SUNDRE — A group of Sundre High School students inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a march on Friday in Edmonton, which also brought out a counter-protest convoy from United We Roll.
“I’m pretty passionate about climate action,” said Lawsen Augustowich, a top scholar in Grade 11, in a phone interview during the drive home from the rally.
The 16-year-old said climate change is often a subject of discussion at school.
“It’s an important issue that our generation needs to support.”
Inspired by the Swedish teen activist’s convictions and passion, Augustowich said Thunberg represents “a pretty accurate voice for us. I’m really glad that she’s speaking in such a public setting. I thought she was very eloquent and well spoken.”
Describing her message as inclusive, he said Thunberg did not target any groups in particular.
“It’s important for the message to be applicable to everybody.”
When asked how he would respond to critics who dismiss, downplay or outright deny climate change, as well as those who denigrate or attack Thunberg on social media, he urged people to, “Do your own research. Form your own opinion. I can’t force anybody to take a side — not that I’d want to in any case, but just be informed.”
Augustowich, who is the president of the school’s student body, said he is very dedicated to his schoolwork. So although he had no desire to miss class, he felt advocating for such a major issue is a priority.
“It’s a little bit more important than my English class,” he said.
“It does impact my generation very significantly.”
He hopes leaders at all levels of government take the issue to heart and enact legislation that backs political promises and platitudes with measurable goals. Furthermore, he said leaders should listen and take seriously the voice of his generation, and that he looks forward to being able to vote.
“I’m very excited to exercise that right,” he said.
“I’d really like to believe in a green government.”
There are people out there who want to vote green but don’t think their vote will make a difference, he said, encouraging them to nevertheless advocate for what they believe in.
From an individual perspective, he said there are little things everyone can do to play a part.
“It’s really easy to do small things to take action against climate change,” he said, citing as an example driving the speed limit, which reduces emissions and saves motorists money.
Tegan Warren, a Grade 12 student, said when she heard about the rally in Edmonton she immediately decided to speak with her teacher, Ryan Beck, about the possibility of making arrangements to attend.
“I was really interested in being able to be in an actual rally and support my dreams of a vision for a greener future,” said Warren.
“But I didn’t want to miss any tests,” she said, adding her parents were supportive provided she could make alternate plans and reschedule those tests.
Warren was also inspired by Thunberg.
“What she’s doing is absolutely amazing,” she said, adding she “loves the research she’s done and how passionate she is.”
Some critics have been “pretty harsh against her,” and Warren said she is glad Thunberg’s conviction remains strong and that the Swedish teen continues to speak regardless of backlash.
“I feel sad for them,” she said, when asked her thoughts on people speaking negatively about Thunberg.
“I don’t understand why they would do that, really.”
Responding to people who say students join climate strikes to skip school, she did not miss a beat answering, “I’m not one to miss school. I have a high reputation at school.”
The top scholar in her grade for the past three years, Warren said she enjoys learning.
“My grades are super important to me.”
She also hopes leaders make a concerted effort to invest more in the green energy sector.
“Our country is a fairly rich country,” she said, adding she would like to see a growing clean energy sector rather than remaining disproportionately dependent on fossil fuels.
Recognizing that Alberta’s success has largely been built on the back of oil and gas and that many families in a community like Sundre owe their livelihoods to the industry, she nevertheless wishes to see the transition to become a greener town.
Beck, the school’s science teacher, said the students decided to stand in solidarity with the Swedish teen and that he wanted to accommodate their desire to get involved. Although not an official school trip, he said parents helped organize their participation.
“We (parents) also bought carbon credits to offset their emissions so they can go with a green conscience,” said Beck.
Carbon offsetting is an approach that enables industry, government and individuals to purchase credits that fund greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere, including among many other initiatives planting trees or other activities that store carbon in the land or water instead of the air.
“I am not at all surprised many of our students wanted to attend; we have many students who are well informed on the science behind climate change,” said Beck.
“We probably could have sent a couple of buses, but didn't have time to organize it. The students know climate change is real, is caused by us and is having significant negative impacts now,” he said citing the collapse of ecosystems such as dying coral reefs as well as increasingly frequent and severe storms and wildfires.
“The data is in. These are facts, not opinions. In my class, students look at the data for themselves, they see where the data has come from and draw their own conclusions. But once you carefully look at the data, and understand where it has come from, the conclusion is inevitable,” he said.
“Climate scientists are not alarmists, the data is alarming.”
Like Thunberg, many students are upset as these facts have been known since at least the 1990s, but that we have collectively failed to take significant action, largely “because the denialist machinery is well funded, well organized and powerful. Scientists holding up data is no match against the emotions the denialists draw on.”
Stalling to reduce emissions and failure to act have harmed the students’ collective future, he said.
“Greta is right to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of my generation and she is right to bring emotion to the science,” he said.
Of course considering the impact on oil and gas workers as well as the economy during the transition is critical, but failure to act today will have far worse ramifications on the economy down the road, he said.
A carbon tax is a proven tool for governments to reduce emissions, he added.
“The 2017 Nobel prize in economics was awarded to the individual who proved this,” he said, adding, “Investing this money in renewables creates at least as many jobs as it harms, but it seems everyone is concerned about the environment until they find out that action on the issues will cost them money or cause inconvenience.”
One way or another, “We will certainly pay for climate change. The only question is how much do we pay now, and how much do we allow the debt to incur interest resulting in a much more painful payment for our children in the future,” he said.
“The youth are standing up, it is time for the adults to get off their butts and take meaningful action.”