Youth activists hope climate strike ‘will be a tipping point’

For thousands of youth climate activists across the province, Friday is about making history — not studying it.

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This article was published 26/09/2019 (1162 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For thousands of youth climate activists across the province, Friday is about making history — not studying it.

Students of all ages and adult allies are rallying Friday in more than 150 countries for the Global Climate Strike. It is anticipated to be one of the largest mobilizations in human history.

Art City contributes to climate strike

Art City’s art director Eddy Ayoub (centre) looks for references on an actual globe, while 8-year-old Emma Loshakova paints Cuba on a giant paper mâché globe Tuesday afternoon preparing to participate in the Global Climate Strike to be held here on Friday. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)


Ask the young people at Art City what they know about climate change and you’ll get a pretty straightforward answer.

“Us humans are changing the face of the planet,” 13-year-old Evan says. “There is climate change, which is happening a little bit everywhere in the world, there’s ice melting... and (the) Amazon rainforest is currently burning in Brazil.”

Evan, whose last name is being withheld because he is a child in care, was one of more than a dozen people making signs and painting a giant sculpture of Earth at Art City on Tuesday night in preparation for the climate strike set to take place at the Manitoba legislature today — the second event of its kind in Winnipeg in the past week.

The local strikes are organized by Manitoba Youth for Climate Action and are part of a global movement inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. On Sept. 20, 250 students, teachers and adult allies held a “die-in” on the steps of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to protest government inaction on climate change.

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(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has become the face of the youth climate justice movement.

The general strike was called by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who has become the face of the youth climate justice movement.

Earlier this week, Thunberg gave an impassioned speech at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York, in which she asked world leaders “how dare you” applaud youth movements without taking serious action on the climate file. She is expected to join climate strikers in Montreal.

More than 2,500 people have indicated on Facebook they are attending the Winnipeg event, which runs from noon to 5 p.m., at the Manitoba legislature. At least 4,000 others indicated they are interested in the strike.

“I’m already getting emotional about it… I’m trying to take a step back and let everything come together and focus on how big this movement is,” Sunny Enkin Lewis, an 18-year-old organizer with Manitoba Youth for Climate Action, said Thursday.

“We’ve been striking for months, and before that there was always environmental activism before the strikes started,” she said. “I’m hoping this will be a tipping point.”

Hosted by Manitoba Youth for Climate Action, Friday’s events will include a march across downtown Winnipeg, as well as speakers, performers and art installations. The march will begin at the legislature at 1 p.m. and move eastbound on Broadway towards Main Street and loop back on Assiniboine Avenue.

The strike marks the end of a week of climate action, announced in response to scientists sounding alarms that if the earth’s temperature rises 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels, the planet risks catastrophic change.

Business response

Chains and independent businesses across the country are closing down operations Friday or altering hours to accommodate staff participation in the national climate strike and stand in solidarity with youth activists.

Chains and independent businesses across the country are closing down operations Friday or altering hours to accommodate staff participation in the national climate strike and stand in solidarity with youth activists.

Among them:

— Mountain Equipment Co-op is closing all of its Canadian locations until 5 p.m. local time

— Lush Cosmetics is closing all of its operations for the day

— Patagonia is closing all of its retail stores across the world

— St-Léon Gardens will be closed all day

— Winnipeg Folk Festival is closing at noon

— Winnipeg Architecture Foundation is closing at noon

Each day, youth have issued a demand. Among them, emissions reductions targets that aim to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, eliminating all fossil fuel extraction and transportation projects, and enshrining in law the fundamental right to a healthy environment.

Activists have also repeatedly demanded Canada commit to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “in full.”

Educators across the province are participating Friday, including leading field trips to the legislature. Seven Oaks School Division is sending 18 buses of students to the event.

Seven Oaks Met School in the city’s North End is giving all of its 100 students the opportunity to attend the strike.

“As adults in the building, we wanted to be able to be alongside youth to show them we’re there in solidarity and helping them because (climate change) is kind of a mess we created,” said principal Nancy Janelle.

Janelle said encouraging students to participate in the protest also ties into the curriculum — whether it be the social studies, science, global issues or history lesson plan.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson Mountain Equipment Coop, MEC, plans to shutter operations Friday in an effort to give their staff time to join mass climate strikes and raise awareness about the impending crisis.

“We love the idea of being part of history in the making, instead of just studying history,” she said. “One of the most important things for us as educators is helping our students understand how they can understand their democratic rights if they are under 18.”

Pembina Trails School Division is providing a handful of schools with student transportation to the event, as it “ties directly to curriculum and adds value to what is being taught in the classroom.” As well, Louis Riel School Division confirmed it has teachers planning to strike alongside students.

“We want to be supportive, but not overtake or overshadow this youth-initiated and youth-led activism,” Christian Michalik, Louis Riel superintendent, said in a statement to the Free Press.

Winnipeg School Division went so far as to endorse the event Thursday, after youth activists raised concerns the division was not supporting students. In a news release, WSD said the strike has provided “an excellent platform for discussion and learning for children and adults.”

(School boards ask guardians to make clear if students are missing class for the strike. Meanwhile, local post-secondary institutions are encouraging students to let instructors know if they are interested in participating to see if alternative academic arrangements can be made.)

Jasmine Moffett, a 23-year-old University of Winnipeg student, was preparing for the strike Thursday night by making posters at downtown non-profit Art City.

“Climate change is really an emotional issue, as well as something that’s purely academic or scientific,” Moffett said. “It’s important to keep emotion in the picture — the fact that our future is at stake.”

The Winnipeg Police Service is alerting the public about traffic delays anticipated downtown Friday afternoon. As well, bus riders are being advised to check schedules before travelling, as Winnipeg Transit will have temporary routes in place.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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