They came with signs, songs and a lot of spirit, thousands upon thousands of them all across Canada, including one of the largest rallies I’ve ever seen outside the Alberta legislature.
“Economics are cool, but the Arctic isn’t,” read one of the placards from among the masses of young climate change strikers who showed up Friday.
“No planet, no profits,” read another.
Other posters were equally insightful: “Make Earth Great Again,” “Climate change doesn’t care if you believe,” and “When leaders act like kids, the kids become leaders.”
I have to admit, that last one struck a chord.
Because the painful truth for our younger generations — and the central message they were trying to deliver Friday — is that they will bear the brunt of what’s coming to a far greater degree than the political leaders too often telling them to calm down. If I was them, I’d be frustrated, too.
Unfortunately, as the strikers pointed out, getting our legislatures and parliaments to treat climate change as the crisis it is has been a struggle.
Take Friday, where you might have hoped someone from the UCP government would have chosen to participate in the Edmonton climate rally, or at least watched it from their legislature office windows in the hopes of gaining a new perspective.
Instead, at least a couple of those windows used by the premier’s communications staff were adorned with signs saying, “I (heart) Canadian oil and gas.”
Apart from a potential security issue posed by antagonizing the crowd, the signs also violated the spirit, if not the letter, of a long-standing policy that the Alberta legislature — the people’s house — not be used for any form of partisan advertising.
While support for the oil sector is not typically seen as “partisan” in Alberta, there is no question the signage on this occasion came across as a divisive and cynical, feeding the erroneous idea that being anti-climate change also means being anti-Alberta.
Of course, in talking to some of the rally participants, this is nothing new for the climate concerned, who say they are used to being treated with a mix of indifference, condescension, pandering and derision — or having their legitimate anxiety dismissed as a mental illness.
And such attitudes certainly aren’t limited to Alberta, evidence of which can be seen in the various offerings coming from the federal election — a combination of climate policies either insufficient, unrealistic or unfairly distributed.
Take the Conservatives, which have based much of their campaign on cancelling the carbon tax, but aren’t providing much of substance to replace it. A vague plan to get heavy emitters to invest in green technology, along with promises to get more international emissions credits isn’t going to excite anyone.
The Liberal scheme is more balanced and ambitious, but suffers from its own make-believe on how to meet climate targets — not to mention a trust deficit in the form of a leader who too often fails to live up to his own rhetoric on social issues.
As for the NDP and Greens, their proposals are the most aggressive and contain some good ideas. Yet both plans place too much burden on the Alberta economy and fail to understand that the transitions our country must make still require revenue from the key industries we have.
Back in Alberta, the UCP climate strategy is also a disappointment, a plan that takes Alberta back 10 years, provides the best rewards to the dirtiest facilities and puts an unhealthy emphasis on unproven technology to reduce emissions.
In their defence of these policies, Premier Jason Kenney and many of his MLAs continue to trot out arguments that entirely miss the point. This includes the old chestnut that Canada’s emissions are a fraction of world totals so it’s really someone else’s problem — which to me is the equivalent of a six-year-old refusing to clean his room because his sister has a bigger mess in her room.
The truth is, we have many of the necessary tools to deal with this problem, and in a way that should have relatively minimal impact on people’s quality of life.
Yet the climate alarm we’re seeing isn’t based on a lack of solutions; it’s based on the lack of political will to even acknowledge the crisis — let alone respond to it with the seriousness it deserves.
As right as Kenney is about the need to ensure we don’t leave a financial catastrophe for coming generations, it would be nice if he showed the same urgency in tackling the arguably much more existential threat staring those generations in the face.
Our politics are not just failing our planet, they are failing those we claim to regard as our most precious resource — our children.
While those who marched Friday don’t have all the answers, we at least owe them our respect and our ears. Instead of treating their anxiety as an annoyance or a mental illness, the best way to calm their fears is to actually do something meaningful to show them we care about their future.
When the adults fail, sometimes the kids have to lead. It’s time to listen to them and to the science that overwhelmingly supports them.