“There’s never been a more exciting time to be an environmental activist.”
That’s a proclamation L.V. Rogers 12th Grader Hannah Sachs made during the day-long climate symposium at her high school Friday. And with visits from Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, Sinixt representative Taress Alexis and environmentalists such as Laura Sacks, she felt the event was the perfect way to celebrate Earth Day.
“This is kind of surreal, I’ve had this idea in my head since I was in Grade 10,” said Sachs, who applied for Columbia Basin Trust funding to throw the event, following in the footsteps of Mount Sentinel’s first ever sustainability day last year.
“I wanted to do a symposium, either on social justice or environmental issues, and then this year was my graduating year and I said to myself ‘I gotta do this now or it’s never going to happen.”
Sachs is only the latest in a line of Kootenay women who have taken climate action into their own hands. During the symposium L.V. Rogers alumna Zoë Caron was tweeting from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s side while he signed a historic climate agreement in New York.
One person Sachs invited was Montana Burgess, West Kootenay Ecosociety’s community organizer. According to her, it’s the younger generation that’s going to need to take charge on climate action in the coming years, so that’s what she emphasized to the students taking part in her workshop.
“I’m feeling really inspired by these young people. Young people, we’re going to be really powerful in the next five years and we’re going to make the changes we need.”
The local event is just evidence of a much larger global trend, according to her.
“It’s great the Prime Minister is in New York signing that treaty, there’s a lot of momentum globally and the message is coming through loud and clear: we need to invest in renewable energy.”
Burgess was effusive about news that the government’s environment ministry released information on how they’re going to incorporate public input into the federal climate plan being developed—in the Kootenays that will involve townhall meetings hosted by MPs.
“We’re going to make sure West Kootenay residents and citizens have their voices heard,” she said, noting there are also resources online.
Sachs said the goal of the symposium was to brainstorm tangible and practical ways they can address climate disruption.
“The ball is now rolling for youth, especially in Nelson, since the new government was elected. Mount Sentinel had a big climate campaign in 2015, L.V. Rogers had our climate sit-in on Leap Day and now we’re hosting this symposium. By talking about climate change on a national level, we have been able to have real conversations about action as youth on a community level.”
During Mungall’s talk to the students, she encouraged them to get involved in the political process and told them “don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too young.”
“Drought is going to become a reality. Forest fires in April? I’ve never seen that before,” said Mungall. “We need to hustle. We need to act now to address climate change.”
Mungall bashed pipelines and asserted that investing in renewable energy infrastructure is the way to create sustainable jobs in the future. She praised wind, micro hydro and solar projects.
Principal Tim Huttemann said he was amazed by Sachs’ initiative in organizing the event, along with her Global Perspectives class—which she’s taken twice.
“It’s neat to see these kids actively involved,” he said, noting that under the incoming curriculum events like this will be more common. He said the learning offered by special extracurricular initiatives like this takes students outside of the classroom and engages them with social and political issues of relevance.
“These kids amaze me every day,” he said.
Sachs brought her own mother, forestry expert Suzanne Simard, to speak to the students during the event. Other speakers included Lars Sander-Green and George Chandler.
“Last year I didn’t see anything in this school happening regarding climate change, but now with everything happening around the world, Justin Trudeau and the climate summit, and as things gain momentum, it’s amazing to see how it trickles down to the student body.”