Literature Matters with Karen Connelly and Tanya Tagaq

The Avie Bennett Chair in Canadian Literature in the Department of English at University of Toronto, presents the annual Literature Matters lecture on Wednesday, October 16 at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Poet, novelist and creative non-fiction writer Karen Connelly and singer, avant-garde composer and author Tanya Tagaq discuss the value of literature and share their views about their creative process. Challenging stereotypes of culture and genre, Connelly’s and Tagaq’s work offers inspiring, provocative and timely ways of thinking about human rights, the environment and the legacy of colonialism.

Admission is free though registration is required. For full details and to register, visit https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/literature-matters-karen-connelly-tanya-tagaq-tickets-72178851889.

UTSU hosts environmental debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates

Chrystia Freeland, Tim Grant, Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda discuss climate, other issues

UTSU hosts environmental debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates

Content warning: mention of suicide.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union held an all-candidates debate for University–Rosedale MP candidates focused on the environment on October 3. The debate was a part of the 100 Debates on the Environment, a non-partisan initiative which aims to organize environmentally-oriented debates ahead of the federal election.

Liberal candidate and incumbent MP Chrystia Freeland, New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Melissa Jean-Baptise Vajda, and Green Party candidate Tim Grant were present. Conservative candidate Helen-Claire Tingling was unable to attend due to illness.

Tensions over climate crisis

As part of the 100 Debates on the Environment initiative, the candidates were asked four questions on the environment which covered greenhouse gas emissions, water, wilderness conservation, and pollution.

All candidates agreed that party leaders should work to move beyond addressing the climate crisis as a partisan issue. They also found common ground in wilderness conservation, agreeing that Canada needs to move toward protecting a higher percentage of water and land. All agreed to protect 30 per cent of land, ocean, and fresh water by 2030. 

The Liberal Party’s environmental plan includes planting two billion trees by 2030, reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, and banning single-use plastics. However, the incumbent Liberal government received criticism from the other two candidates for inadequate environmental action made under Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. “We have about 10 or 11 years to reach our [environmental] targets. Right now, the Liberal government has put us 200 years behind that,” said Vajda.

“All three of the major parties support one or more pipelines across Canada,” said Grant. “We are the only party that can’t offer you a pipeline in this election.”

Responding to criticisms about the pipeline, Freeland said, “I think that decision was probably one of the most difficult for our government to make,” adding: “we recognize that we have to find a policy in which the environment and the economy can go together.”

Vajda said, “We are committed to moving away from relying on pipelines, [and] we aren’t in favor of expanding any pipelines.”

Regarding the Green Party’s environmental plan budget, Vajda said, “Their budget doesn’t even add up. Their numbers do not work.” 

The Green Party’s environmental plan includes more regulation on industrial farming, increasing funding to implement endangered species recovery, and restoring the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Education and housing

Both the Green Party and the NDP want to move toward a free postsecondary tuition framework, while the Liberal plan involves a two-year interest-free grace period for loan repayment.

In response to both a question about education and youth unemployment, Grant advocated for a  basic income, saying, “[it] is going to be a huge benefit to students across the country.”

To combat the housing crisis, the NDP wants to build 500,000 rental units across Canada and impose a 15 per cent buyers tax on non-Canadians and non-permanent residents. The Liberal Party would impose a one per cent tax on vacant properties owned by non-Canadians who do not reside in Canada.

“We are the only party that would not offer a first-time homeowner’s grant,” said Grant. “We think rental housing, social housing, co-op housing in particular is the critical need and that’s where all the federal resources should go.”

Both the NDP and Liberals are committed to a $15 minimum wage on all federally-managed jobs, and the NDP wants to move further to a $20 “liveable wage.” In addition, the NDP wants to ban unpaid internships, as “young people shouldn’t be taken advantage of.” Freeland also wants to create 60,000 more co-op jobs for students, and implement a “right to disconnect” for employees, which will allow them to ignore work-related tasks outside of their work hours.

Health care and mental health

When addressing student mental health, Freeland acknowledged, “I am very aware of the extreme pressures on your generation, on students across Canada, and on students at the U of T.” The Liberal plan will invest $66 billion over four years into mental health, primary care, and in-home supportive care.

“The New Democrats will establish a national suicide prevention action plan that will take this very seriously… it is part of our universal health care plan,” said Vajda, responding to the same question about mental health.

Grant criticized the NDP’s implementation of its pharma care plan by 2020 as being unrealistic. The Green Party’s pharma care plan “is vastly more expensive for two years,” said Grant, meaning that the Green Party would pay the provincial share for two years before shifting the responsibility back to the provincial government.

Concluding the debate, Freeland said, “I leave this conversation very optimistic about our country,” while Vajda responded, “I have a little bit more of a sense of urgency here. I am running for office because I feel we need a change right now.” In their closing remarks both Vajda and Grant criticized the Liberal government for failure to implement electoral reform since the previous election.

Local, provincial governments best positioned to address climate crisis, says U of T-affiliated study

Research analyzes impact of government responses to climate crisis in British Columbia

Local, provincial governments best positioned to address climate crisis, says U of T-affiliated study

Provincial and municipal governments could be more influential in fighting the climate crisis than the federal government, according to a study co-authored by Dr. John Robinson, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

The research examined climate policies in 11 municipal governments in BC. They looked at the governments’ responses to provincial policies, identified the drivers and barriers that affect local political action, and analyzed the impact of these strategies on emissions reduction.

The study outlined the important components for effective municipal climate policy, as well as 12 future steps that BC’s provincial parliament should take to continue its fight against the crisis.

The climate crisis is a political fight

The threat of rising temperatures and sea levels, extreme weather events, and depleting resources continues to grow more urgent. With eco-anxiety and environmental protests rapidly mounting, it’s undeniable that the climate crisis is at the forefront of the Canadian public’s awareness.

According to a recent National Observer poll, most Canadian respondents think that the climate crisis is one of the three most important issues facing the world.

“It’s impossible to ignore the evidence that things are just not happening in the way that they used to,” said Robinson to The Varsity. “Increasingly, the changes in ecosystems are, if not totally caused, heavily influenced by [humans].”

Many look to federal governments for a solution, but the “Meeting the Climate Change Challenge (MC3)” research project, which resulted in the study, suggests that we should be looking closer to home. Local communities have a vital role to play in mitigating the climate crisis and have the means to effect direct change.

Canadian cities often have control over their own emissions, and the municipal political process is more accessible to community members than federal politics. Robinson emphasized the advantages of the experimental nature of municipal climate policy.

“Cities become hotbeds of experimentation. We don’t know all the answers; we have to try things out.”

The Government of British Columbia, together with its municipal governments, are leaders in Canada’s fight against the climate crisis. The researchers were interested in how its approach could be extended to the rest of the country.

“Cities really pay attention to what other cities do,” said Robinson. “The lessons from these 11 [municipalities] are generally applicable in other cities.”

The study’s findings

In the first phase of the MC3 project, which took place from 2011–2013, the researchers conducted interviews and detailed case studies in each of the 11 communities and developed a policy document identifying 12 steps that the Government of British Columbia should take to further its efforts. The communities were Victoria, Vancouver, Prince George, Dawson Creek, T’Sou-ke First Nation, Eagle Island, a neighbourhood of West Vancouver, City of North Vancouver, Campbell River, the Kootenay Regional Districts, Revelstoke, and Surrey.

They found that the major drivers of local climate action include strong municipal and provincial leadership, access to funds through the province and other organizations, the mainstreaming of climate policy, and first-hand experiences of extreme weather induced by the climate crisis.

Barriers to action consisted mainly of funding limitations, human resource constraints — particularly in smaller communities — social resistance, and electoral cycles causing leadership and mandate changes.

The MC3 project resulted in a policy document that included suggestions such as updating BC’s Climate Action Charter, which is a voluntary charter that “mandated that signatory local and regional governments become carbon neutral in their operations by 2012.” It also suggested an expansion of the carbon tax to industrial production, and the addition of climate vulnerability assessments to all provincially-funded infrastructure projects.

The second phase of the study, from 2014–2018, revisited the communities to assess the progress of their initiatives. It found that progress was too slow to cause significant change, with only two of the original case studies making a meaningful reduction in emissions. Provincial leadership changes and societal resistance were identified as major barriers to change in these cases.

How climate action can move forward

The study’s conclusions yielded several insights into how change can be driven, outlining systematic necessities in both government and society to combat the climate crisis.

They stressed the importance of cooperation between municipal and provincial governments. Strong leadership at multiple levels and partnerships between regional governments, according to the study, is vital for supporting, sustaining, and accelerating local action.

Policy alignment between provincial and municipal governments is key to transformative change. The institutionalization of these policies is another effective counter to the inconsistency of leadership swings; embedded provincial mandates can’t be turned around by a new premier.

Social engagement was also identified as a major force behind government climate innovation. Community involvement and a collective sense of urgency can push local governments into action. Public acceptance and support for climate action initiatives are also important factors in driving these projects forward.

“There is a way”

“Massive change is happening everywhere,” Robinson said. “The issue isn’t how to create change; it’s how to steer all the change that’s already going on in a more sustainable direction.”

Though the study was focused on governments, Robinson was clear on the point that there is “no limit” to what an individual can do about the climate crisis, whether that means eschewing plastic straws and bags, looking into sustainability measures in the workplace, or directly contacting the city about energy efficiency.

Robinson placed emphasis on the importance of social attitudes toward the climate crisis, calling the normalization of sustainability the “endgame.”

“People need to feel that sustainability isn’t a sacrifice,” he said. “When the behaviour people are doing without thinking is sustainable, it’s automatic, it’s the default — when we get there, then we’ve achieved sustainability.”

He continued, “If we do succeed in this, we’re going to make a better world… It’s not just about staving off disaster, it’s about making things better. That’s the silver lining on this dark cloud of climate change: in order to address climate change successfully, we have to make a lot of things way better.”

Robinson ultimately views the study’s findings as hopeful, firmly asserting that action is in progress to counter the climate crisis.

“It’s easier to report disaster than to report transformative success. People feel overwhelmed and kind of doomed, because the message we keep hearing is how bad [the climate crisis] is and how we have to stop doing everything we like, and even then, we probably will fail,” he said. “But what’s less apparent is that people are doing work to address this problem.”

“There’s a way. There are things happening, and the study reinforces that. We’re not doomed.”

Tiny plastics, big problems

Microplastics: an exploration of what they are, what we can do about them

Tiny plastics, big problems

Researchers from the U of T Trash Team of the Rochman Lab joined together for a panel discussion on microplastics on September 17. The panel was moderated by Susan Debreceni, a U of T Trash Team outreach assistant, and was held at the Gerstein Science Information Centre.

The panelists included master’s student Alice (Xia) Zhu and PhD students Lisa Erdle, Kennedy Bucci, and Rachel Giles.

What are microplastics, and where do they come from?

Microplastics manifest in two main ways. They are either intentionally created — such as in the case of microbeads for cosmetics — or they are the products of macroplastics, or regular plastic materials, breaking down over time. A piece of microplastic must be smaller than 5 millimetres to be considered as such. Due to their tiny size, removal from the environment can be a particularly tricky issue.

Microplastics are often so small that they are not effectively filtered out of our waste systems, causing them to end up in the natural environment. They infiltrate water and ecosystems, which can have negative effects on animals and possibly people.

What’s more, microplastics can absorb toxins from the surrounding environment and hold onto them. So, if an animal ingests them, it may also be consuming toxins that are bonded to the microplastics.

Not all microplastics are the same. Some variations are a product of things like tire dust, which can make their way into nearby environments, or travel into water ecosystems through runoff. Others are a result of the plastic fibres in our clothing, or the substances in our cosmetics and household products. Microplastics can differ in size and shape, and they can be found almost anywhere.

Recent studies have shown that microplastics are not only making an appearance in the meat we consume and the water we drink, but are even being carried through the air by wind currents.

The real trouble with microplastics is that we do not have enough research on the types of harm they can potentially have on our health. While it’s clear that plastic in any form should not be in our ecosystems or in our bodies, more research is needed to better understand the impacts on human health.

What we do know is that they pose a threat to marine and wildlife, and are bad for the health of our ecosystems. They also pose a risk to humans, since the food we eat, like fish, often contains many microplastics.

Solutions to reduce the presence of microplastics

While microplastics are a growing problem, there are things we can do in our day-to-day lives to help make a difference. As the panelists discussed, cutting back the spread of microplastics can be as simple as reforming your laundry habits, or being more mindful about what you consume.

Eliminating single-use plastics from your lifestyle is something that can make a big impact. Many items, such as plastic water bottles, plastic bags, plastic cutlery, and more, can be replaced with reusable alternatives. When shopping for clothing, buying clothes that contain natural fibres is a step in the right direction, although, as the panelists noted, many natural fibres are heavily processed and contain dyes, which means they still end up staying in the environment.

Another way to combat this issue is to use a tool, such as a laundry filter or fibre-collecting ball, to stop microplastics from entering the water waste systems and ending up in the environment. These investments, although sometimes pricey, can significantly reduce the amount of microplastics that come off of your clothes when washing them. Systemic changes can address the microplastics problem as well. For example, Canada has implemented regulations on the use of microbeads in toiletries to help combat this issue.

While microplastics are still a relatively new area of study, researchers like the panelists are paving the way for solutions that will help improve our waste management systems, make household solutions more accessible, and reduce the production of microplastics in the first place.

In Photos: U of T students join the Global Climate Strike in Toronto

Tens of thousands demand climate justice

In Photos: U of T students join the Global Climate Strike in Toronto

U of T students gathering outside of Sidney Smith

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

U of T students marching toward Queen’s Park. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The rally at Queen’s Park

Aliénor Rougeot, head of Fridays for Future in Toronto giving her speech during the rally. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

University of Toronto students participating in the climate strike. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

The march in downtown Toronto

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The beginning of the march. | DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

NDP, Green Party MP candidates for University–Rosedale discuss climate at Sidney Smith

UTEA and APSS host Melissa Jean-Baptise Vajda, Tim Grant

NDP, Green Party MP candidates for University–Rosedale discuss climate at Sidney Smith

The University of Toronto Environmental Action (UTEA) group and the Association of Political Science Students (APSS) hosted University–Rosedale’s MP candidates Melissa Jean-Baptiste Vajda of the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Tim Grant from the Green Party, to discuss their parties’ approach to the climate crisis. The Liberal and Conservative Party candidates for University–Rosedale were not invited to the discussion, as UTEA only invited parties with climate as a central part of their platform.

Keith Stewart, a senior strategist with Greenpeace Canada, was one of the speakers for the event. He criticized “petro nationalism,” the rhetoric of oil companies where they attempt to connect the extraction of fossil fuels to a Canadian identity.

Speaking on each party’s environmental plans, Stewart described the Green Party as being more focused on the reduction of greenhouse gasses than on environmental justice, which he defines as “transforming relationships” between society and environment. He described the NDP as being more focused on environmental justice.

“We don’t have to be very nice. The thing is this is actually a fight,” said Stewart on Greenpeace’s approach to environmental issues.

The discussion then turned its focus to the two MP candidates. The NDP wants to make emissions reduction targets legally binding. “We will establish a climate and accountability office that will be outside of the government,” said Vajda.

On environmental justice, Vadja commented that the NDP plans to put Indigenous people “on both sides of the table,” referencing the fact that the NDP is putting forward Indigenous candidates in the election.

Speaking on her housing plans, Vadja said, “We’ll build 500,000 more units all across Canada. We will build more affordable housing, social housing, co-ops — all of that impacts the ability for people to remain in their communities to live safer and healthier lives. It’s all intertwined and connected with a green new deal.”

Green Party candidate Tim Grant emphasized the importance of working with other parties and increasing political engagement from young voters. As 18–24-year-olds are the biggest demographic of non-voters, “your ability to reach out to your friends and get them engaged is critical,” said Grant.

Moving into possibly a minority government, Grant said, “the Greens and NDP I think quite reasonably are going to be pressing hard on climate and other files.”

What makes the Green Party stand out, according to Grant, is that they do not whip votes, a practice he criticized other parties for. “And that means you have to wilt the same way and you can’t speak out even though you may, on various issues, feel differently than the party mainstream, and you can’t speak out otherwise.”

In the Spotlight: Kerry Bowman

Bioethicist talks to The Varsity about conservation efforts, Amazon forest fires, Indigenous rights

In the Spotlight: Kerry Bowman

“Moved and horrified” is how Dr. Kerry Bowman described himself when he found that he was the only Canadian able to report from the Amazon rainforest fires in August. Now, he is trying to raise awareness for the situation with his research, arguing for protecting Indigenous land to promote both human rights and climate protection. Currently, Bowman teaches in the human biology department at U of T, though he is also cross-appointed at the School of the Environment.

Bowman’s work has seemingly pulled him in all directions, from Toronto to the Amazon to the Congo, and his research has attempted to put human well-being at the forefront of various issues, whether the backdrop is a Toronto hospital or the Amazon rainforest.

Along with his environmental work, Bowman worked for many years as a clinical bioethicist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and he still consults as a bioethicist.

Bowman wrote his PhD on cultural differences in bioethics, focusing on Chinese-Canadian attitudes toward end-of-life treatment. “We all acknowledge them, and then we tend to ignore them,” Bowman said of the prevailing attitude about cultural differences.

A lot has changed throughout Bowman’s career in bioethics. “I really watched the whole movement of the care of dying people move from completely supportive care to now being in a position where people, if they meet the criteria, could say, ‘in fact, I want to hasten my death’ and they would be allowed to do it. So in my working life, I’ve seen that. I’ve been a part of it.”

But before he was bioethicist or social worker, Bowman started his environmental work studying the behaviour of the orangutan, a project he volunteered on while traveling around the world in his twenties. He said that he learned through his work with great apes that “none of this is relevant if you do not factor in the human realities of the environments that any animals or ecosystems live within. And that the key to [a] healthy environment is almost always human-based.”

Bowman cites renowned primatologist Jane Goodall as an inspiration and a friend. “She really, really taught me just how much an individual can do.” Goodall also taught him that when dealing with global issues like the climate crisis, “you’ve actually really got to get out and talk to everybody… you’ve got to go way beyond academic journals.”

The connection between environmental and human rights is the line of Bowman’s work in the Amazon and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). During the most recent war in the DRC, Bowman witnessed how the guards at Kahuzi Biega National Park remained dedicated to protecting the land. “I was very moved by the fact that people really, really stuck to the protection of the park, knowing that it matters to their survival as well as everything else. Even in war conditions.”

Now, the Canadian Ape Alliance, founded by Bowman, works to fund an environmentally-focused school for children in the region. Many of these children will follow in their parents’ footsteps and work in the park themselves, on the front lines of protecting the critically-endangered eastern lowland gorilla.

Bowman had to consider the ethics of cultural differences as he worked to ensure equitable access to the environmental school for three groups that are often excluded: girls, those with albinism, and the subjugated Pygmy people.

Indigenous people are also at the centre of Bowman’s work in the Amazon. For the past eight years, he has been studying the benefits of protecting Indigenous land in the Amazon region. Protecting this land deters deforestation and promotes biodiversity. “What I’m really interested in is the fact that you can create essentially a climate shield and again, climate health, by protecting large areas of the Amazon forest [and] by protecting Indigenous people.”

Currently, he wants to raise awareness of the “profound human rights issue” occurring in Brazil, with Indigenous people and environmental activists being targeted. Maxciel Pereira dos Santos, a protector of Indigenous land and a colleague of Dr. Bowman’s, was assassinated earlier this month.

Explaining that much of the rise of Brazil’s exploitative attitude toward the Amazon is due to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Bowman called for greater intervention of the international community. “He’s really creating a climate where the laws of the nation — the nation being in Brazil — are not being adhered to,” said Bowman.

For combatting a problem such as the climate crisis, Bowman criticized the lack of a global infrastructure for decision-making. Bowman argued that “we have a heightened responsibility in wealthy Western nations like Canada to do something,” as those who are the most disadvantaged will continue to experience the worst effects of the climate crisis. Fires are set every year to clear land for other uses, although 2019 saw the highest number of Amazon fires in the past couple of years. The fires are a risk to the whole ecosystem, but the Indigenous people who live in the Amazon are particularly at risk.

“I would say as Canadians, we’re struggling in this country to figure out our own very dark history with Indigenous people,” Bowman said. “But what we have now going on in Brazil is this massive violation. And so for us to be silent on something like this, I would argue we’ve made no progress since colonial times because what’s happening in Brazil is no different than what occurred here.”

Looking into the future, Bowman said that he is inspired by the current climate strikes, calling it “just the beginning.”

“I think the university really has to set policies that are environmentally sound with consultation with its students and with the public. The time is here.”

What he’s learned from his own often-multidisciplinary work is that there is no single approach to any subject. “I would say to students that nobody should be leaning away from doing, things like environmental work or even bioethical work because they don’t think they have the right qualifications. These are complex problems and everyone is needed.”

“This is powerful. This is historic. This is unprecedented”: students lead second Global Climate Strike at Queen’s Park

Thousands gather to call for climate justice, including youth, politicians

“This is powerful. This is historic. This is unprecedented”: students lead second Global Climate Strike at Queen’s Park

Joining millions around the globe, U of T students protested at Queen’s Park on September 27 to demand action on the climate crisis. These protests marked the end of a week-long strike that started on September 20, spearheaded by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, to denounce inaction on the climate crisis by world leaders at this week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit.

At noon, protesters left Queen’s Park to march around downtown Toronto before ending up back at the legislature for closing remarks and a concert.

“This is powerful. This is historic. This is unprecedented,” said Allie Rougeot, organizer of the strike and head of Fridays for Future in Toronto, during her remarks in front of the sea of climate activists gathered outside the provincial legislature.

“When Fridays for Future started here in December 2018, there were 30 people where you’re standing here today. Look around you now. Look how many people showed up for climate justice.”

The protests were organized by a coalition of youth and climate advocates, including Fridays for Future Toronto, Climate Justice Toronto, ClimateFast, No One Is Illegal, Fight for $15 and Fairness, Migrant Rights Network, Toronto350, Rising Tides Toronto, Indigenous Climate Action, Greenpeace Canada, and Leap UofT.

Students march and speak out

As they slowly gathered on the steps of Sidney Smith Hall, students led a march across King’s College Circle to Queen’s Park holding signs that read “How dare you,” “I stand for what I stand on,” and “Leave class,” among others. While the U of T administration supported faculties and individuals where possible, and endorsed flexibility for students who striked, the university did not close despite calls from community leaders, students, and professors.

Third-year ecology and evolutionary biology student, Sophia Fan, is the University College Literary & Athletic Society (UCLit)’s sustainability commissioner and led around 100 students to the strike.

“I’m really glad that this is becoming huge and that our generation is finally stepping up and just saying no to our futures being taken away,” said Fan.

Rougeot contacted the UCLit at the beginning of the summer asking for its participation. Since then, Fan and her commission distributed promotional material for the event, held poster-making sessions, and discussed the demands of the strike and its implications for both U of T and the wider community.

“I love nature and I wish I was only here so that I could learn more about it… but the fact that I’m researching bees because they’re dying, I’m researching plants because they have to tolerate heatwaves breaks my heart,” said Fan.

Cricket Cheng, a fifth-year English and geography student, is an organizer with Climate Justice Toronto. Cheng and colleagues have been focused on “centering various intersectional struggles” for the climate strike.

“If you look at the demands, we’re fighting for Indigenous sovereignty, we’re fighting for justice for migrants and refugees, we’re fighting for universal public services,” Cheng said.

Cheng noted that “it was a bit of a struggle to persuade people who had been doing this for years, if not decades, in one very particular way to get them to reimagine what it means to be fighting for environmental justice and justice for all.”

Cheng pointed out the environmentalism movement’s history of censoring racial justice. Elaborating on the organizational process in this context Cheng said, “we were showing up as…young racialized people and that really shifted the course, both in terms of the messaging, the policies, and also who was in the room.”

Mia Sanders is a third-year student studying history and women and gender studies and also a part of Climate Justice Toronto. Sanders has been focused on “shaping the demands to reflect the connections between different liberation struggles.”

Initially, while the demands were being drafted, Sanders encountered pushback. “We got the critique that it was distracting from the real issue to talk about migrant justice,” said Sanders. However, they are proud that they were able to get the message out in the end.

Sanders admired the strike’s strong youth presence and has respect for Thunberg’s ability to mobilize the masses. However, Sanders said, “we can also look to young people like Autumn Peltier, who’s… [an] Indigenous water defender and… [has] wisdom in her intergenerational knowledge.”

As for next steps, “I’m going to be showing up more in solidarity with frontline communities,” said Sanders.

Both Sanders and Cheng will continue their fight for climate justice on October 13 at High Park, where the Indigenous Land Stewardship Collective is holding a protest.

“They’re fighting the contract that the… city has with Monsanto and the glyphosates that they’re spraying on traditional burial grounds,” explained Sanders.

Politicians weigh in on climate action

Current and former politicians joined the climate strike, including Dianne Saxe, the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, who gave a speech at the pre-march rally. Saxe told The Varsity that she hopes “adults will be shaken out of their selfishness, greed, and apathy, that young people will vote and that they’ll make the climate crisis central to their vote” as a result of the climate strike. Saxe went on to describe carbon pricing as an important tool in combating the climate crisis and said that “anyone who’s against carbon pricing is stealing the future.”

Ontario New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath and federal NDP candidate for University–Rosedale Jean-Baptiste Vajda both pointed to the NDP’s Green New Deal as an example of effective climate action.

The plan commits to cutting emissions at least 50 per cent by 2050 while creating new jobs, and also promises to be equitable and meet obligations surrounding reconciliation. As Horwath put it, “no community can be left behind, no workers can be left behind.”

Former Toronto mayor and North American Director of the climate action organization C40 Cities, David Miller, noted that in terms of effective climate action, “the plans are all there, it just requires a political decision to do it.”

Miller highlighted the benefits of updating building codes to achieve  net zero carbon buildings, eliminating the use of coal-fired generation in Alberta and New Brunswick, and the power of divestment.

“I believe our public institutions, like our universities, need to be moral and ethical in their investments… the economic system matters and institutions like University of Toronto can very easily choose other investments,” said Miller, citing the campaign to divest from South Africa as action against apartheid as an example of effective divestment.

MPP for Spadina–Fort York, Chris Glover, offered guidance to those discouraged by politics and the lack of action on the climate crisis: “It takes a lot of persistence to make systemic change because the systems are ensconced and we need to change those systems… join groups, mobilize, it takes a community to fight.”

Ontario Green Party Leader, Mike Schreiner, was impressed by the strike’s turnout, but hopes that political action comes quickly: “We need to act now to make sure we have a livable planet for these young people,” said Schreiner.

With files from Kathryn Mannie.