An unseasonably warm noon hour on a beautiful Friday made of an ideal setting outside Guelph City Hall for a Global Climate Strike. Hundreds of Guelphites, many of them young people, gathered in Market Square to make their voices known, they want climate action, and they want it yesterday.
Joining thousands of events in 130 countries around the world, the Guelph edition of the Global Climate Strike focused on heartfelt and urgent messages from local activists, experienced and not-experienced, demanding immediate action on the growing climate emergency.
“I’m a registered nurse by trade. But that doesn’t really matter today. The only real job that I have in this world is to be a mom,” said Ruth Szaefer, one of the organizers of the Guelph strike and the emcee of Friday’s event.
Szaefer said that she was like a lot of people, she recycled and frowned on the purchase of bottled water, but when she started paying attention to the urgency developing around the climate crisis and started doing research, she felt paralyzed by the implications of the crisis and the vastness of the problem.
Then she realized that the feeling of helplessness she was experienced is a universal reaction, and that those feelings feed inaction on climate change.
“I decided that I needed to do something because if I don’t do anything, and everyone else that find themselves in that situation doesn’t do anything, then we are solidifying a war for our children that cannot be won, and that is a reality I refuse to accept,” Szaefer said.
Although the event itself was non-partisan, it could not be ignored that it was happening in the middle of an election. Szaefer asked all political candidates to go beyond the talk, and get straight to the part where they show us what actions they’ll take.
“What we need to start talking about is that there is hope, there are solutions, tons of them. There are scientificly-backed strategic solutions on how to reduce greenhouse gases, and they can be implemented,” she explained. “They are far-reaching and transformational to our society, but they can be done. We just have to do it.”
“I can’t speak for everyone here, but I will tell you that I will not vote for a party that does not have a plan to meet the 2030 and 2050 agreements,” Szaefer added to big cheers from the audience. “Get a plan, or lose my vote!”
With so many kids at the event, they got their chance to speak about the climate crisis, and talked about some of their favourite animals who are in danger from climate change and other environmental issues.
Karen Slatkovsky, a doctor who works with Szaefer, said that she got more active in climate activism after her son learn about climate change at school. “He felt so hopeless and felt so defeated by the futility of what he could offer to a solution that he expressed some very, very saddening thoughts, and I just could not stand by and listen to this without feeling the need to assist in any way that I could,” she said.
A six-piece band of string instruments then performed a musical piece called “Planetary Burns, Flaming World” composed by University of Minnesota geography professor Daniel Crawford. The piece is a musical representation of the increase in global temperatures between the late-19th century and 2014 with different instruments representing different parts of the planet; Slatkovsky kept time with a calendar.
The musical piece is part of the video below.
“It’s weird to be around at this point in time because it’s now or never, and we have to decide which way this whole thing is going to go. We have to pick a side,” said Tony Stortz, co-founder of the Plant Based Student Association.
“I try to be an optimistic person, but with climate activism, it gets more and more difficult,” Stortz explained, adding his own non-partisan hopes for the election next month. “We can send an MP to Parliament who knows the real work that has to be done on climate action, but it can’t be done without all the people here showing up to vote, knocking on doors, fighting for a better future and talking to the people for whom it matters.”
The new climate action movement has been praised for its youthful leadership, particularly 16-year-old Swedish teen Greta Thunberg who started the Fridays for Futures protests on her own outside the Swedish parliament. Still, one young person at the Guelph rally said that this can’t be a youth movement alone.
“Overall, youth have become the leaders of today and of the future, with the hopes of saving our own generation, and yet, youth are possibly the worst group to lead this movement,” said Saffron Binder. “We completely lack political and economical power, experience and money, and while we may have passion and numbers, we lack the biggest thing necessary for systematic change: power.”
Binder did however say that she and her generation did have the power to decide not to buy products from CEOs who ignore the climate crisis, and to no vote for politicians that ignore it too. At the same time though, it’s those people in positions of power the really desperately need to join the movement to make it a success.
“I mean absolutely no disrespect to my fellow youth activists, we are doing the best we can with what we have, but we’re severely disadvantaged in comparison to adults when it comes to creating change,” she added. “If the older generation decided to radically fight climate change, the issue would be minimized much faster than if the youth do it.”
Bruce Weaver, a member of the local First Nations, kept his comments short, sweet, and to the point. “I want to remind you that many, many years ago there was not a treaty but a covenant, a sacred agreement between the Anishnaabe and their first mother, the Earth,” Weaver explained.
“That agreement later became a treaty between Anishnaabe and other Indigenous groups, and eventually, in the 1600s, it became a treaty between settlers, the Anishnaabe, and other Indigenous groups,” he continued. “That treaty is called the dish with one spoon and It’s very simple: We agree, you and I, to take only what we need from the land and the waters to leave enough for seven generations to follow us, and to keep the dish and the spoon clean.
“Let’s work on it,” he added.