'We're running out of time': Teen activist says collective action needed to fight climate crisis

·3 min read
Climate activist Aliya Hirji, 16, explains what the collective fight against the climate crisis looks like and what people can do to join the cause.  (Submitted by Aliya Hirji - image credit)
Climate activist Aliya Hirji, 16, explains what the collective fight against the climate crisis looks like and what people can do to join the cause. (Submitted by Aliya Hirji - image credit)

While Earth Day normally consists of bullhorns and homemade protest signs, the pandemic has forced climate activists like 16-year-old Aliya Hirji to mobilize online the past two years to continue the fight for environmental justice.

"We're in a climate crisis and there needs to be larger action taken ... collective action," said Hirji, an organizer with Fridays for Future Toronto — a movement inspired by environmental youth activist Greta Thunberg.

Young people have been taking action and rising up against what they see as inaction on climate change for the past few years, something Hirji says has fallen on them to do because adults have not stepped up.

"We don't really have much of a choice; we're running out of time here," she said Thursday as COVID-19 again prevented activists from mounting the big street protests that have marked previous Earth Days.

But, while Earth Day is important, Hirji says it's reached a point where the pursuit of climate justice must happen 365 days a year to make a difference.

WATCH | Young activists fight for climate justice on Earth Day:

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030.

"Our priority continues to be battling COVID-19. We rely on science to save lives and develop vaccines but we must also listen to climate science, which tells us we're facing an existential threat," Trudeau said.

For Jennifer Green, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, this is a good first step, but it's not enough.

She says we need more ambitious pledges, but more importantly, we need real policies to make sure that Canada achieves the goals that the Liberal Party is putting forth.

"There is the opportunity for environmental activists to really push the federal government on implementing policy on meeting the targets they want to meet," Green said.

Fighting climate crisis a collective mission

Green says the younger generations will have to live with the effects of climate change.

"Young people have the right to be furious at the inaction of most of the leaders around the world and they should be yelling and screaming and organizing to the best of their abilities," she said.

For Hirji, who organizes community clean-ups, writes to her local politicians and attends climate rallies, fighting the crisis is a collective mission and there are multiple ways to do it.

She says seeking out local climate justice groups, voting with climate action at the front of people's minds and holding elected officials responsible for their actions (and inaction) are promising steps in securing a better future for everyone.

Hirji also says the COVID-19 pandemic has opened people's eyes to inequalities in our world and that it provides a unique opportunity to recover from it with the climate crisis and social justice in mind.

"The entire world is affected by the climate crisis and it's going to take all of us together to fight it," she said.