Inspired by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, hundreds of thousands of students around the world walked out of their schools to protest in the streets and call for action on the issue of climate change on Friday, Sept. 20.
In Cranbrook, Mount Baker students walked out on Thursday because Friday was a non-instructional day.
The Fridays for Future Walkout for Climate Change as it was called, was organized locally by students Emily Sartorel, Jaci Quentin, Sally Ruoss, Natelli Harpelle and Eliana Bromley.
“I feel really good about today,” Harpelle told the Townsman from out front of City Hall. Students walked out of school at 11 a.m. in the hundreds bearing signs and hollering chants like “climate change is not a lie, do not let our planet die,” first lapping the school twice before marching to City Hall, joined by MLA Tom Shypitka and Wayne Stetski, the incumbent MP for Kootenay-Columbia.
“There was a lot more people who showed up than I thought there would be,” Sartorel said.
“We were hoping for a big turnout, we weren’t necessarily sure that we would get it but a lot of the students came out to support us,” Harpelle added. “And having Mr. Shypitka and Mr. Stetski here with us — it really means a lot that we have such support from our community.”
Shypitka, a graduate of MBSS himself, addressed the gathering of students outside of City Hall, commending the students for exercising their rights of freedom of speech and peaceful protest.
“Climate change is real, there is no doubt about it,” Shypitka said. “We’re seeing extreme temperatures throughout the world, we’re seeing unrest in a lot of jurisdictions and we need to address human involvement in addressing climate change.”
Shypitka added that he hopes to see Canada become a global leader in the move to a greener future.
“I believe Canada has that role and that obligation to be that global leader, so I support the protest. I support the realization of climate change and I support Canada being a leader in reducing fossil fuels in the future and doing it responsibly.”
Stetski, who was in Golden the following day for the walkouts there, said he was proud of the Baker students for their leadership and passion around climate action.
Stetski referenced a meeting he had in Ottawa with the Canadian Labour Congress recently, who showed him their Green Plan.
“They truly believe that if we move to a green energy future there will be millions of new jobs,” Stetski said. “Where do those jobs come from? They come from retrofitting every home and every office building in Canada to be more energy efficient. They come from moving to geothermal energy, to wind energy, to solar energy. They come from moving to electric vehicles and producing those in Canada.”
The leaders of the protest were met by a City Hall representative, who sat down with them and talked about what the city is doing on a local level, and how young people can themselves be proactive in addressing climate change, rather than being driven to inaction by fear and doubt.
“It’s fantastic to have them come by, for them to show the initiative,” said Kevin Marshall, energy manager for the City of Cranbrook. “They picked up the phone and called me and asked if they could meet with me and speak; very, very inspiring to see.”
Marshall even gave the students a project to take on themselves, replacing streetlights in a neighbourhood with more energy efficient bulbs as a pilot project.
“They came over concerned, but we had the chance to sit down and show them everything that we’re really working on and the City gave them this unique opportunity to contribute to some projects,” he said. “So we’re going to have these students on some sustainability and energy projects, and give them the opportunity to find that fulfillment by contributing.”
Sartorel and Harpelle said they were both pleased that the city sat down with them to inform them of the things happening around Cranbrook and giving them some action they can take themselves. They added that they feel their perspective has changed for the positive.
“Our main goal with this today was to get the message out there,” Harpelle said, “show that our youth in Cranbrook wants to see what’s happening and that we are trying to raise awareness around our youth and our community and now we’re seeing that, we’re seeing that there are things happening.”