Sunday 23 August 2020

Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee

“working towards a safe, healthy future where we can all thrive” 

A group of students in Saskatoon want to ensure that young people have a voice in ongoing discussions around climate justice: “We have lots to contribute and a unique angle on the issues as they will affect our future. A personal connection with places such as the Northeast Swale makes them even more determined to fight to protect their community’s natural areas.

The Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee was established in 2019 as a way for young people to share their concerns about the environment and collaborate on different initiatives. In an online conversation, three young women – Warsha Mushtaq, Elisabeth Walker, and Lauren Wright – shared how they became involved.

For all three of them, a love of nature provided a strong foundation for environmental activism as is clear from their comments: “Nature was a huge part of how I grew up.” “I love being outside. I feel safe and connected.” “I was in Girl Guides of Canada for over 10 years and had positive interactions with nature and learned how to protect it.” Their perspective and love of nature was strengthened and rounded out through enrolling in outdoor education programs, integrating Indigenous learning during class walks at Saskatoon Natural Grasslands, and participating in the Caring for our Watersheds program.

This led all three students to care passionately about the environment and they started attending climate strikes. “There’s a lot of stigma around participating in climate strikes,” Lauren says. “People don’t take the time to find out why we’re there. We care a lot, are learning lots. We’re not just skipping out of school.”

Lauren saw value in establishing a group to provide young people with a platform so that they could come together, discuss the interrelated pieces, and prevent the climate crisis from becoming worse than it already is. She sent letters to the outdoor school programs, reached out using social media, and set up a sign-up sheet at the climate strikes. Despite attending different schools and not being the same age, a common interest brought twenty young people, including Elisabeth and Lauren, together for the first meeting of the Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee.

The Committee members started attending City Council and municipal committee meetings and worked with teachers over the summer of 2019 on how to get other students involved. “We wanted to provide a support system to take the big, scary thing of activism and make it easier for people to get involved,” Lauren says. The goal is to be friends, share ideas, and collaborate. The Committee began holding bi-weekly meetings in the fall of 2019.

COVID-19 put a stop to the Committee’s in-person meetings so the students switched to online webinars as a way to stay in touch during the pandemic. Guest speakers have included city councillors and representatives of Climate Justice Saskatoon and the Saskatchewan Environmental Society. Social media is a huge part of their activities. Their website and YouTube channel host permanent resources, such as the webinars, while Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are used on a day-to-day basis.
YXE Youth Climate Committee takes a holistic approach to climate justice, recognizing its implications and impacts on issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and race. “We need to address issues holistically rather than linearly,” Warsha says. “There’s a feedback loop,” Warsha explains. “Extreme weather events such as fire and flood are damaging our natural spaces, just as natural elements such as trees are driving the climate.” The Committee hopes to have Indigenous activists participate in future webinars.

One of the Committee’s goals is to expand students’ awareness of municipal issues and demonstrate how they can act on climate issues on a municipal level. They want to make it easier for young people to get involved and to have a voice, for example through letter writing, as they recognize it can be intimidating for young people to approach City Council. “There are so many ways we can reach out, even if we can’t vote,” Lauren says. “We can make a difference if we come together and take that risk.”

The Committee is eager to recruit new members and Elisabeth, Warsha, and Lauren are at pains to point out that it isn’t all work and serious conversations. “We have fun, joke, become friends,” Elisabeth says. “It shouldn’t be overwhelming.

The young women were at pains to point out that you don’t have to have the perfect environmentally correct lifestyle to be an environmentalist. You may ride your bike but forget to bring a reusable mug; everything you do helps and is making a contribution. “Climate activism involves living with positive intentions but not feeling obligated to be perfect in your lifestyle,” Elisabeth says. “As long as you’re doing your best and are passionate, you can be an activist.”

Students in grades 5-12 who live in Saskatoon and area are encouraged to get in touch with the Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee. “Dip your toes in. See what you’d like to get involved in,” they urge.

Saskatoon Youth Climate Committee can be found on their website, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram