Angela Ho recently phoned the Georgia Straight because she wanted to talk about getting an Earth Day march onto the cover of the paper. It’s quite common for people involved in environmental preservation to ask to speak to the editor about issues of concern to them. But what’s unusual about this particular request is that it came from someone who is only 16 years old.
She was particularly concerned about pipelines being built to B.C.’s west coast to facilitate the export of tar-sands oil around the world. “The Enbridge pipeline is coming into B.C. and it will affect the northern community,” Ho explained over the phone. “But also, it will affect the global community because the emissions that will be released by the oil will just be the tipping point to climate catastrophe because we cannot surpass a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees before preindustrial levels. Right now, we would be jeopardizing ourselves with this project because it can truly blow us off the charts. So I feel that on top of environmental damage and the social impacts, we have to think about the bigger picture as well: the global community. So that’s what scares me.”
Naturally, I asked how she became so literate in climate-related issues. Ho responded that she’s part of the leadership program at Windermere secondary school in East Vancouver. “My teachers are really progressive, and they teach stuff like this to us,” she said.
Ho and other students are involved in a group called Youth for Climate Justice Now. And they’re organizing an Earth Day parade in Vancouver starting at 11 a.m. on Sunday (April 22) just north of the Commercial SkyTrain station at Grandview Highway and Commercial Drive. From there, they will march to Grandview Park for a festival with music, student art competitions, and speakers, including Mayor Gregor Robertson.
“Basically, we want to hold our political leaders accountable for the climate damage that’s happening,” Ho stated. “One of the things we’re focusing on is Enbridge and tankers this year. So we’ve got this petition going around. We’ve collected about 7,000 signatures so far.”
She added that about 1,000 people showed up for last year’s Earth Day parade. The organizers are aiming to double that this year.
“I think about the generations—like us—who will inherit this world,” she said. “Right now, people are polluting it. They’re causing the most damage. Other countries are facing the impacts, like rising sea levels and drought. I feel that if we do not do anything now, then it’s going to be too late in the future to make a difference. Our climate will just be ruined because we’re coming to this point in time where we have to act now or else it will be too late to go back.”
Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would carry an average of 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day over 1,177 kilometres from the tar sands to Kitimat. A second pipeline would carry 193,000 barrels of condensate per day from Kitimat to a destination near Edmonton. Condensate is required to thin petroleum products for transportation through pipelines.
The oil would travel on tankers through the ecologically sensitive Queen Charlotte Sound, which is home to many marine mammals.
Meanwhile, U.S.-based Kinder Morgan’s Canadian subsidiary has planned a massive increase in oil shipments from Alberta to its terminal in Burnaby. Much of this oil would be transported on tankers through Burrard Inlet.
Ho said that her group’s petition has been created in solidarity with First Nations that have signed onto the Save the Fraser Declaration. She added that the goal is to get 10,000 signatures, hopefully with the help of some media coverage.
“The majority of the people in my school do not know about stuff like Enbridge or tankers or anything related to climate change,” she acknowledged. “It’s not their fault because they’re not exposed to this information. I feel that with us doing it—youth talking to youth, reaching out to others—it should be easier to educate and spread awareness about these issues rather than have adults do it. Because, you know, it’s easier for us to talk to them.”
When asked what her parents think of her activism, Ho laughed and replied that they would probably prefer if she did more homework. “But they do know that it’s relating to the environment, and that I’m trying to do the right thing,” she added. “So they are supportive of it.”
She mentioned that she would like to maintain her passion for environmental issues into adulthood. “I’m really inspired by people like Ben West [of the Wilderness Committee],” Ho said. “He works tirelessly on these issues.”