Eight students from Bayside and five from Stelly’s, accompanied by two teachers, travelled to town hall to deliver their message.
The eight from Bayside – ranging in age from 12 to 14 – were representatives of their group, Youth in Action, and despite being young were measured and spoke confidently on their cause.
“I think it [climate change] should be at the top of our list of what we need to take care of,” says Ellaina Coley, “because it affects everyone and everyone has to fix it.”
This year, youth-led climate-change protests have swept the world and the environment has emerged as a leading issue for young people. In Greater Victoria, the presentation joins other recent youth initiatives and protests. Since Christmas, there has been an Extinction Rebellion demonstration, school walk-outs, user-fee free transit campaigns and a push for the phasing out of plastic grocery bags on the Peninsula.
When asked if their focus on the environment came from the teachers and curriculum, the girls all said no, citing outside sources as the motivation for their activism, such as Greta Thunberg and their parents.
Over the past year Swedish student Thunberg has established herself as a world-wide figurehead of the youth protests. While youth protests were once largely restricted to college campuses, much like Thunberg, who started her activism at 15, age doesn’t seem to be a barrier to students engaging on climate-change.
“Adults don’t listen to kids,” says 12 year-old Kali Cooper. “We have a hard time getting people to listen to us because they think ‘Oh you’re still young so I don’t care,’ so they’ll sit there and even though they believe in it, won’t actually do anything.”
The girls laugh and say while not all adults are “oblivious,” it seems to take them a long time to “process” facts. “It goes in one ear and out the other, ” says Taiya Steel with an exasperated laugh.
“Last week we actually had an opportunity to share our opinions,” added Tessa Hunter-Siebert. “That was probably one of the first times we’ve been able to do that to an important group of people.”
Whether the current wave of youth activism is actually making a difference is open to debate, although the teachers we spoke to are supportive of their students for getting involved in important issues and the democratic system, rather than being lost to apathy, as some youth have been characterized in the past. One thing that is for sure, is politicians won’t be able to plead ignorance of what many in the next generation of voters has on their minds.
“The adults could take a step themselves,” says Anika McCandlish, her friend Josephine Hill continuing, “I think everyone could do something. When adults hear something that they can do to help the environment, they think ‘Oh, I should tell my kid to do that,’ and I feel not a lot of them think of doing it themselves.”