Leading up to Earth Day next Wednesday (April 22), the Georgia Straight is posting interviews with young environmental activists—some of whom have been inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.
Harrison Johnston is a 20-year-old Langara College sociology student. The transcript below is an edited version of his remarks.
Georgia Straight: How did you get interested in environmental issues?
Harrison Johnston: I’ve been following politics so long and been so frustrated about it. You know, I felt I should probably do something.... I got involved helping out the Sustainabiliteens, organizing their climate strikes in the spring. It’s all kind of gone up from there.
Georgia Straight: For you, what's the most important issue?
Harrison Johnston: It’s really been Indigenous sovereignty and all of the resources-extraction projects going through unceded territories. Especially around Wet’suwet’en. Obviously, I was spending a lot of time on that in the spring.
Georgia Straight: What goes through your mind when you think about the climate and what we're doing to it?
Harrison Johnston: Just a lot of frustration. There is, like, so much just apathy going around in the general population about this planet that we live on—that we are dependent on for every aspect of our lives. At this point, it’s a given that our government doesn’t really care and is going to choose corporations and profits and the economy over our planet. So the people have got to wake up and do something about that. It’s just been kind of frustrating to see.... We had more than 100,000 out for the climate strike in the fall, but it’s still nowhere near enough.
Georgia Straight: What impact has Greta Thunberg had on you personally?
Harrison Johnston: That’s an interesting question. She definitely played a role in me kind of joining the movement and becoming a part of it. Just seeing her doing that—"Oh, I should probably be doing the same thing"—but it’s kind of evolved from there now. I’ve really realized how people have propped up Greta as like a leader or figurehead of the movement is sort of problematic. It allows a lot of people to [think] "Greta will save the world for us. We don’t have to do anything." I think it’s really important to focus on the messaging of "we need everyone if this is going to happen. We don’t just need a few leaders, a few people, stepping up. We need everyone to step up." We aren’t going to succeed in saving the planet unless that happens.”
Georgia Straight: Are there things you’re doing to keep your carbon footprint lower than what it might otherwise be?
Harrison Johnston: I take public transit everywhere. I don’t own a car and don’t plan to anytime in the near future. I’m very conscious of basically the only time I fly now is to visit family. I think those are the two main things. I’m also a vegetarian. All these individual actions, I think, are important. I tend to focus most of my energy on more systemic things.
Georgia Straight: Is there any key point you would like to get across to our readers?
Harrison Johnston: Really, that we need them involved. The way to get involved is to join a movement. Join an organization. I think it’s very much up to you what angle you want to get involved in. It doesn’t even have to be climate. We need everyone involved right now in pressuring the government and showing them that we care. The way to do that is through grassroots movements.