A lot of people hope that substantive action on climate change will be a major issue in the current Federal Election, but they also know that it will take a lot of hard work and noise to make it the prevalent issue they want it to be. Although not as big as past climate strikes in Guelph, the one held on Thursday drew more than 50 people to St. George’s Square to raise their voices about the desperate need to fight climate change.
The protest was organized by Fridays for Future Guelph and Greenhouse Guelph, groups predominately made of local young people who are anxious about their future, and anxious to make the people in charge take action to save it. One of the organizers was Kellie Elrick, who said that one of her big issues is the lack of adequate education on matters of climate change that she and her peers have received in school.
“A new study shows 87 per cent of high school students find that the curriculum is lacking in environmental education, and I’ve heard that too many times,” Elrick said. “It’s usually a speech about overpopulation, ocean acidification, water and food shortages, natural disasters of monstrous magnitudes, bees dying, and how we don’t have a way to fix it, and the solutions we do have aren’t being implemented, and even if they were, it’s probably too late already, which is then followed by a reminder to turn off the lights.”
That kind of frustration is known well by many of the speakers, people who are well-recognized from local environmental advocacy groups like Arlene Slocombe of the Wellington Water Watchers. She was frustrated by the recent sale of the Nestle water bottling plant in Aberfoyle to the private equity firm, One Rock Capital.
“The entry of private equity into the bottled water business extends Wall Street’s profiteering tentacles into Ontario, and it’s an ominous and dangerous development that this is not a company with other expertise or commitment to the bottled water business,” Slocombe explained. “The other more alarming part to me is that this acquisition of Nestle’s operations is part of a global pattern of investors seeking to make profits by controlling access to water, betting that the increasing scarcity will make them rich.”
Evan Ferrari, the executive director of eMERGE said that he was humbled by the young people who had organized the protest and said that his generation has failed them, and the young people that came after them, for not acting on climate change sooner. He explained the the City of Guelph needs a better strategy to get to net zero and 100 per cent renewables by 2050 with more interim targets.
“There is one one interim target before 2050, and that’s 2030. So that essentially means we won’t know how well we’re doing until that point, we won’t know whether we’re doing a good job as individuals, as a community, and as businesses until that time, and it’s critical that we change that,” Ferrari said. “How can we know whether our environment is getting anywhere if we don’t have targets to show that we’re actually making an impact?”
Andrea Baker, an animal rights activist and member of Greenhouse Guelph, said that when it comes to environmental issues, whether its deforestation or exploitation of water resources, one of the top three causes in every instance is animal farming.
“The transition towards lab grown meat and plant-based agriculture are some of the most simple and least costly green transitions to implement,” Barker said. “However, our government continues to hand out billions to animal agriculture. They disproportionately support meat, dairy and egg industries despite the fact that meat and dairy were removed as food groups from the Canadian Food Guide in 2019 and they now recommend replacing animal protein sources with plant based proteins whenever possible.”
Jill Francis talked about her recent experience protesting the logging of the old growth forest at Ferry Creek in British Columbia, where Indigenous activists are fighting a pinched battle against governments, industry, the RCMP, and in some instances their own elected councils to stop the removal of trees in one of B.C.’s last ancient forests.
“We are gathering today because the caretakers of this land since time and immemorial were displaced from their lands by colonial deceit, and because as a group of climate concerned individuals, we must fight for the lands returned to its original stewards,” Francis said. “We know settler colonialism is the root of this current environmental crisis.”
Before the end of the protest thoughts returned to the in-progress election. Jordan Thakar, a second-year environmental science student at the University of Guelph said that if you’re concerned about climate change, then you’ve got to read the fine print and question the candidates to get beyond the platitudes.
“I want everyone to be looking specifically at the climate change platforms and not just looking at the blanket words because they are really easy to use, and really easy to make you feel like they’re going to do something this time,” Thaker said. “They’re going to say they’re going to work with Indigenous communities, but what does that mean? They often never know what that means because they never do anything. We already have an Indigenous water crisis that has lasted for decades, and what has Justin Trudeau done about it?”
Green Party candidate Michelle Bowman was at the protest, and she said that she heard the concerns, and the cynicism of the speakers and hopes to put forth an election platform through the Greens that they can get behind. “Greens always have the best ideas, and last election, other people stole them,” Bowman said. “We would have been happy for them to steal them if they were implemented, but they weren’t.”