Twenty-year-old Jamie Hunter of Nelson has been named one of the top 25 youth environmental activists in the country by The Starfish, a national youth-led organization that supports young activists.
He was surprised to be selected.
“I’m not sure exactly what made them pick me,” he says. “I remember saying to people, ‘What have I done that’s so special?’”
This modest response is typical of Hunter’s unassuming approach to big problems.
He is a co-founder of two organizations: the Nelson chapter of Fridays for Future and Stop Ecocide Canada. The latter is the Canadian branch of an international organization whose stated purpose is to “make large-scale and systematic destruction of nature” an international crime.
“It would basically go alongside genocide and war crimes,” Hunter says.
He is unfazed by the size of this ambition and at the same time he does not seem to be naive about what this would take.
“It’s a big undertaking,” he says. “But I believe we can do it.”
Asked what he will be doing in five years, Hunter says he will still be busy helping to make the mass destruction of nature a crime that can be tried in the International Criminal Court.
The Canadian chapter of Stop Ecocide is attempting to get the support of the federal government, one MP at a time. Hunter has met with MPs from all parties and he thinks a private members bill is in the works.
He’s also had discussions with a number of high level officials at the federal global affairs and justice departments.
When he was 18, just out of high school, Hunter had his first inkling that he wanted to get active on environmental issues.
“I was learning about fracking, which really got me interested. I remember learning exactly how that process works, and how devastating it is to the earth. And I thought, no, that’s just a step too far. OK. Do something.”
Nelson’s Fridays for Future group is part of the international organization of student strikers inspired by Greta Thunberg.
Hunter was one of the organizers of its climate strike and march in 2019 that attracted 1,000 people to downtown Nelson, and another on the orange bridge this year that attracted 110 people despite bad weather and the pandemic.
“It was very exciting. Just the build-up to it, and the momentum around it, and then other people kind of outside our group began to get involved and spread the word, and posters appeared around town, just the people drawing them by hand.”
Hunter was invited as a youth delegate to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Many of the members of Nelson’s Fridays for Future are several years younger than Hunter, and he respects them.
“It’s important that we recognize everyone’s contribution,” he says, adding that too often we focus on one person or one leader.
“I think it’s really important to shift away from that a bit and recognize everyone.”
Hunter says he thinks older people are listening to youth on environmental issues more than a few years ago.
Kyle Empringham of Vancouver, one of the founders of The Starfish, agrees.
“I do genuinely believe it’s getting better,” he says. “Greta Thunberg has been a beacon of opportunity and possibility for a lot of young folks … I think that people are understanding how youth voices matter.
“And so every time I look at our list [of the top 25 youth activists], I recognize that it’s beautiful, and that people are approaching problems in very creative and different ways.”
Wouldn’t it just be easier for Hunter to ignore it all? Doesn’t focusing on these weighty issues take its toll?
No, he says.
“It feels quite natural. I have found that I feel a lot better. Otherwise, without taking action, it’s easy to slip into just despair.”
He thinks the voting age should be lowered, to properly recognize the often-underestimated ideas and intelligence of young people. Asked what the new voting age should be, his response is characteristically understated and soft-spoken.
“I think 16 would be reasonable.”