Why There's Hope

Climate Action - Why There’s Hope

On Thursday, March 2nd, 2023, a remarkable event was held at the Harmony Center in downtown Owen Sound. While outside of the building everything was quiet, inside, there was an air of excitement and anticipation of what would transpire that day. Fifty students in Grades 5 - 8 from six local schools participated in the inaugural Owen Sound Youth Climate Action Conference (YCAC). The conference was hosted by the Climate Action Team Owen Sound.

The morning began with engaging presentations from various community leaders. In the afternoon the students met in groups with volunteer facilitators to discuss what climate issues mattered most to them. Each student then was challenged to develop a community climate action project that would address an aspect of their concern. Some of these projects will be on display at the OS Public Library next month on Earth Day, April 22.

From the start, the energy in the room, emanating from the young students, was palpable. For many of the students it was perhaps the first time they met with other peers to talk about Climate Change and climate action. For some, it was the first time they discovered others also cared.

East Ridge Community Grade 8 student, Rowan Law, shared her enthusiasm saying, “I practically ran here because I was so excited about the chance to make positive change. I have learned there are a lot more resources I can choose from to help, because I never fully looked into how much was being done in my community. Now I know I can do a lot more so I am really excited.”

Throughout the day, the atmosphere of hope and excitement pervaded the event. As one of the afternoon facilitators, I, myself, was there to witness it. Almost every last person I spoke with commented on it. I tried to pick apart what it was and where it came from. There certainly was hope and energy in spades on the part of Hilary Coburn, the elementary school teacher who conceived and organized this first YCAC.

Coburn said she chose the senior elementary school demographic because these students are not only becoming active as students in school, but as young people in the community - “Elementary kids are at a stage right now where they are avid and keen about these things. We have four or five years to work with them while they are still in Owen Sound as residents and as students.”

Then there were the key presenters. They all exuded conviction – that so much can be accomplished when people work together for a common goal. The presenters included community coordinator and climate activist Joachim Ostertag; climate scientist Dr. John Anderson; filmmaker, environmental activist and poet Liz Zetlin; as well as City Councilor and Men’s Program supervisor, Jon Farmer. Also participating were Emily Mansur, Saugeen Ojibway Nation Coastal Waters Monitoring Manager and Natasha and Christopher Akiwenzie representing the Bagida’waad Alliance, along with Dylan White of the Bagida’waad Alliance Environmental Group.

The presenters outlined how both art and science can contribute to public outreach on the urgency of climate action. John Anderson eloquently explained how the climate is changing and why we need to act. Joachim Ostertag spoke earnestly about the process of change, while Liz Zetlin inspired everyone with her talk about the power of one’s voice and using art to drive action on climate change. Councilor Jon Farmer engaged the students with his talk about three main skills to promote change – curiosity, caring, and imagination. The presenters’ messages of hope and positive action seemed to resonate with the students. Hillcrest Elementary Grade 7 student, Keaon Elder said, “It is so inspiring seeing how much work people put into climate change. I never knew anybody cared this much.”

Without a doubt, though, it was the presence of so many earnest and upbeat young student leaders in the room that was the obvious source of the energy. And hope. Expressions on the young faces attending alternately changed from rapt attention to concern, inquiry and laughter.

The students in the room that day personified hope. For the rest of their lives, the seeds of awareness sown that day will create ripples that will expand with the actions they take and through the people they encounter.

Eighth grader Rowan Law says there are many ways she hopes to make a difference in battling climate change, including planning rallies, encouraging people to leave their cars at home, and planting trees. “Everything you do makes a difference,” she said.

Hilary Coburn believes this too. "Our local youth deserve the opportunity, and are our best hope, to become climate action leaders and heroes," said Coburn. "Our youth also possess a magical power to have local politicians, businesses and leaders listen to their questions and creative problem-solving ideas."

Ultimately, hope is the binder, the key ingredient that holds everything together. And if we can continue to reach others, especially the younger generations that are coming up to appreciate and accept the challenge of facing climate change head-on, then there’s hope that we’ll adapt and thrive.

For many years, I had a Margaret Meade quote stuck to the wall above my desk at work. When I changed jobs, it went along with me. It continues to strike a chord to this day.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s support these young climate advocates as they start on their journey of hope and positive change.

Author: Miriam Oudejans


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