Reflecting on the Climate Strike: What Happens Now?

| Chantelle Spicer, Editor | It has been just over a month since the global climate strike on September 27th. It was reported that approximately 800,000 people across Canada stood up and called out for action on climate change that day. Though the majority of attendees turned out in Vancouver and Montreal, strikes occurred in nearly every city in the country, including Castlegar, Trail, and Nelson. Actions such as these are impressive, capturing the spirits and headlines, though most of the time only for a short time (a media cycle generally).

So what happened at the strike if we are to reflect on it? What has happened since? And where do we go from here?

It is apparent that masses attended for these events, ranging from labour unions to Indigenous rights leaders, but it was primarily students of all ages who showed up to demand change for their futures. However, the experiences of these events is not felt as a homogenous group of those calling for climate action.

Since September 27, a number of voices have been raised calling on racism within the environmental movement. In Canada this has been primarily been experienced by Indigenous peoples. One Indigenous attendee of the Montreal strike described hostile encounters with fellow strikers who expressed a variety of racist comments on the topic of land rights and justice. A recent climate action in Vancouver on October 25th saw similar statements on reddit, with some attendees not seeing the point of Indigenous speakers calling on justice over land rights in the narrative of climate change.

However, the fact remains that Indigenous communities suffer first. Displacement is a human rights violation because it destroys the cultural sustainability of communities that have existed in these places for thousands of years – and it is these communities at the forefront of combatting colonialism and capitalism. Examples of intersections between Indigenous sovereignty and climate change are everywhere (because they are inherently linked). This includes Standing Rock and #NoDAPL protests which centre on the idea of sovereignty. For a Canadian context, one can look to the Unist’ot’en through the jurisdiction of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’sewet’en Nation, who stand against Coast GasLink operations on their traditional territories. The Secwepemc Nation is also their traditional territory from natural resource extraction through the Tiny House Warriors project, which seeks to halt the TransMountain Pipeline.

The September 27 strikes also saw political leaders joining in the marches in Ottawa, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Many other politicians of the sitting government sent out tweets of support for those marching. This did not escape the ridicule of their critics who have recognized 4 years of inaction on climate policy or actions, such as the national purchase of the TransMountain Pipeline, that experts have recognized as contributing to climate change and injustice.

The Liberal Party did not release a platform on the environment until September 25, with the first announcement of this occurring at the Climate Strike event, where Liberal plans for proceeds from the TransMountain pipeline to contribute to climate action. At a media event, Justin Trudeau pledged that a re-elected Liberal government would plant two billion trees over the next 10 years. That amounts to about $300 million per year and the Liberals expect that it will create 3,500 seasonal jobs in tree planting. The Conservative platform contains no targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

This may have been a sign of support or allusion to action to come (?); however, climate change, actions, or policies were barely mentioned during the 2019 Federal Election campaign by the Liberal party . When the topic of climate was brought up, discussion occurred primarily through the lens of taxes. This despite statistics that show 30% of Canadian voters considered this a top ballot-box issue. Completely absent from the nuanced topics of climate change within the campaign period included the loss of legislated protection over water, agricultural policy, and food sustainability (not to mention the aforementioned Indigenous land rights). With the re-election of the Liberals into a minority government on October 21, many are watching to see how accountable the parties are to these issues and actions required.

Even a surface-level critique of the Trudeau governments (in)actions on climate change show much lip-service paid to the idea of change, but very little accountability to the messaging. This is not just about analyzing directly climate-related policies, but also about examining the intersections of environmental policy and social issues. This includes federal government imposition of militarized RCMP units used against nations defending their traditional territories from natural resource extraction projects, the ongoing inaccessibility to post-secondary education (which would assist with transitioning workers to green energy sectors among other benefits), and the criminalization of poverty. The onus is on Mr. Trudeau to convince Canadians that his policies and the expected outcomes from them are credible and deserve support. The people of Canada, particularly the youth, are ready to hold the government to account on this.

Climate strikes have continued to happen around the world, with Greta Tunberg returning to Canada on Friday, October 25th before a crowd of over 10,000. This morning of action coincided with the filing of a lawsuit from 15 youths across Canada who declare that the federal government’s policies have contributed to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and are making “dangerous” contributions to climate change. Further showcasing the power of youth in this movement, 27 youth with the group Our Time were arrested in the House of Commons on Monday morning after attempting to stage a sit-in to demand a Canadian “green new deal” be the first priority of all 338 MPs elected last week. They had 338 letters to deliver to the new MPs that listed demands including a cut to emissions in line with international scientific consensus, respecting Indigenous rights, creating good new jobs and protecting the most vulnerable people.

Groups such as Extinction Rebellion have also risen to prominence in the wake of global climate strikes. The group has its roots in UK western scientists calling for action on climate change, who first took hold of headlines for declaring a rebellion against the U.K. government, which it claims has not done enough to address the climate crisis. The group has stopped traffic in Oxford Circus, tied themselves to a train in the Underground, and vandalized oil company Shell’s headquarters. Here in BC, scientists have signed on in support of the call to action, along with chapters of Extinction rebellion opening up throughout the province. The group has taken significant criticism for its disruption to public transit (often viewed as a form of climate action) and the inaccessibility to the movement for many who would wish to participate (many marginalised groups are not in a place to be able to be arrested for actions taken by the group). Though controversial, the group has set precedents for protecting the right to protest following police action against protests that was ruled as unlawful.

So, where do we go from here in this recent rising up the climate-environmental movement? It is clear that youth/students are not just participating in these movements, but are leading them. In this role, we need to create and be a part of movements that are accessible to those who are most impacted by climate change and toxic environments, while also welcoming those in the center-right of the political spectrum. We need to ensure that our movements are anti-capitalist and anti-racist in nature. We need to ensure that we are not relying on marginalised groups to educate us, but instead that we act as good allies and uses any privilege we carry to lift up the voices of those marginalised by the system. We need to use our messaging and tactics strategically so as not to alienate potential members of our movements. We also need to ensure that our movements are allied with those we share principled relationships with such as the labour movement (including those of migrant workers), peace movements, and women’s rights movements. There is more power in these intersections.

Pop Art and the Art of Political Revolution by Shepard Fairey

Most importantly, we need to take part in ways that are true to ourselves. This includes recognizing that standing up in the streets is not the only form of taking part, nor even the most effective, given its unsustainable nature. It is about finding ways to take part every day – this can include writing op-eds in our local papers, becoming a monthly contributor to an organisation doing god work, making and putting forward art that takes on climate justice, and writing to your government representatives at all levels. The potential for taking action and making change and using your voice is endless, especially when united. By ensuring that youth and other participants in climate strikes find avenues such as these to engage in climate action, we are able to move beyond these big days of action to enshrining these actions within our every day life. It is not about the performance of revolution on one day, but the ongoing practice of revolution and people’s power within our everyday lives.