The plan was, when they marched down from St. F.X. campus to Antigonish Town Hall at the corner of Main and College streets, before proceeding to Chisholm Park on the west end of Main, participants would stay on the sidewalk and not disrupt Friday noon-time traffic in the downtown. You know what they say about the best laid plans.
The turnout for the St. F.X. Walk-Out for Climate Change Sept. 27 was so strong, between students and community members, staying on the narrow sidewalk would have, literally, resulted in the front of the line reaching town hall with the back of the line still very much on St. Ninian Street, barely off the St. F.X. campus. So, before reaching connector College Street, folks moved to the street to stay within shouting distance of their fellow marchers and, quickly, town bylaw officers John Pellerin and Shaun Smith jumped in to, at least, keep the crowd moving orderly and quickly pass town hall and on to Chisholm Park, limiting the disruption as much as possible.
Climate crisis message sent – loud and clear.
No Planet B
“Today, I speak to all the politicians and aspiring politicians present in the crowd,” Kamy Roberge Carrington, St. F.X. Student Union representative for students of African descent, said, to start her speech; one of a few stirring ones given prior to the march.
“This is the beginning of our extinction. There is overwhelming evidence that the health of ecosystems on which we depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. Food security is increasingly at risk. Nearly one million species are at risk of becoming extinct within decades. Without radical action this is likely to become a reality.
“Science also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference and we must make a difference because there is no planet B. The young people are speaking through youth led movements and we won’t stop until our voices are heard. All of us gathered here today. This is only the beginning of a series of non-violent direct actions.”
Prior to the speeches, fourth-year sociology student David Eliot, one of the event’s organizers, spoke to reporters about the event.
“What we’re doing is, we invited all the students at St. F.X. to walk out of their classes and come down here to protest for more climate action, because our leaders really are lagging behind,” Eliot said.
“Even when they make promises on climate, we’re seeing they’re not kept. And even with the promises they make, we see those fall way short of what the scientists are telling us is needed to be done if we want to sustain a level of warming which is sustainable to life on this planet.
“So we’re out here trying to demand some action; make it visible, make it known, this is what people want. Especially with the election coming up, it can’t be more important than making sure politicians, from every party, know people want to see change … they want real, effective climate policy.”
Eliot talked about the event being part of a global initiative and taking part as part of the Global Week of Climate Action which was highlighted with the impassioned speech by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg at the U.N. Climate Summit on Sept. 23.
“[She] spoke very passionately and amazingly; I wouldn’t be surprised if it bumps up the number of people here,” Eliot said, as the large crowd formed just outside the new Mulroney Hall building.
“She is one of best advocates; there are quite a few out there now. It’s an issue I’ve been involved with for the last couple of years and it’s amazing to see, in the last year, people are really starting to come out and are realizing how dire this situation is,” he said.
Eliot alluded to the recent Hurricane Dorian weather event which devastated the Bahamas before moving up the Atlantic Coast and having a significant impact on the Maritimes. He talked about the rise in severe and often tragic weather events.
“I don’t know the numbers but it’s pretty clear it’s connected to climate change,” he said. “So we’re seeing the results right now and it’s going to be our children who feel it in the future, and our grandchildren.
“And what gets me the most is; we live in Canada, we’re pretty protected from the effects, but we’re one, per capita, of the highest polluters in the world. And it’s not the people who are casing this issue who are seeing the effects, it’s people from the global south, South America, who are really seeing the effects first, getting hit the hardest. But most of the emissions can be attributed to a couple of corporations in major western nations.
“It really has to be us here who rise up and say, we want these corporations to stop and be responsible for what they’ve done, and we want governments to hold them responsible and start making policy which will promote a better future for all of us.”
Eliot has a message for deniers too.
“The chances we’re wrong are so small; 98 per cent of scientists agree, and they don’t have an agenda, they just do science,” he said. “And if we are wrong, then we have an amazing green energy grid and much more sustainable power. But if we’re right, we’re saving an entire species.
“And not just our species, this is an extinction level event; thousands of species will go extinct. I think we really have the moral duty to act, and that is what today is all about.”
Students Ryan Small and Kirsty Malay were amongst the many who left the classroom to attend.
“We’re just here to support the environment, support surviving; our futures, the futures of plants and animals, all living organisms,” Small said, noting all of his classmates were participating.
“I’m an environmental science student and I’m here protesting the lack of legislation and protocols on climate change and how we can do better … we’re running out of time to do that,” Malay said.
To conclude her speech, Roberge Carrington quoted Thunberg.
‘“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you,’” Roberge Carrington borrowed, before finishing on her own strong note.
“We want change, and we want it now because the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”