Op-Ed: The role for Canadian Youth in meaningful climate action

Jun 7 2017, 2:23 am

Steve Lee is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship, (FES) and its 3% Project and SDGs Youth Training Canada.

June 6 is Youth Day. A day dedicated to acknowledging youth and their contributions to preserving the environment.

When young people hear they are going to inherit a potential apocalypse like climate change, they either worry themselves insane or try to just forget about the problem. Alarmed and wanting to take action, some youth attempt to tackle climate change, often in grade 9 or 10, but find their efforts futile as they aren’t trained nor given the tools to have any meaningful impact.

As a result, youth become climate indifferent. This is the first stage of disappointment. Actions are laughed off by teachers and parents who emphasize a focus on marks that will help you get an education to land you a job that will pay the bills.

We then jump into post-secondary and some of us see this as an opportunity to make a difference, but quickly realize there is only so much time in a day to go to class, study, work part-time, take on internships and still have a social life.

This is the way it has been for the last few generations and like everything else – needs to evolve. We need young people to exercise the muscle for sustainability problem-solving to make it a core competency of this generation.

Just like ethics, sustainability needs to be embedded and applied across all levels of decision-making frameworks in every industry. While optimistic that we will avoid the climate apocalypse in the next decade, this generation is no better off than the previous generation in dealing with the effects of climate change. We will face our own climate crisis in 20-30 years in the form of income inequality, forced migration, water and food insecurity, cybersecurity, and the reordering of global powers.

So what can we do about this?

The answers may not be easy, but we have to try. One initiative called the 3% Project aims to engage one million youth in 700 high schools – that’s about 3% of Canada and 1 in 5 high schools in the country. The purpose is to educate and empower high school students to solve the most difficult environmental challenges in their school to give them hands on experience that can then be transferred into other areas of their lives.

Having programs available to high school students allows them to capitalise on post-secondary programs and opportunities like City Studio –  an innovation hub designed to get students out of the classroom and seated at the table with policy and decision makers  at the City of Vancouver to co-create a more livable and sustainable city.

The concept of CityStudio emerged out of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan. Through CityStudio, students from postsecondary institutions across the region research, design and implement experimental projects that contribute to Vancouver’s long term goals. In addition to City Studio, Vancouver also offers an internship program in partnership with UBC called Greenest City Scholars. Students work directly with City staff across departments to tackle issues relating to biodiversity, zero waste, food recovery and citizen engagement.

A great example is Stephen Sheppard’s Urban Forestry class at UBC, who designed and created neighbourhood engagement tools that enabled residents to measure the resiliency of their community and empowered them to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As part of SFU’s Semester at CityStudio, students researched and created a comprehensive food recovery map in Northeast False Creek indicating stores that sell food closer to expiry at a lower cost as a way of diverting food waste.

We are the final generation who can solve climate change and we need skills training on the how to create a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

Steve Lee is the Executive Director of the Foundation for Environmental Stewardship, (FES) and its 3% Project and SDGs Youth Training Canada. He is a 24-year-old climate change activist and a policy advocate to the United Nations.

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