A tightknit group of people gathered at Churchill Square in Edmonton last Friday and then made their way to the Alberta Legislature.
Their chants of “What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!” bounced cheerfully ahead of them as they marched despite the fears many of them feel towards the future.
On March 3, youth around the world took part in a global climate strike to show their support for the issues surrounding climate change and to deal with their climate grief.
Around 40 people attended the climate march in Edmonton which was hosted by Edmonton Youth for Climate Action. About 18 cities across Canada also took part in the global strike, which originally started in 2018 by Greta Thunberg when the 15-year-old sat outside Swedish Parliament every school day for three weeks demanding “urgent action on the climate crisis,” said the Fridays for Future website.
Her actions resonated with youth across the globe.
Anya Labelle, 19, a student at the University of Alberta, joined EYCA after Thunberg came to Edmonton for the Strike for Climate Action on Oct. 18, 2019.
“I (was) feeling kind of helpless. I wanted to do something and get involved somehow. I was also looking for some kind of community to help deal with my climate grief,” she said.
A study released on Jan. 10 by the Journal of Climate Change and Health out of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay Ontario titled "Climate emotions and anxiety among young people in Canada: A national survey and call to action" showed that climate emotions and anxiety are prevalent in Canadians aged 16 to 25.
Of the 1000 people across Canada surveyed by Abacus Data, who was commissioned for the study, 48 per cent of respondents reported feeling very or extremely worried that climate change threatens people and the planet.
Labelle said at the time she didn’t know there was a name for the overwhelming despair she was feeling towards the future, but she found people who were experiencing the same dread.
“There's lots of opportunities in climate organizing spaces for resources to help with climate grief because it is a real thing that young people experience,” she said.
The study showed 56 per cent of youth feel afraid, sad, anxious, or powerless about climate change and 78 per cent of respondents said climate change has impacted their mental health.
Other statistics from the Lakehead study showed 39 per cent of youths report hesitation about having children due to climate change, 48 per cent believe that humanity is doomed, 53 per cent think that they will not have access to the same opportunities that their parents had, 73 per cent report thinking that the future is frightening, and 76 per cent report that people have failed to take care of the planet.
Monica Figuera, 20, a student organizer with EYCA, is studying physics at the University of Alberta. She decided to join EYCA because she was experiencing climate anxiety.
“I am personally worried that if I ever have children, they won't be able to see the world that I was able to experience. I'm a little sad because I'm already feeling loss on certain things that I've seen in nature that are already changing,” she said.
Climate change is noticeably impacting Figuera’s family in Columbia, where she grew up and she is angry that governments, like Canada’s, are not taking responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Government of Canada data, Canada was the highest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting country per capita in 2019 despite ranking tenth out of the top ten global emitters for the same year with 774.29 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2 eq).
In 2019, Columbia ranked 35, with 270.53 Mt CO2 eq, according to Climate Watch data.
Canada’s most recent year of reporting GHG emissions was 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a government of Canada website states the economic slowdown influenced results from both 2019 and 2020.
Canada’s GHG emissions in 2020 were 672 Mt CO2 eq.
“Canada is one of the worst per capita emitters in the world and people in my country are suffering the consequences of increased weather events. They are poor people who have not contributed almost at all to climate change,” she said.
Figuera said Alberta is a challenging place to be for climate action, but she emphasizes that it’s important for people to speak up.
Data from the Lakehead University study showed young people reported feeling dismissed when talking about climate change and 64 per cent of respondents do not think the Canadian government is doing enough to avoid climate catastrophe.
Kristine Edgington, who brought her sons Ben, 11, and Vincent, 8, to the climate march, doesn’t think the current provincial government is doing enough when it comes to climate change.
“I would like to see a lot of money and a lot of action on developing a more sustainable energy grid. I think that could produce better economic stability for our province as well,” she said.
Figuera said she believes we can change Alberta’s energy dependence on fossil fuels, but the provincial and federal governments offer a lot of “empty promises and fake greenwashing policies.”
The Alberta Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas did not respond to a request for comment.
Figuera said the municipal government has been responsive to the EYCA concerns.
The City of Edmonton implemented an Edmonton Energy Transition Strategy to make Edmonton net-zero by 2050, and the city also approved $100 million over four years in funding for the Bike Plan on Dec. 9, 2022. Both projects were issues the EYCA had spoken about, said Figuera.
The EYCA has other projects on the go. The group has been collaborating with other groups on establishing a Youth Climate Corp in Alberta.
The Youth Climate Corp would allow young people who join the ability to work for two years in a job that would allow for a transition to green energy.
“(This) would be something that we hope that the Province of Alberta can implement in the upcoming years to allow for both transformative change in the energy industry, but also employ people in clean green jobs,” she said.
Despite the anxiety and grief youth are feeling around climate change, there is also a sense of hope.
Emily Bonanni, 18, an environmental sciences student at the University of Alberta, said she feels grief, pain, and hurt but recognizes that being able to connect with other people makes the weight of easier to carry “because you’re sharing with other people.”
“Days like this, it's an experience where we're all getting together in our communities and our friends, it just brings a lot of hope to me,” she said.
What brings Figuera hope is events like the climate march, where she can see people gathered.
“I think there is not a lot of things that give me hope right now, most things kind of drive me to despair. So that's why I believe in like, having active hope.
“The reason I show up, and the reason I do the things that I do is because I believe that my actions are able to create something better. I do not leave that responsibility to other youth or other people. Because I believe everyone should be working towards the future that they want to see.”