11 years. In 2018 the United Nations announced at their General Assembly that the world has 12 years (now 11) left to act on climate change or there will be catastrophic consequences such as droughts, earthquakes, extinction of insects and more. A group of scientists declared that the earth’s temperature needs to remain at 1.5c or lower to refrain from such natural disasters. It has been a year since the 1.5c report and although it did get the attention of many, has enough change been made so far? Does anyone really care?

Global Climate Strike

The Friday’s For Future movement led by teenaged Greta Thunberg has gained a mass following that led to the worldwide climate strikes that occurred on September 27. One of the major cities that participated also included Toronto.

In a fitting, alarmingly warm fall day, the crowds filled Queen’s Park with their signs expressing their demands to the Ontario government and a climate change puns. The large crowd was filled with Torontonians of different professions, ethnicities, ages, and religions. Yet they all connected on one concept; fighting for climate justice. The energy at the strike was positive and hopeful for change, just like 70-year-old Patricia Reller who felt hopeful that the message spread across the climate strike would be heard by leading officials that day.

“I think the politicians are gonna see just how many people are interested in it and they’re gonna realize that they gotta do something,” said Reller.

“The only people that can do anything about it are the politicians and it’s up to us to show the politicians that this is what we want because the politicians stand for the people.”

It was evident that the older generation felt hopeful in the fight that the younger generation has been putting up. However, not all young activists are feeling positive for a change.

29-year-old Radhika Gupta and 22-year-old Cheyenne Sundance were eager to voice their opinions but skeptical in the fight for climate change.

“People like having their signs with turtles and plastic bags but they don’t like pressuring their MPs and taking away their power,” said Sundance.

Gupta agreed with Sundance and says a call to make radical change lies within electing the right politicians. “I think we need radical change, there needs to be a change in leadership, there needs to be actual reconciliation with indigenous folks.”

(From left to right) Cheyenne Sundance, 22. Radhika Gupta, 29.

The fight for climate justice has never been just about global warming but it also involves intersectional issues such as the endangerment of indigenous peoples and people of colour. Sundance emphasized the only path that could bring positive change to Ontario’s legislature will be by electing black and indigenous voices into power.

“Black and Indigenous leadership is the first thing. Unless black and indigenous people are leading there is no justice.”

Climate Justice Toronto

Although environmentalist groups in Toronto are not new to the city, what makes Climate Justice Toronto different is its messages and fresh demographic.

Climate Justice Toronto found its origins in Ottawa early this year during the PowerShift conference, a conference that brings together young climate organizers from across Canada.

Members like 17-year-old Ambika Sharma, have focused all their attention to climate justice and juggle no fears when facing adversity.

This high schooler says climate justice is all her school talks about and it would be uncalled for to not be a part of the movement.

21-year-old Cricket Cheng, one of the founders of the group, says the reason behind the birth of Climate Justice Toronto is due to the lack of a younger and more diverse group to represent climate activism.

“The weird thing about Toronto is that it was always this difficult space for young people, who understood the importance of intersectional climate organizing,” says Cheng.

“There’s a lot of groups in the city who dominate the environment scene who are really into things like plastics, and conservation. Which is great, but those spaces are extremely white and they’re dominated by older wealthier people and many of us had tried to enter those spaces and found that it was really alienating. They didn’t understand things like racial justice, and saw it as a distraction when it’s actually crucially linked.”

Cheng and other students used the examples set by other major cities across Canada and how they had their own youth climate organizations that catered to the right issues that involved climate justice.

After a few meetings since the Powershift conference, students from across the GTA joined forces to create the organization in May.

The University of Toronto student Cheng, says during the meetings, students grapple through heavy topics such as disability justice, indigenous lives, and wildlife conservation. Although this can become overwhelming discussions that open up a pandora’s box, Cheng says, it is also something younger activists are more understanding of.

“As young people, we know what it’s like to live under austerity, to live under poor conditions. In Toronto we pay the highest tuition in the country, we have some of the most unaffordable rent, a lot of us are working really crappy part-time jobs that pay us a minimum wage that is not enough to get by and now we’re facing the threat of a dying planet,” said Cheng.

“So for a lot of young people we already know what it’s like to live under these systems; like capitalism, our lives are defined by precarity and instability.”

From racial injustice, endangered species, capitalism, colonialism; the answer to combat climate change becomes tangled in layers of other systemic issues. This can be overwhelming to individuals that want to care about climate justice but aren’t sure where to begin. Cheng says Climate Justice Toronto has been supporting various campaigns over the years and solidarity has been a natural state they feel that contributes to the help for fighting off a system of unfair climate treatment.

“We all suffer as a result of the system that keeps plundering and plundering and so it sort of opens up a pandora’s box but that box is simply the system under which we live and we all know the struggle for economic justice and racial justice these cannot be divorced and we know that our movements are weaker when we separate them.”

The tangible change that Cheng has valued the most is the sense of community created by organizations like Climate Justice Toronto.

“At our meetings, we usually get 10-20 new people at each meeting and many of them leave feeling really refreshed and I think that’s so crucial at this time where a lot of us are experiencing climate grief. Creating this sense of community where people can come together and convert that despair and grief into action.”

For those looking to get involved, Cheng recommends joining any climate justice group that fits their values. For the Climate Justice Toronto group, they have biweekly meetings that focus on community outreach, protesting pitches and even singing as a collective group. The organization also hosts orientations that act as an introduction to the origins of the climate crisis for those that are not fully aware.

“We’ve been talking about returning land to indigenous people, a green new deal, transitioning to a zero-carbon economy by 2030, free public transit; these are the electrifying ideas that actually get people invested in climate organizing its not things like just using plastic straws but it’s about dreaming bigger about the world we want and actually starting to build together,” said Cheng.

Artistic View: This is Garbage

A more unconventional way others are spreading the discussion of climate justice is through a medium that is not always seen for its beauty; garbage.

Canadian artist Sandra Van Ruymbeke presented her art collection This is Garbage, which features pieces of garbage she found across the GTA, at a showcase at the Humber Lakeshore campus. In this collection done by herself and photographed by her nephew, Constant Van Ruymbeke gave a new meaning to recycling.

“I really loved this idea of magnifying garbage to the point that you couldn’t ignore it.”

Van Ruymbeke, says her art process begins by going to city dumps and finding scrap metals or carboard boxes that speak to her. Ruymbeke said she has always been drawn to pieces of garbage being smashed together because it reminds her of abstract art.

“I love the sort of garbage pile concept, so I would collect, get a contractor, high a person with a big truck, went to the dumpsite spent the whole day collecting garbage putting stuff in the back of the truck, rinsing and scrubbing everything down and then it lands to my backyard,” explains Ryumbeke about her process from trash to art.

Ryumbeke says the purpose behind her art is to shift people’s perspective on the way they not only view garbage but anything in their life.

“I think through this work I’ve come to realize that with advocacy and politics there are several pathways you can take, I came across this idea of ‘is it a political act to shift your perception.’ In other words, then you may behave differently, see your world differently and that is really where this work, flows from is this idea where if you interact with the material differently and see it differently the hope is that it shifts your thinking or gives some care and attention to it.”

Providing this new image and meaning behind waste is something Ryumbeke has been most concerned about in her work, especially during a time of a serious climate crisis. She says as a community activist she can only hope to be doing her part by sharing her learning and continuing the discussion for change.

‘Do I want to vote for this?’

Professor at University of Toronto Mississauga Andrea Olive, and chair of the political science department says that although the conversation for climate change has increased there also needs to be an increase in biodiversity laws.

Olive’s main emphasis in teaching includes conservation policy within Canada and the U.S, so she has seen how biodiversity, the study of habitats in the ecosystem, are being neglected.

“We need to do a better job at linking bio-diversity laws with climate change and the solutions have to come together,” said Olive.

The United Nations reported recently that a million species are at risk of extinction in the next century and as a Saskatchewan native Olive emphasizes the importance of the endangerment of the grasslands in Saskatchewan as the species there are in danger of this UN report.

Nonetheless, the best way to combat the endangerment of wildlife is to understand what the ecosystems need before making decisions on how to combat climate change, neglecting on how that might affect an ecosystem.

“Something like the grasslands being the biggest problem, there is oil, gas and coal that we need to transition to solar and wind energy but you can’t just put up a whole bunch of windmills because the grassland is a habitat for birds and birds and windmills cannot coexist,” said Olive.

“Yes we need to address climate change but we can’t do it in ways that are gonna damage wildlife so these conversations need to be happening together for this transition for a different future.”

What this professor would also like individuals to consider if they are feeling overwhelmed with the climate crisis and feel helpless; there is power in a purchase.

“Where people have a lot of power that I don’t think they take seriously enough is as consumers. Anytime there is a financial transaction that’s the same thing as a vote,” explains Olive.

“Every time you buy something you’re voting for it. So when you purchase it you have to ask yourself do I want to vote for this? Do I want the economy to make more of this? If people consume differently the economy will respond.”