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I'm Skipping School for Climate Emergency!

I'm in grade 11, and for one day a month, I skip school. Such action would normally be considered a petty teenage rebellion. However, with the threat of climate catastrophe hurtling towards us, we are not living in normal times. There is nothing radical about my desire for a livable future.  

As teenagers, we want to be excited about our future, not scared for impending climate catastrophe. Skipping school to sit in the office of my Minister for the Environment, as I did last month, or to support a Climate Emergency proposal at City Hall, as I will next week, is a sacrifice, but it is one we had no choice but to make. How can I go to school when older generations do not abide by the lessons I am supposed to be learning?

In school, I'm taught to live by deadlines. Taking too long to complete a project will result in a significant drop in my grade. Climate scientists write the report cards on climate action, and they are telling us our governments are failing. The recent IPCC report shows that we have entered exam week. Now is our last chance to boost our marks; if we fail to take action, an “I” for climate insanity will forever be marked on the transcript of the atmosphere*. 

According to the scientific facts we are taught in school to appreciate, we must limit global warming to 1.5 C. Achieving this requires we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero emissions by 2050. In Canada, our current reduction target for 2030 is just 30%. Worse, according to the government, our best case scenario is not to meet even this lackluster goal. We are on track to cut our emissions only 21% by 2030. That is barely half of the 45% reduction that climate scientists have said we need to make which, at my school, would count as a fail. 

This situation is desperate, and it may seem easier to give up. However, high school has taught me that it is better to get started late than to ignore an assignment altogether. I feel anxious when I’m trying to complete a paper knowing that the deadline is only days away. My mind immediately jumps to defeatist worst case scenarios. “I’m never going to complete this!” I tell myself. “Might as well just give up on school, university, and all success in life.” However, I know deep down that I will not let this be an option, and so I harness this fear to motivate me to work hard. We need to see climate action as a similarly immutable target. 

Since I’m in grade 11, my classmates are increasingly concerned about getting into university. We are willing to sacrifice sleep, a social life, and sanity to increase a number on a piece of paper, in the hope that our efforts will be rewarded with an entrance to our dream school and a subsequent life of "success." If teenagers can recognize the need for hard work in the present to create a better future, I think the adults can too. 

In school, we are taught to persevere through difficulty. "It was too difficult" is not an acceptable excuse for having failed to complete my homework. Why are we submitting to this mindset when the assignment is nothing less than preserving the habitability of our planet? We have no choice but to take action. 

With World War II approaching, government ministers didn't argue about how possible entering the war appeared. Churchill did not shrug, complaining “Building all those ships and training all those soldiers seems too difficult to accomplish. Let's give this mess a half-hearted effort and let them beat us”. 

However, this is the dominant narrative concerning our modern enemy: climate change. We know that the enemy is advancing towards us. We know it has the potential to destroy our society. We know what actions we need to take to fight it away. We must connect the dots, and do it soon.

Adults have told me that my desire for dramatic climate action is naive and unrealistic. They have informed me that change is difficult, especially when it must affect every aspect of our world. I may be young, but what I see as unrealistic is for our society to adapt to deal with rising sea levels, frequent droughts, widespread climate refugee crises, and the plethora of other difficulties we will face as a result of climate change. 

We do not have a choice about whether a change will come. We have a choice about what change it will be, and when it will arrive. If we forgo taking strong action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions today, the change will come during my future and those of generations to follow, in the form of rising sea levels, food insecurity, and ever-worsening wildfire seasons. Our only other option is to change our world in the present, dramatically reducing future physical catastrophe. The children are begging you to take the latter path. Will you listen to us?

*note: in BC (where I live), an "I" is equivalent to an "F"


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