly why you should stay positive. Although I know some of us are awfully pessimistic. Personally, I think it’s totally possible. Human innovation has saved us in the past even though this problem is much bigger than any other. Humans are surprisingly innovative creatures. Yeah, I think we can do it.”

For adults wanting to support YEA, Hatch says: “Come to the marches. Simple as that. We want everyone who can to be there.”

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This article appears in our April-May issue.








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