Young people recognize the climate emergency the world is facing. And they are rightfully growing impatient.
Impatience. Cynicism. Hope.
It is with this mix of emotions that many young Quebecers regard the future.
But it’s not so much their individual futures that are the source of worry; it’s their collective future. Or rather, our collective future as humans on a planet that is rapidly warming.
Quebec students are now taking matters into their own hands in the battle against climate change. A coalition of groups from universities came together Friday to launch a call to action under the banner “La planète s’invite à l’université.”
Small collectives from Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Montréal and École de technologie supérieure launched the joint appeal, and are inviting students from across Quebec to join them for a provincewide climate strike on March 15. It would be followed by a second strike day on Sept. 17, and it’s all part of an international mobilization of young people demanding drastic action from their governments.
“These frustrations are resulting in a profound malaise, an impatience in the face of the urgency of the situation,” said Louis Couillard, an organizer from U de M, who got choked up talking about his fears for the future. “The tears in my eyes today, it’s that sense of urgency that is coming out. It’s the impatience in the face of inertia.”
Today’s youth have grown up with the message that there will be dire and irreparable consequences if the world doesn’t alter course. But the distant threat became impending disaster last fall, when the International Panel on Climate Change reported that the devastating effects of global warming will arrive much sooner and at a lower temperature than previously believed.
With time running out to prevent the planet from becoming inhospitable, youth are growing impatient with political leaders who dither.
Young Quebecers are already suing on the grounds of climate negligence to force the federal government to respect its emissions reduction targets. Now Quebec students are poised to take to the streets to press the province to reach its objectives.
The students have three demands: an ecological education and awareness program for citizens; more transparency from their educational institutions about their carbon footprints and investments in fossil fuels; and a commitment to cutting global emissions in half by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.
Some are obviously easier to achieve than others, but doing nothing is not an option for young people.
In a few short days and weeks, enthusiastic replies have come from all over Quebec in response to the strike proposal, said Couillard — not just from university campuses, but from CEGEPs and high schools. He realizes that one or two strike days will not solve everything, but he said it’s still an important way to send a message.
“It’s a real means of putting pressure, a strike. We’ve seen it in the past. The will is here,” said Couillard. “These changes have to be made by everyone. … It’s going to take a common front. It can’t just be the students.”
“We have everything to lose,” said Marie-Claude Carignan, a 20-year-old McGill University student. She and several friends are starting a Planète s’invite chapter on their campus, where they expect a positive reception.
Noah Fisher, another 20-year-old McGill student, said there is willingness among young people to mobilize despite cynicism about politicians who promise action but fail to deliver.
Whether it’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau implementing a carbon tax and buying a pipeline, or the new Coalition Avenir Québec government’s belated openness to making the climate fight a priority, he said youth are skeptical.
“I am cautiously hopeful, but I think it’s necessary to keep the pressure on them to reach the climate justice goals,” Fisher said.
Léa Ilardo, another U de M student organizer, said she is passionate about politics but is often disappointed by politicians — especially when it comes to their response to the climate emergency.
“I don’t reject politics at all. In fact, what we’re trying to do here is politics. But politics has to take these issues into account, because individuals changing is insufficient to reach our objectives,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is change the paradigm and bring drastic change. The leaders today aren’t ready to change the paradigm.”
Quebec’s student movement has flexed its muscle in the past, taking to the streets nightly during the Printemps érable of 2012 and proving to be a potent political force. But will Quebec students be willing to go as far for climate change in 2019?
It will depend on the government response, Ilardo said.
“It’s too soon to tell,” she said. “We have a critical mass that allows us to have influence. … We want to reaffirm our presence and our importance in helping resolve what is wrong in Quebec and around the world.”