Yesterday, I paid a visit to the fourth students' climate strike in Vancouver over the past five months.
Hundreds took the afternoon off school and headed down to šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square, which is the Indigenous name of the plaza on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Before I was permitted to interview one of the organizers, Rebecca Hamilton, I was subjected to tough questions by an adult.
He wanted to know whether I was aware of the magnitude of the climate crisis and if I felt it was an existential emergency.
I was also asked what actions I've taken in response to climate change. What I said must have worked because I was permitted to speak to Hamilton.
For her part, she appreciated the Straight's previous coverage of Vancouver climate strikes.
This exchange with the adult in advance of doing the interview made me wonder about the parents of many of the committed young people in the square.
How many of them would have failed the test?
Did their parents buy large single-family homes and commute long distances from the suburbs?
Were they early adopters of gasoline-powered SUVs?
Did they not give much thought to their family's ecological footprint as they were having children and enjoying lower prices that came with globalization?
When was the last time they rode the transit system?
Do they step on airplanes more often than they ride SkyTrain or a local bus?
Did they ever vote Conservative in any federal elections since Stephen Harper became the party leader?
Are they unconcerned about the impact of liquefied-natural-gas plants on B.C.'s overall carbon emissions and on the province's capacity to meet legislated targets?
Hamilton told me that the students were coming together to fight for their lives.
She knows about the extreme and dangerous weather events that are occurring with increasing frequency as human-caused greenhouse gas emissions increase.
"I decided to take action when I realized that...the adults weren't taking action with the scale and urgency required," Hamilton said.
With that in mind, I decided to come up with a list of six things these grownups can do to let their children know that they are serious about addressing the issue:
1. Vote for the candidate in your area whom you believe is most informed and most concerned about climate change. That may not always be the person running for the Green party.
2. If you own a single-family home, buy an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid as quickly as possible. The federal and provincial governments are each offering up to $5,000 in subsidies. You can even get subsidies for electric charging facilities for your home. And the province might pay you more money to take that old vehicle off your hands.
3. Stop opposing reasonable densification in your neighbourhood. This will result in more goods and services being made available locally and help small businesses withstand the challenge of Amazon.
4. Buy offsets to cover the carbon emissions created by air travel. Also, fly to fewer conferences.
5. Seriously ask yourself if it's necessary to have more children or if the world would be better off if more kids were adopted. As the Independent reported in 2017, one fewer child per family can save an average of 58.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions per year.
6. Eat less meat. Livestock accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the David Suzuki Foundation.
These actions might help heal the potential for a serious divide in the years to come between teenagers and those who are adults now.
Baby boomers, Gen Xers, and the politicians who've represented them have been incredibly negligent, for the most part, in comprehending the scale of the problem. Now, we're seeing the results in flooding in Eastern Canada, hurricanes in the Caribbean, and longer forest fire seasons in western sections of North America and elsewhere in the world.
A report by DARA International estimated that 400,000 people die each year directly from climate change. That's expected to rise to 600,000 by 2030.
As Gulf Islands writers Peter D. Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth reported in their 2018 book Unprecedented Crime, these figures do not include the 400,000 to 5 million deaths per year from the health impacts of burning fossil fuels.
I want to be clear—the problem cannot be laid entirely at the feet of individuals' actions. Governments have done a poor job in North America of helping ease the transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels.
To cite one example, it's difficult to rent an apartment in Metro Vancouver that's not heated with gas.
In fact, as Vancouver authors Matt Hern and Am Johal write in Global Warming and the Sweetness of Life, "individualizing responsibility for eco-collapses is one of contemporary capitalism's primary defensive strategies".
In Unprecedented Crime, Carter and Woodworth lay out a compelling case that state-corporate criminal behaviour has deliberately blocked actions to reduce emissions that could have saved millions of lives.
That said, there are still far more steps that middle-class, upper-middle-class, and wealthy Canadians can take to alleviate their impact on the planet. Especially if they own single-family homes where it's relatively easy to electrify your vehicle so it can be fuelled by clean hydroelectricity.
The kids are showing us the way. It's time we started listening to them.