What youth can do to fight climate change

Young people are the least responsible for climate change, especially in the Arctic where our communities are so small. Yet we’re the ones who will live with the long-term impacts — and we have the right to participate in decision-making processes that affect us.

I’m Katie Yu, a 15-year-old grade 10 student in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Our northern community is warming about three times faster than the global average. This is already thinning the sea ice that many of us (and Arctic species) depend on for hunting and land travel as well as thawing the permafrost that underlies our roads, water systems and buildings.

Katie Yu near a qaggiq (large communal igloo) in Iqaluit, NU © Katie Yu

Having lived in the North for my entire life, I’m worried about how climate change will further impact the landscapes, wildlife and people I grew up with. I want Arctic ecosystems to be preserved because with that comes appreciation of the land and preservation of Inuit culture, along with food security, good health and wellbeing.

“I think the biggest challenge we are facing right now is the declining population of wildlife.” – Amber Yue, 14, Iqaluit, NU

If climate action isn’t taken, these will all be lost along with our environment. With this year’s COP26 summit, we must hold our world leaders accountable to their commitments for the climate and lead the fight to protect the environment in our own communities.

Take action

The climate crisis can feel overwhelming, but there are actions we can take to mitigate its effects and protect nature. I talked to some of my friends from across North America who are involved in climate advocacy and/or passionate about the environment to find out their thoughts.

“There were a bunch of forest fires in B.C. [and] our province was completely smoked in. It was terrifying to go outside. When you looked at the sun, it was red and smoky. It was so scary!” – Reeana Tazreean, 19, Calgary, AB

Almost everyone agreed individual actions alone aren’t enough to address environmental issues, and that systemic change must be prioritized. Not everyone has the privilege to take eco-friendly actions all the time, but governments and organizations like WWF-Canada can invest their resources into making major change happen.

Still, individual actions do add up and make you conscious of the environmental impact your daily actions have. Even just walking instead of driving makes a difference! As my friend Bolu Ogunniyi in Toronto says, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad outfits.”

Speak out and join up

Jukipa Kotierk at Global Climate Strike in Iqaluit, Sep 2019
Jukipa Kotierk at Global Climate Strike in Iqaluit, Sep 2019 © Jukipa Kotierk

Another thing we can do to fight climate change is share our concerns with friends, family, school staff and policymakers. Try to connect with them on how climate change will affect the things they care about.

“I often find positive change to take place through meaningful one-on-one conversations with people where I’m able to express how environmental health is inextricably tied to cultural and mental health of people the world over, particularly Inuit in the Arctic.” – Jukipa Kotierk, 27, Iqaluit, NU

It can be challenging when others don’t take you seriously or disagree with what you have to say; when you’re excluded from opportunities because of your age; or when you’re given opportunities just so that an organization can say they engaged youth.

But you don’t have to do this alone! It’s important to ask for help when you need it and make connections, like I did, with others who also care about the climate and wildlife by getting involved in environmental and youth organizations.

“All these issues are happening right in front of us in real time,” Reeana told me. “So having people who are there for you when you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious has also been really beneficial.”

Those who join the fight with you will empower you to keep taking action, and you’ll be able to support each other. As Jukipa said, “In looking to be a steward of the earth we must also return to connecting on a human level to one another wherever and whenever we can. It is important.”

If there’s a lack of environmental organizations or clubs in your area, start your own groups and initiatives and help others get involved. Bolu started the Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance, which was the first youth group focused on inspiring environmental sustainability in her area.

“We need to acknowledge that we can’t do everything ourselves, but that our contributions still matter.” – Albert Lalonde, 19, Montreal, QC

Fifteen-year-old New Yorker Bianca Morales’ school climate club used carbon metres to measure which cafeteria meals have a higher carbon footprint so her classmates could make informed decisions.

“We are going to be the next employees, employers, CEOs,” Bianca said, “and we need to have climate justice in the back of our minds no matter what we do.”

Everyone also talked about the importance of rest and having ways to cope with eco-anxiety, or worry about the planet’s future. Climate change is an urgent issue, but for your actions to be effective, you must take care of yourself.

Reeana Tazreean in Albertan nature © Reeana Tazreean

Here are some of their self-care suggestions: spend time in nature; read positive stories about the environment; engage in physical activity and conscious breathing; remind yourself of the work you’re already doing and why you love the environment; and remember to take breaks when needed.

“I would love to co-create a world in which care is at the center, where the health and well-being of both ecosystems and of seven generations of children into the future are centered and prioritized.” – Nadine Clopton, 24, Bucks County, PA

There’s still time to make a difference

Climate change is a threat for youth everywhere, but we can still take action to protect our environment. As Albert told me, “People have to realize at a young age that they’re able to really disrupt things if they don’t want to cooperate with what’s going on.”

Most of my own advocacy work has been in creating content, including blogs and online campaigns, to raise awareness about climate change in the North. This year, I also got our high school green club re-started and getting involved with different organizations allowed me to meet all the amazing youth I interviewed for this blog.

I hope they inspire you, like they inspire me, to take action for our planet and help prevent the worst effects of climate change instead of just responding to them.

“Inuit, like most Indigenous peoples, are taught everything we need is given to us by the land we reside on. In return, it is our responsibility to care for and maintain that land.” – Lerena Ashevak, 19, Wolfville, NS

In the future, I hope the North I’ve grown up in will be preserved for both wildlife and people, and that our rights, culture and traditions are protected with the environment.

And I hope that future generations continue to take care of the North.