By Zoe Craig, Sam Harrison, and Jacqueline Shen
“We must meet the 2020 [greenhouse gas emissions] targets. We have to.” said Raj Chouhan, an NDP MLA, in February 2014 in a meeting with a group of high school students demanding action on climate change.
The meeting was part of a provincial day of action called Defend Our Future organized by Kids for Climate Action. Fifteen teams of high school students either met with their local MLAs or organized actions outside their MLA's offices. They received an eye-opening variety of responses from political leaders, not all of which were as positive as Mr. Chouhan’s.
High school students across the province are gearing up for the second year of Defend our Future. In anticipation, we wanted to reflect on our experience last year. Here are some snippets of conversations we have had with BC politicians: the best, the worst, and the strangest.
It is frightening to young people that many of our political leaders appear to have lost faith in their ability to combat climate change. Indeed, this is the message that many members of the governing BC Liberal Party seemed to send. Ralph Sultan from West Vancouver, for example, said that he would “try his very hardest” to meet BC’s climate targets, but he was doubtful that they would be met. Another Liberal MLA said that the climate targets had been made in good faith, but that times had changed and needs were now different—a point that his own government has yet to acknowledge.
Cabinet Minister Andrew Wilkinson took the cake when he said he did not have to answer any of the students’ questions or give his position on various fossil fuel projects because his office was “not a court.” As if that was not enough, he compared signing a picture stating his commitment to meeting the BC government’s legally binding climate action target as equivalent to a police officer publicly endorsing the legalization of marijuana. We don’t really understand it either.
Not much better was John Horgan, now leader of the BC NDP, who called the high school students’ efforts a shallow publicity stunt, saying the target won’t be met and he wouldn’t sign the document because it isn’t possible. After we explained that we, as youth, do not want to inherit a fossil fuel-based economy, he responded saying the whole rest of the word is inheriting it too, and there’s nothing he could do about it. The man who ran for the party leadership in 2011 as an advocate of climate action seems long gone.
Other NDP MLAs were substantially more receptive at our meetings (though admittedly the Liberals didn’t set the bar very high). David Eby, Spencer Chandra-Herbert, Raj Chouhan, and other New Democrats asserted their commitment to BC’s climate laws. They fulfilled their responsibilities as elected representatives by listening to young constituents, even though most were too young to vote. They were welcoming, sympathetic, and some even used social media to advance our messages.
Andrew Weaver, the lone Green MLA, was both receptive and inspired by his meeting with students. Weaver even framed his response to budget on the floor of legislature in the context of the meeting, saying that “...[the students] are asking us not to burden their generation with the economic, environmental or social debt of ours. At the very least, we owe them that.” The signed Defend our Future commitment to the 2020 target was hung on the wall in Andrew Weaver’s constituency office.
A Closing Note on Leadership
A lot has changed over the past year or two in the BC high school environmental movement. Mainly, high school students have come to the realization that we can’t count on our politicians to lead on climate change—even the very nicest ones—without a strong demand from their constituents.
2014 was a year of action for young people in BC and elsewhere. From the Defend Our Future actions, to UBC students demanding fossil fuel divestment, to arrests on Burnaby Mountain, it is clear that young people are increasingly frustrated with our provincial and federal governments’ failure to address climate change. And until that changes, we will keep organizing; we will keep canvassing; we will keep knocking on their office doors. We are not going anywhere.
Today, youth across British Columbia will be at their MLAs’ offices once again. With 18 local actions organized, this year’s event will be even bigger than last year’s — and we’re just getting started. BC’s young people are willing to lead. We only hope our politicians will follow.
Students in Raj Chouhan's office. http://www.burnabynewsleader.com/news/245229021.html
Student shut out of a Liberal MLA's office leave their mark on the sidewalk outside.
Students in New Westminister with MLA Judy Darcy.
Students with Andrew Weaver in Victoria getting local media coverage.
Students locked out of Andrew Wilkinson's office holding a sign saying "our MLA refused to sign this". http://globalnews.ca/video/1126899/students-vs-climate-change
Students with David Eby and Spencer Chandra-Herbert