stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


'Kids do care': Teenage environmental activists aim for change with weekly protests
Inspired by the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, students around the world are pressing for environmental action every Friday. Groups in Abbotsford and Calgary are particularly dedicated

Email this article Print this article
Friday, August 30, 2019 – Page A8

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. -- After weeks of demonstrating outside Abbotsford City Hall, the teens have learned not to take it personally when they trigger an outburst of hostility.

So, when a middle-aged driver spots their banners calling for action on the global climate emergency and shoots his middle finger out his window, shouting "I like my car," Angie Calhoun, 14, doesn't miss a beat and continues chanting for change.

Up to a dozen other teens have been joining her in this conservative Vancouver suburb for more than five months as part of Fridays for Future, a worldwide movement pushing all levels of government to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to avoid catastrophic environmental change.

About 60 strikes were scheduled this Friday across Canada, according to the website where the decentralized activists can advertise their actions, and the Abbotsford group is one of the smallest but also one of the most dedicated.

Angie says she and her four younger siblings persuaded their parents to let them and two of her friends participate this spring after watching a viral YouTube speech by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, who jump-started a worldwide movement of teens cutting class to mount protests outside government offices. Ms.

Thunberg, 16, arrived in New York Wednesday after a two-week crossing of the Atlantic on a zeroemissions sailboat so that she can speak there at the Sept. 23 UN Climate Action Summit.

Angie and her fellow protesters, who have only missed one Friday since the demonstrations began, say they hope the activism that Ms. Thunberg inspired will pick up momentum this fall as students return to class. "It'd be nice to ask if I could say something at an assembly so all the students know what we're doing," she says of her coming first year at the local high school.

The students say they get at least one middle-finger salute during each two-hour shift they put in. A few times, drivers with modified vehicles have even reacted to the young protesters by "rolling coal," spewing out clouds of black smoke in an act of defiance and intimidation.

"I just laugh it off," she says.

"I don't really care."

Without the right to vote, teens can still put public pressure on governments to act, says Lauren Palmer, a classmate of Angie's who has been demonstrating most Fridays. "We want to show government and businesses that kids do care about this and that this is something that's important and really matters," Lauren says.

Citing the dire warning of the United Nations' climate science agency last fall, she and her fellow protesters say the deadline for taking action and keeping the damage of global warming to a minimum is clear: 11 years.

The only other climate strikers in the country who may be more dedicated than Angie and her squad may be a group in Calgary, who haven't missed a Fridays for Future action since March.

Rose Jackson, 18, said at least a handful of people have shown up outside Calgary City Hall every week, even donning respirators when wildfire smoke made breathing outside harmful at the end of May. Her group has kept their aim away from specific legislation and more toward educating bitumen boosters about the need to transition to a more sustainable economy. "We believe we need to unite to make some real change," she said.

Doug McAdam, a professor of sociology at Stanford University who has studied social movements for four decades, says the young people leading this movement have a lot of moral authority and their message appears to be exploding in popularity. While visiting Switzerland earlier this year, he was impressed by the 30,000 or so kids attending weekly climate strikes in both Lausanne and Geneva.

It is rare for high schoolers to mount sustained campaigns, he says, adding that student protests usually erupt on college campuses, where young people heavily influenced by their peers have "pretty flexible schedules" and are packed into dense communities.

But despite the impressive turnouts, many governments have reacted to this public pressure with symbolic gestures, Prof.

McAdam says, not substantive changes to energy policies. The true test of the moment is whether it can lead to policy change.

"Can you mobilize enough voters going forward that elected officials at all levels start to really feel like their re-election or election chances are tied to this issue?" The plight of the climate strikers, he says, mirrors the arc of the recent gun-control campaign waged by U.S. students who survived school shootings, which Ms.

Thunberg has credited with sparking her own activism. That movement died in many places because the students were not able to change guns laws. More mass shootings this month in public spaces - not schools - have revived talk of bans and expanded background checks.

"They were up against an issue where there's just gridlock nationally," Prof. McAdam said of the students fighting for more gun control.

In Abbotsford, though, the demonstrators are not fighting a foe as formidable as the U.S. gun lobby.

The city has committed to gradually switching its 600-odd trucks, police cruisers and fire trucks from gasoline-powered vehicles to ones that use greener fuel sources. And when Mayor Henry Braun met with the teen protesters in May, he told them Abbotsford has a five-year plan to change all the light bulbs on city properties to more efficient LED bulbs.

"I told them I was encouraged they're taking an interest because, I said, 'When I was your age, I wasn't thinking about stuff like that,' " said Mr. Braun, who added that his goals were much more mundane, such as banking enough of his wages from the local chicken and berry farms to purchase his own car.

Still, one of the demonstrators' core priorities - getting the city to declare a climate emergency - was scuppered when city councillors voted against a measure adopted this year by Vancouver and a handful of its nearest suburbs aimed at expediting ways for a municipality to curtail local emissions.

Mr. Braun says he trusts the science of global warming and has seen Abbotsford's climate change significantly over his six decades in the area.

But he says the climate-emergency motion proposed by activists at the council meeting would cost too much and that any new environmental policies that might raise property taxes need to be discussed with the community.

"It all comes down to money - and we only have so much," he said, adding that the city needs to spend roughly $200-million to bring much-needed improvements, such as sidewalks to more than 100 kilometres of roadways within the city.

If anyone has the right to an apocalyptic attitude when it comes to Abbotsford meaningfully confronting climate change, it must be Aird Flavelle, the treasurer of the provincial Green Party, who has failed in four attempts to be elected to city council and two campaigns to become an MLA.

Mr. Flavelle, who stands nearby with a small group of parents and other adults, but "keeps out of the hair" of the teen protesters, says the local climate strike doesn't attract as much support as the strikes in Europe.

However, he says, local attitudes are changing.

"The only problem is we're leaving them a heck of a mess. If we acted really powerfully and strongly now, then we could lighten their load an awful lot for the next five and six decades."

The teens say there is much more their city could do to fight climate change, including creating more bike lanes and better transit options for people struggling to ditch their cars in a large municipality with a long history of farming.

The challenge of getting people to move past general support for climate action to a willingness to act on the commitment became evident on a Friday earlier this summer, just across the street from the demonstration at City Hall.

David Kleyn walks 10 minutes to and from work each day to save gas, but the libertarian says he is definitely not "environmentally conscious" and disputes the science underpinning the pleas of the teens.

Passersby Erika and Pierre van der Horst say it is up to everyone to do their part to help the environment. But they worry that it is too late to do much.

"The world is on a destruction path," said Ms. van der Horst, who identified herself as a Christian.

"If you believe in God, then you believe in the end of time."

Associated Graphic

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg - seen in New York on Wednesday after sailing there to attend a UN summit - jump-started a global movement of young people skipping class to protest outside government offices.


Left: About a dozen teens participate in a climate-change protest outside the Abbotsford City Hall in early July. The group has been demonstrating there almost every Friday for more than five months as part of a worldwide movement to push government to limit global warming. Below: Angie Calhoun is one of the teens who takes part in Fridays for Future.


Teenage climate-change demonstrators, seen in Abbotsford last month, say they get at least one obscenity directed at them during each two-hour shift they put in, with some modified-car drivers spewing clouds of black smoke in acts of defiance as they drive by. Angie Calhoun, right, says she laughs it off. 'I don't really care.'


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Rex_Murphy Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page