Over 600,000 people peacefully gathered at the base of Mont Royal park on Friday, September 27th. They joined millions of other people, in 170 other countries around the world, and Greta Thunberg, the young and inspirational, Swedish environmental activist who has pioneered this new movement of global, weekly, climate change strikes—known as Fridays for Future.
The crowd was calm and joyful, and being in the center of the action, it didn’t even seem as if the crowd was that massive; everyone was so collected, and thoughtful of the personal space of others. Everyone seemed just happy to be outside, enjoying the perfectly sunny fall day, as they held up their beautiful signs, resembling pieces of art rather than symbols of protest, pleading with world leaders to wake up and initiate change. Being surrounded by half a million people, all just as scared as I was, of what the Earth might look like 10 years looks from now, was comforting. It was like a little glimmer of hope.
I never made it to the endpoint of the march, where Greta was waiting for everyone to give her speech, but I did catch it live online. Lying on my couch, smoking a joint, I have to say, her words brought tears to my eyes: “We are not at school today and we are not at work today, because this is an emergency, and we will not be bystanders. Some would say, we are wasting our time. But some would say, that we are changing the world. So, that when we are older, and look at our children in their eyes, we can say we did everything we could back then.”
I became depressed as her speech ended. Her words had made me realize the gravity, the urgency, of our current ecological crisis. I was sad as I began to realize that if the everyday lives of every single human being on this Earth doesn’t start to drastically change very soon, I will probably have to watch my children suffer as the world as we know it crumbles around them. At least I could choke back the guilt as I held them in my arms, and looked deep into their eyes as I said, “I did everything I could”. At that moment, I reached out to rub my cats head in search of some form of comfort, but I became sad once again. Sad for every single animal that was going extinct at rapidly increasing rates. I was sad for our beautiful oceans that make up 71% of our Earth’s surface and were dying because we were poisoning them with our excessive waste and non-biodegradable plastics. I was sad for the trees, that give us oxygen and life, being ripped out of the ground and burnt to a crisp in the name of economic growth and financial gain.
I ended up staying in and going to bed early that Friday night.
The day after the march, it rained. The electrifying energy from the protest seemed to wash away too. Everything seemed to go back to normal. This gave me a feeling of unease, that I couldn’t seem to shake all weekend. It made me feel, that even though the march was a historic event, and I actually felt like I was doing something useful—finally being heard and making a difference—I kept wondering what had we really accomplished that day? What had it really changed? What was going to happen now? I even felt as if the march had been drowned out by the media machine and was already considered to be yesterday’s news. Justin and Hailee Bieber got married, more news about US President Donald Trump getting impeached, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who marched by our side here in Montréal on Friday afternoon, but by Monday morning, was right back to pushing his policy to increase fracking in the prairies and moving forward with the building of his Trans Mountain Pipeline.
At least there was another march happening this Friday, and potentially every Friday after that, until something actually changed. But would people still show up if Greta wouldn’t be there? Would the mayor of Montréal still encourage schools to close, and half days at the office, without global media coverage being present this Friday? I wondered if people would still gather in hordes, even if Justin Trudeau wasn’t going to be there.
However, I found my faith being restored once again, on Tuesday October 1st, when I decided to follow up on an invitation by David Suzuki to attend the launch of his cross country ‘Climate First’ tour, alongside Stephen Lewis, in Montreal. Arriving to the theater that night, I thought, for sure there wouldn’t be a big turnout, again, due to the inclement weather of another rainy night. I was pleasantly surprised, for the entire Rialto theatre on Parc Avenue was packed to the point that people were just standing in the back. Every single seat was taken.
People did still care. People understood that this was an actual emergency and it was urgent. I felt that same warm feeling, a glimmer of reassuring hope, that we still had one more good try at the chance of a decent future.
What I took away from the ‘Climate First’ discussion panel that evening, was that all the fairytales that have been spun about infinite economic growth have been a lie. How can you have infinite economic growth in a place that has finite resources? Our political leaders constantly put the value of economics and the economy over the value of nature and natural resources. That environmental degradation, the loss of nature, is simply regarded as collateral damage—a necessary step in the process of keeping an economy healthy and growing. Politicians elevate the economy to be of highest importance—above the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that regulates all life on earth. Just think about that for a second.
But I left the Rialto theatre that night with something else too. Something I could physically do to try and make a real change. Vote. Vote smart. Vote to make Canada the climate leader it adamantly claims to be.
I must admit, I have always held the notion that all politicians are corrupt to some extent and have just had the tendency to default vote Liberal, or be lazy and forget to vote altogether. But this election, I’ll do what I can to make sure we elect the right representative, because the only way we are going to be able to change the decision making of our global leaders, is to change the leaders themselves.
That night, David Suzuki said, that “one of our species most powerful evolutionary advantages has been the ability to use experience and knowledge to recognize hazards and opportunities, and deliberately act to avoid danger and exploit opportunities. Foresight has been a critical part of our survival since the beginning of time. We gained experience, that allowed us to project the consequences of what we do into the future. Foresight has been a critical part of our survival since the beginning of time”.
We need to use this foresight, this survival instinct, now, as we let the age-old arguments between the liberals and conservatives fade into the past, and come together and elect the best leader to help save the earth, all of us and the future.