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‘We can’t just be preaching to the choir’: Why youth climate activists are taking to the streets amid pandemic

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The fight to protect the environment isn’t over just because the pandemic has put life on pause, says a young B.C. climate activist who is taking part in Friday’s physically distanced global climate protest in a bid to get the cause back in the spotlight.

“I want people to know that we’re still here. Climate change is still an issue. It didn’t disappear because of COVID-19,” 17-year-old Katia Bannister, who is part of the activist group Cowichan Valley Earth Guardians, told The Current‘s Matt Galloway. 

“These twin crises need to be acted on simultaneously.”

Fridays for Future — the movement that erupted after teen climate activist Greta Thunberg began protesting outside the Swedish parliament in 2018 — has declared Sept. 25 a global climate action day. 

On Friday, Thunberg and fellow demonstrators returned to the streets of Stockholm to raise awareness about their cause. Protests are taking place simultaneously around the world, including in major Canadian cities like Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver.

At the same time, the Canadian government has urged a judge to throw out a court case brought forward by 15 young people that argues their rights to life, liberty, security and equality are being violated because Ottawa has not done enough to protect against climate change.

Climate an ‘intersectional’ issue, says youth

Meanwhile, some young activists worry the pandemic is hampering the momentum of their movement, which has largely been forced online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Trying to raise awareness purely online is so difficult because it’s so easy to ignore posts about the climate,” said 22-year-old Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Fridays for Future activist in the Philippines.

“So it has been quite an adjustment to continue campaigning for the climate this quarantine period.”

However, it remains an important issue that affects people around the world on a daily basis, she said.

Trying to raise awareness purely online is so difficult because it’s so easy to ignore posts about the climate.– Mitzi Jonelle Tan, youth climate activist

In the Philippines, for example, Tan said storms have interfered with students’ online classes, and typhoons have wiped out COVID-19 testing centres and wards for patients. Meanwhile, droughts are causing water shortages, which make it harder for people to practise good hygiene.

“It’s definitely an intersectional issue,” Tan said.

B.C. youth climate activist Katia Bannister holds up a sign to raise awareness about climate change. She says the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate are ‘twin crises’ that ‘need to be acted on simultaneously.’ (Submitted by Katia Bannister)

Bannister agrees that it’s easy to ignore calls for climate action when it’s being done online.

That’s why she and a few other members of her organization are taking to the streets of Duncan, B.C., on Friday — where their protest will be visible. 

“You don’t reach the same people [online]. You’re not reaching the people who are in your community that you want to be talking to,” Bannister said. 

“You’re reaching a global community that already believes in climate action, which is great. But we can’t just be preaching to the choir.” 

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Isabelle Gallant and Lindsay Rempel.

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