The most recognizable advocate for the environment in this country is calling on Canadian youth to change the political agenda and force action on the issue of climate change.
Scientist, broadcaster and activist David Suzuki said if Canada is to actually tackle the problem instead of paying it lip service, it will be because of young people.
“What will drive this, especially toward the next election, are kids. They are learning in school about climate and many of them are scared stiff, they’re thinking they are not going to live to old age,” he said. “Others are saying: ‘Don’t tell me how bad it is, tell me what I can do about it.’ ”
Recently the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned there would be irreversible changes and the loss of ecosystems if the world didn’t act to cut greenhouse gases dramatically.
Suzuki said the political will — currently focused on housing and the economy — to make big changes will come only if the public demands it.
That means kids have to impress upon politicians that their future is at stake, and their parents have to remind candidates that they vote and are wondering what is being done.
“I believe we have this very short period between now and the next election, to say that anyone running for office has to promise that climate is their issue,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re left or right of centre, I don’t care.”
Suzuki, the host of The Nature of Things on CBC for more than 50 seasons, is touring the province, holding screenings of Beyond Climate, a movie that addresses B.C.’s environmental issues.
Suzuki is the narrator of the film, directed by Ian Mauro, principal of the Richardson College for the Environment and co-director of the Prairie Climate Centre at the University of Winnipeg.
Mauro said the film is designed to help change the way we understand and react to climate change.
“Climate change is happening, what we need now is culture change. The scientific literacy is increasing but the culture shift hasn’t happened to embrace that,” he said, noting the film features ordinary British Columbians telling their stories. “This is an approach to get at that culture shift.”
Mauro said they have found what drives action is making an issue more local, visual and emotional.
He hopes the visceral, personal stories of people in the province dealing with the effects of climate change — orchard owners unable to harvest crops due to extreme rain, decimated scallop fisheries, raging forest fires — will resonate and spur action.
“It’s showing us in a very real way that climate change is not off in a far future, it’s right now and happening in people’s backyards,” he said.
Suzuki said using film to reach a wider audience is calculated as years of scientific papers and reports clearly haven’t worked to reach segments of the population.
“We have to use any medium,” Suzuki said. “The power of this film is these are ordinary people all saying it’s happening and it’s very serious and we have to act.”
Suzuki said action could hit the streets next week when he expects thousands of young Canadians will go on strike to make their voices heard.
The Global Student Strike 4 Climate is scheduled for March 15.
In Victoria, students are planning to demonstrate at the legislature between noon and 1 p.m. before marching through downtown to the intersection of Fort and Douglas streets.
The Victoria screening of Beyond Climate is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at the University of Victoria’s Farquhar Auditorium.