A common refrain from students’ climate marches in recent years is the need for adults to listen.
On Friday, some high-profile adults in the community were at Simms Park to do exactly that.
Students from the Comox Youth Climate Council were holding a climate march through the streets of Courtenay as part of Earth Day, but before anyone took a step, the young people asked local elected officials what can be done about climate change and protecting the environment. The panel was made up of Jonathan Kerr, Nicole Minions and Stephanie McGowan from Comox council, Doug Hillian, Will Cole-Hamilton, Wendy Morin, Bob Wells and Melanie McCollum from Courtenay council, Vickey Brown and Jesse Ketler from Cumberland council, Arzeena Hamir of the regional district and Sheila McDonnell of the school district.
The event started with acknowledgement toward the original stewards of the land, with stress on reconciliation with Indigenous peoples as key to any climate solution.
One of the youth organizers, Anne-Frédérique Béchard, provided opening remarks about the many climate emergencies of late, saying, “It seems like everywhere we look these days, we see crisis after crisis,” then credited the local leaders for their participation. “It’s not all glum. There is hope. Change is possible. Your presence here today is a clear message.”
Minions from Comox encouraged the young people to get involved, even to consider running for office.
“I would love to see more people, 19 to 30, running,” she said. “I really worry about the world we’re leaving our children.”
Hillian of Courtenay provided some historical perspective, saying that 50 years ago, he remembers talking about a climate crisis that has only worsened.
“This is the time that was predicted years ago,” he said. “As a world community, we didn’t take the necessary action.”
The questions started with what local leaders had done already. Cumberland’s Ketler said the village’s council was taking steps such as working with youth on a local version of a Green New Deal.
One student asked the panel about busing service. As a school trustee McDonnell responded that, while the school district contracts out most of its busing, contractor First Student is working on a pilot project for electric buses.
“They are looking at the Comox Valley as one of the choices,” she said, adding the district might want to consider a plan with regional transit to handle student transportation.
Another young person asked what local officials were doing to cut carbon emissions. Cole-Hamilton of Courtenay council responded the city was setting targets within its new official community plan, as well as other measures.
“We have been looking a lot at active transportation,” he said.
To conclude, one of the youth organizers, Will Hegg, talked about the climatic changes already visible in the community and underscored the job facing the panel.
“We need action now from our politicians and leaders,” they said. “We have to demand a better world.”
Following the discussion, the crowd of 100-plus held signs and marched along the sidewalks downtown, chanting, “No more coal, no more oil. Leave the carbon in the soil.” The group concluded at the plaza in front of the Sid Williams Theatre. There, young people grabbed chalk and paintbrushes to work on a mural of the globe with the message that time is up and climate action is needed.