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Climate crisis: a book to support young activists

As far back as he can remember, Karel Mayrand has always been indignant at injustice. “When I was little, I had a hard time accepting a defeat from the Nordiques. I wake up and I’m angry. »

This emotion has fueled him throughout his career as an environmental activist, from his early days at the Climate Reality Project, founded by former US Vice President Al Gore, to the David Suzuki Foundation, where he held the position of Director for Quebec and the Atlantic for 12 years.

What annoys him the most is the discrepancy between the climate emergency and the smallness of the actions implemented. “I think that my generation and that of my parents, to preserve their comfort, betray all those born after the year 2000. We have to agree not to put our children in debt, but we are unable to do so. »

After leaving the movement in 2019, Karel Mayrand, now President and CEO of the Foundation of Greater Montreal and contributor to Newscomes back with a try, Letter to a young ecologist. Thanks to his experience as an activist, he wishes to equip the new generation to deal with eco-anxiety and collective indifference.

We caught up with him to find out more about the knowledge he wants to pass on to young activists.

First, how did you become an activist?

Being an activist, I think it’s something you have in you. I have always wanted to have an impact on the world around me and I have always had a great capacity for indignation in relation to what I perceive as injustices.

What I lacked was the urgency. I felt it in 2006 when I was invited to the Alert military base in the Arctic to discuss the impact of climate change in Canada. We got there at the end of June… in short sleeves! It was really special. It was predicted at the time that the Northwest Passage would open around 2040-2050. Fifteen months later, a photo from the European Space Agency showed the passage free of ice. It was the first time I understood that climate change was inevitable. I immediately feared for my children.

The emergency meant that I could no longer remain an observer. Two years later, I had the great good fortune to be trained by Al Gore, former American vice-president, and subsequently hired by the David Suzuki Foundation. I was given means, power, security, because I was paid to be an activist.

In 2019, you decided to step down from your leadership role in the environmental movement. Why did you feel the need to make room for the new generation?

I am 50 years old, and I have measured the extent of the disappearance of the world around me. At the time of the fires in Australia in 2019, I felt great sadness. It really hurt me. So I left my position as director of the David Suzuki Foundation. With the urgency to act, we needed people much more radicalized than me.

It took me two years to recharge my batteries. When I wrote this book, the flame was reignited. I feel that now, it is in support that I have a role to play. You can’t just pass the torch, because when you do that, you wash your hands of it. We must serve this generation.

Will they succeed? I don’t know, but the game changed when I saw them arrive in the number of 130,000 in the streets of Montreal on March 15, 2019. We were talking at the time about the next generations: they are them. They now have a voice. The pandemic sawed off their legs, but I expect the fight to restart and become more radical.

How do you think young people can act to change things?

Don’t waste your time cleaning up banks or planting trees. We are no longer changing light bulbs and printing on both sides. We can start with small actions, but we must not stop there, because nothing will have changed fundamentally. While a shoreline gets cleaned up, the oceans continue to fill with plastic.

We must take inspiration from the movement of the libertarian right. They do not compromise, they apply pressure on society. I think that on the side of the ecologists, we have reached that point. Never back down again, from the smallest bike path to systemic decisions.

To change things, young people must start by voting, otherwise the others will decide for them. Next, online petitions must be stopped. We have come to land in the Prime Minister’s office and push to change the laws. Al Gore said, “Write your MP. If he doesn’t answer you, call him. If he doesn’t answer you, report to his office, and if he still doesn’t answer you, report against him. “Studies show that when four or five people challenge an elected official, this elected official begins to take an interest in the issue. If politicians get pushed in the right direction, they will go to the right place.

Can we still aspire to change things through government structures when we know that once he became minister, former activist Steven Guilbeault did not succeed in preventing a polluting project like Baie du Nord in Newfoundland- and Labrador?

I’ve written before that it takes 10,000 protesters to counter a lobbyist, and honestly, I think it takes more. The environmental movement has never known how to develop a real balance of power.

We passed a motion on the climate emergency in the National Assembly, but meanwhile, lobbyists are in Ottawa and Quebec City behind closed doors. Environmentalists always get tokenized stuff. We get a target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but then nothing is done.

The Guilbeault incident reveals this problem. Everyone knows that if Steven could, he would have said no. Even though he is now a minister, he still has handcuffs like when he came down from the CN tower.

Economic interests are stronger than ecological interests. The problem is that we have an economy based on growth, which must generate needs. I am currently wondering about capitalism’s ability to adapt to a world that can no longer grow. We have to question our economic system, as well as our political system, which is competitive and not collaborative.

You say you want to equip young people to deal with eco-anxiety. What do you suggest to them to help them feel better?

It’s a daily challenge. Just because everything is disappearing doesn’t mean you have to stop yourself from being happy. On the contrary, we should taste everything even stronger, because it will not come back. It’s normal to suffer from eco-anxiety, but it’s not normal to carry all the weight of the world on your shoulders alone in your corner. We will not be useful if we are unhappy.

You have to quickly find someone to talk to about it. Then make a group of 4, 8, 16, 32, etc. They were 130,000 on March 15, 2019, and then 500,000 on September 20. All this thanks to what? To a 15-year-old girl who decided to strike alone in front of parliament in Stockholm. It was not she who caused everything, it was already there, but she served as a lightning rod for the movement. When you get involved, you have an effect on those around you. We may give others confidence and, ultimately, it will become the norm.

Through activism, I have nurtured lifelong friendships. We are talking about a dozen environmentalists, their noses in the collapse of the planet every day, but who nevertheless had a lot of fun. It is through these relationships that we are able to share how we feel. There will be great joys and great disappointments, but people will be there to support us.

Radical changes are going to take place in the next 10-20 years, but I don’t know if it will be in the right direction. One thing is sure, to win the game, you have to be on the ice. The only certainty I have is that the Berlin Wall was immutable and it fell in two months. The Church was omnipresent at one time and it was driven out in barely a decade. It can go quickly when it happens. My hope is there. But are we close to a tipping point? That, only the future will tell.

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