Student Life Centre hosts panel discussion on solidarity in climate crisis activism

Panellists share experiences from the forefront of the climate strike movement

The Student Life Centre hosted its Climate Justice Youth Activist Panel March 23 over Zoom.

When four youth panellists joined together on Wednesday for a discussion about the climate crisis, they brought attention to how it intersects with lived experiences and social injustices. 

The Student Life Centre hosted its Climate Justice Youth Activist Panel March on 23 over Zoom. Panellists included Albert Lalonde, Jana Jandal Alrifai, Samia Sami, and Alienor Rougeot, individuals who have made notable impacts regarding equity and justice within the climate crisis activism movement in Canada.

The work of the panellists includes one of Canada’s Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists, a member of the La Rose v. Her Majesty youth litigation, co-founder of Fridays for Future Toronto, and organizers with Climate Strike Canada.  

Tanisha Hasan, Student Life Centre operations and sustainability manager and moderator of the event, began with opening remarks. 

“We have an awesome, diverse group of panellists; however, this does not represent all the voices and people within climate justice […] we are only speaking from our own experiences and positionality,” Hasan stated. 

Regarding initial interest in climate crisis activism, panellists spoke to personal experiences in their youth with awareness and protest. 

Rougeot said there’s no single path to activism. She recalled reading and presenting biodiversity laws in school, later realizing that in her work ion women’s rights and refugee issues, climate was in the background. 

“Climate change and climate justice were going totally unaddressed,” Rougeot said. 

Alrifai detailed her participation in national events around climate justice, recalling the Global Day of Climate Action two years ago as an important moment. 

“I’ve always been interested in politics in general, and this unfortunately is a political issue. I always wanted to do more, contribute something,” Alrifai said.

“The intersectionality of it means when you are doing climate work, you are doing so much other work too, which made me feel like I was doing something.”

Lalonde said he followed a classic path of being a kid concerned about the climate. 

“Counter to the individual action narrative [..] I was really more into social justice, while still being very interested in the environment,” Lalonde said. 

Sami recalled her research project on the implementation of sustainable energy in remote communities in Canada. 

“The lack of clean electricity in remote communities is one of the major contributors to poverty,” she said. 

According to Sami, there are 292 remote communities in Canada, many powered by diesel generators that pollute significantly through greenhouse gases. 

“We do have the funds available, resources, technology required and people,” she said. 

“We have everything to address climate change and climate crisis issues, but what we don’t have is to look at climate crisis through more of social and economic plans, through a human rights lens, addressing it towards the most vulnerable of our communities and societies affected disproportionately.” 

Regarding how positionality informs a stance on environmental problems and solutions, the panellists acknowledged both barriers and privileges present. 

Alrifai called for a solution to the systems that allow the climate crisis to happen, arguing that monitoring carbon footprints and only using sustainable actions will not solve the problem. 

“I am a young person of colour, I am Muslim [and] the system has not worked and will not work for me, in terms of economics. Climate change is going to happen again and again unless we take the profit out, unless we take the marginalization out,” she said. 

“That’s what I strive for in the activism work that I do.” 

Rougeot said her work is less about barriers and more about responsibilities.

 “I am a white, cis gendered woman […] how I have approached organizing climate response with that identity has been upholding other voices and highlighting their work, that’s true– but it’s also realizing which spaces […] I have access to that other people do not,” she said. 

“It’s knowing which spaces I have access to and realizing that when I am in them, I have a big responsibility.” 

Rougeot also discussed the weaponizing of emotions against predominantly young women in spaces of climate activism. 

Lalonde addressed the systematic criminalization of Indigenous and BIPOC mobilization in climate activism, as well as his own positionality. He also pointed to the inequality in labour within the climate strike movement, stating that the burden of activism often falls on women in marginalized communities. 

“Toxic masculinity is very much tied to our relationship to the climate,” he said. “Women as caretakers are the ones that are the most impacted by the climate crisis.” 

Addressing fatigue and burnout within the movement, panellists detailed the need to maintain life and youth outside of activism, recognize and address the signs of deradicalization, travel within conservation spaces, spend time within the community, and allow for breaks. 

When asked how to maintain momentum despite lessened media focus on environmental action, the panellists described making connections within a local community and having the humility to recognize when other activist groups are more central to the conversation. 

Knowledge is not always linear, Lalonde said. Sami added that weak periods in social movements are important to re-educate on social and governmental policy, prior to mobilizing people. 

Recalling favourite activism moments, panellists described high school organizations and strike mandates, late-night organization calls, overwhelming numbers at recent climate strikes, and research knowledge acquisition and presentation. 

The panellists recounted mixed feelings about social media, celebrating the connectivity and resource accessibility. 

However, they acknowledged that activism can be idealized through images and that social media can cause petition fatigue and a struggle for realistic self-portrayal. 

The panellists urged students to begin improving self-awareness, join local climate activist communities, outreach to organizers, introduce petitions and motions in the community, seek out resources, and work towards personal contributions to climate activism.  

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