As a climate activist, Sunny Enkin Lewis has had countless conversations about the climate crisis.
"I’ve had people in their 70s and 60s say stuff like, ‘Wow, if I was your age, I’d be so scared,’ or ‘You might see the end of the world,’" she said.
"Yes, I am scared. I think they should be, too," added Enkin Lewis, 18. "It’s just frustrating to know that the people who have the capacity to change something are the ones who are just leaving it to a bunch of kids."
Enkin Lewis channels her fear into her work with Manitoba Youth for Climate Action, a collective of young people dedicated to climate justice and advocacy for a better future.
The group meets every Monday afternoon at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Winnipeg on Ellice Avenue, close to the University of Winnipeg. About 15 people typically participate, though the group includes more than 100 people on Slack, the messaging platform group members use to communicate.
Last year was a busy one for the group. On Sept. 5, before the provincial election, it co-hosted a leadership debate on climate change and the environment at the Fort Garry Hotel.
Later that month, on Sept. 20, members staged a "die-in" on the steps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to protest government and business inaction on climate change. More than 250 people of all ages participated.
A week later, group members were key organizers for the local events that coincided with the global climate strike. Two months after that, the group staged an action inside Polo Park shopping centre on Black Friday that included a round dance led by the Idle No More protest organization.
Between these events, group members continued their weekly protest at the Manitoba legislative building as part of Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement.
Courtney Tosh, a Grade 12 student at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, says she joined the group last year as a way to deal with her eco-anxiety. She describes it as the fear she experiences that people on the planet will not have a future as a result of the climate crisis.
"Joining the group was the best way of dealing with that because it felt like I was doing something to help and stop this crisis," said Courtney, 17.
Eco-anxiety can’t be solved with medication, taking deep breaths or with someone telling you it’s going to be OK, says Cam Beer, a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School.
"You can’t get rid of anything that’s triggering eco-anxiety because it’s the end of the world that’s triggering it, and that’s what we’re facing," the 17-year-old said, adding joining the group in June has impacted school life.
"It’s really hard to go to school and sit in class while we’re facing the end of the world," Cam said. "It makes no sense."
"School used to be the biggest part of my life, but now it’s been suppressed and pushed aside because this is what I feel I need to focus on," she said.
Confronting their eco-anxiety together has been helpful for the group’s members, who have formed meaningful relationships while working alongside one another.
"We have a great community here," Cam said. "It’s another family for many of us."
Participating in the group has alleviated some of Madeline Laurendeau’s anxiety.
"It feels like I have a purpose and place to take that negative energy and turn it into something," said the 17-year-old, who is in Grade 12 at Collège Jeanne-Sauvé.
The group, who participated in the pipeline protest at Portage Avenue and Main Street on Jan. 10, has a lot planned for 2020.
In addition to protesting each Friday at the legislative building, the group is hosting a concert at the Park Theatre on Feb. 5 called Mother Earth Rocks. Ticket sales will benefit the Manitoba Eco Centre, a network of environmental non-profits who have recently undergone funding cuts.
On March 3, the group is participating in Take 3 for Climate Justice, a student conference and film festival looking at climate and human rights. They are also gearing up for April 3, when the next global climate strike will take place.
"It will be a big year for the movement," Enkin Lewis says.
Group members invite interested young people to join them (instagram.com/mbyouthforclimateaction) and encourage adults who are interested in supporting them to get involved with the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition (mbenergyjustice.org).