A picture is worth 1,000 words, or perhaps more.
A photo surfaced this weekend that captured a unique perspective on climate change crusader Greta Thunberg’s visit to the Alberta legislature in Edmonton last Friday.
In the photo the petite 16-year-old is standing at a podium, with her back to the camera, and an immense crowd surrounds her. It’s safe to assume that not everyone in the crowd saw eye-to-eye with the outspoken Swede, but a significant detail in the picture is the attentiveness and eye contact directed at Thunberg. More than 8,000 Edmonton youth, climate activists and community members were listening to a teenager speak.
It doesn’t matter on which side of the debate you stand, Thunberg did what many have tried and failed to do. The teenager united people at the climate strike - days before Canada’s federal election - and incited attention around our planet’s state of current disrepair.
While Thunberg was short on immediate solutions - especially directed at our provinces’ stalled oil and gas industry - she successfully shone a light on the issue of climate change and hopefully inspired more of our youth to take a stand and speak out themselves.
Thunberg’s visit could have even resulted in more millennials casting a ballot at the polls last Monday.
Every politician has asked: “how do we engage our youth and empower them to vote?” Well, this is one way. We need more young people stepping up and speaking out. Furthermore, we need to listen to our younger citizens. Mostly unbeknownst to us, the younger generation is watching from the sidelines and hanging on to our every word. We don’t want our young people to feel detached and uninterested. We need to invite them to take part.
According to Elections Canada, in the 2015 election the participation of voters aged 18 to 24 increased by 18.3 percentage points to 57.1% (from 38.8% in 2011). This is a good sign as this is the largest increase for this age group since Elections Canada began reporting demographic data on turnout in 2004. In that same age group, those eligible to vote for the first time did so at a slightly higher rate (58.3 per cent) than those who had been eligible to vote in the 2011 election (55.1 per cent). Statistics from Monday’s election aren’t available at this time. Let’s hope that the upward trend continues.
While critics of Thunberg came out in droves in the social media comment section of every account of the event, the critics that actually attended were outnumbered. That’s not to say they weren’t visible and heard. Edmonton AJA Louden painted a portrait of Thunberg on a graffiti wall in the city and not even two days later a man painted “This is Oil Country” over her face. The portrait has been vandalized with messages several times since.
A popular - and understandable - sentiment from this group is the resentment of others coming to our part of the world and (what feels like) shaming Albertans for relying on the oil and gas industry to support themselves and their families. Thunberg was careful not to call out the industry directly, though.
One can hope that Thunberg knows enough to understand that even Albertans can be hopeful. We can come together, from all sides, and carefully plan our children’s future on this planet.