On October 17, before Canada went to the polls to decide who would govern for the next four years, Greta Thunberg came to my province. If you’re reading this from outside Canada, Alberta is resource-rich, and until the bottom fell out of oil prices, was often hailed as the economic engine of the country. However, with the dip in the price of crude, and its lack of easy access to other markets, the province is in the “bust” phase of the boom-and-bust cycle. Albertans have been through this before, but this time there’s added heat to the dialogue around how many of us make our livelihoods: climate change and the effects of fossil fuels were top-of-mind during this election.
So Greta Thunberg’s announcement that she was coming to Alberta ignited controversy for some, just as much as it did excitement for others. Climate-change rhetoric here is often boiled down to “you’re with the oil sands or you’re against them.” Black and white dialogue that reflects people’s fear about our changing world more than it presents solutions to managing it.
I decided, when I heard her announcement, that I’d travel to see her. I wanted to take my son, who is seven and just starting to understand how important the health of our planet is to the health of humanity. And I wanted him to see what happens when young people come together to voice their concerns about the world they live in. My sister, who lives in Edmonton, was taking her kids, aged three and eight, and we made it into a family outing.
We were prepared to get down there and discover that either a) about twenty people would show up, as is so often the case for protests here, or b) the crowd would be insane and we wouldn’t see a hair on Greta Thunberg’s head. The latter proved to be true, and we were thrilled to see so many people gathering, filling up the tiny park where protesters were meeting and spilling out on to the street.
It was overwhelming to be in the centre of 10,000 people, all peacefully making their way from a tiny park in downtown Edmonton to the steps of the Alberta Legislature. The organizers were very clear that indigenous people, people of colour, and children — those most likely to feel the worst effects of climate change — lead the march. The rally itself began with a prayer from a Dene grandmother and addresses from young First Nations and activists of colour before Greta Thunberg spoke.
Detractors say that these climate strikes will strike fill our children with fear, cause them unnecessary anxiety or distress. But so many of the chants during the march asked for a “just transition,” a move toward a sustainable future that benefits everyone. So many of them talked about “community,” and why we all need to pull together. Greta Thunberg speaks about the emergency because the science says we need to act — now — and let’s face it, people are masters of procrastination. If we don’t think the house is on fire, we’re going to sit blissfully in the living room, thumbing through our social media feeds.
“We are not fighting for our future, we are fighting for everyone’s future. And if you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets, or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process.”
— Greta Thunberg
Albertans were worried Thunberg would zero in on the energy industry, but when she spoke, she did not. She spoke of wanting “the people in power to unite behind the science.” She spoke of how richer countries need to take the lead, achieving zero emissions as quickly as possible to mitigate the effects on countries in the global south. She spoke of how the climate change crisis must include “everything and everyone, and no one must be left behind.” The crisis is far beyond party politics, she said. The real enemy is physics.
Since that time, the provincial government has released its new budget, which many says doubles down on the oil and gas industry at the expense of a more diverse economy and any kind of climate action (to say nothing of support for social programs, the arts, or infrastructure development). The climate is very much a partisan issue here, to the detriment of all of us. I’m doubly glad that my son stood beside me as he heard someone say that it shouldn’t be so, that he stood amid a sea of people with his small cousins and heard people demand change — a different world where everyone deserves to thrive. I’m doubly glad he heard someone say, “Think of what we could do together, if we really wanted to,” followed by cheers from a crowd of people who want the best for everyone. We spend so much time telling our kids they need to work together and get along – I’d like to think we could all come together to find a solution to what’s probably the greatest challenge of our time. Regardless of where we put our X on a ballot.
Hear Greta Thunberg’s speech in Edmonton here.