The buzz among students at a White Rock coffee shop Tuesday afternoon had more to do with climate than caffeine.
Climate change, that is.
The after-class meeting at Laura’s Coffee Corner was about co-ordinating an effort to bring further awareness to climate change, an issue the students believe has the potential to threaten their future.
Drawing inspiration from teenage activist Greta Thunberg – who recently gave an emotional speech to world leaders at the United Nations – students from Earl Marriott Secondary, Semiahmoo Secondary and Elgin Park Secondary plan to walk out of class Friday morning to participate in a “Global Climate Strike.”
Tuesday, climate-strike student leaders from EMS and Semi formalized their plan to take transit downtown, to arrive at Vancouver City Hall by 1 p.m.
According to the Global Climate Strike Facebook page, more than 7,000 people have confirmed they are attending the rally, which is set for 1-5 p.m., while another 10,000 have indicated that they’re interested in attending.
Elgin Park students say they will walk out of class at 9 a.m., and protest in front of the school for an hour. Sonja Schutte, in Grade 10, told Peace Arch News that while most of the students will likely return to class, some are expected to head to Vancouver for the strike.
The Surrey School District distributed a letter – which leads with the sentence “We live in an era of global climate change” – last Friday notifying parents and guardians that the district will allow students to miss class Sept. 27 in order to attend the Vancouver event. The letter notes that students must be excused from school by parents, and the students will be able to make up missed work without penalty.
The district’s support of the strike echoes through the walls of the schools, Schutte said, noting she’s been allowed to put up global-strike posters in the classrooms.
“I think most of the teachers I talked to, their reaction has been pretty positive. Of course, they can’t say to their students ‘walk out of class,’ because they’re our teachers, they’re our educators…. But they’re really supportive, a lot of them,” Schutte said.
Tuesday, PAN met briefly with Earl Marriott students Nadia McGowan (Grade 12), Sam Albert (Grade 12), Diun Macdonald (Grade 11) and Tessa McDermid (Grade 12), and Semiahmoo Grade 12s Amelia Marshall and Allie Ho.
Albert, however, will not be attending the climate strike, as he was invited to the United Nations Global Landscape Forum as a youth delegate, which is to take place the following day in New York.
He told PAN he was invited to the conference after he attended the June UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany as a youth delegate with the B.C. Council for International Cooperation.
He was also recently invited to another UN conference this December in Chile.
Albert and Ho were featured in PAN in May for a climate strike they organized earlier this year. The story received a few dozen comments online, including criticism from people who seem to deny the human impact on climate change.
One comment, made by a woman who identified herself as a senior, alleged that the “protesters are being paid.”
Asked for their reaction to criticism from people much older than they are, Ho and Albert agreed “they’re ignorant,” but said it’s also proof that the strike is spurring conversation about climate change, which is one of the event’s objectives.
“The movement has now grown so much and it is all over the world. Obviously, these students aren’t doing it just to cut class. That’s the impact of the climate strike movement, is that students are not going to be in school, preparing for a future that’s not certified right now,” Albert said.
“No one else is going to be taking the initiative to protect my future, so I’m going to. And other students my age are going to take the lead in this matter.”
The students also noted that, unlike their adult critics, they don’t have an opportunity to vote in elections.
“This is the only way we have to make a difference,” McGowan said.