The young and the climate anxious

One green city

Climate anxiety has pushed many young people to jump to action. Noticing their governments are not taking steps to avoid climate catastrophe, they have begun to work together to try to ensure a livable future.

For Cameron Armstrong, climate anxiety feels like constant “oh no,” a nagging feeling on a loop or a heavy weight on her chest.

“It’s an anxiety that feels like I need to be working on something,” she says. It’s never-ending, even in your free time. I think that’s a common feeling for young people. (The climate crisis is) a slow problem we are chipping away at, but not fast enough.”

It’s partially this anxiety that fuels her to wear multiple hats – seemingly all at once – in the youth climate movement.

When she isn’t organizing with Youth Climate Lab, sitting on Climate Reality Canada’s steering committee or speaking on water issues at COP15, she’s studying microbiology at the University of Manitoba with the intention of working in climate policy in the future.

While environmentalism takes up much of her life now, it wasn’t until she took an elective class on a whim with Dr. Myrle Ballard that climate activism became her focus. Before then, she had planned to pursue a medical degree.

After the semester, Ballard invited Armstrong to help her with her research in Lake St. Martin First Nation in Manitoba’s Interlake, investigating the impacts of environmental racism on the community.

In 2011, the provincial government decided to divert water that would have created a “super flood” in Winnipeg to Lake St. Martin, a community of more than 1,400 people. Residents of the community were displaced from their homes and lived in hotels around downtown Winnipeg for years. Many of these people are still facing the effects of the flood from over a decade ago today.

“(Working with the people of Lake St. Martin First Nation) was really beautiful, and I think that that’s definitely something that’s really shaped a lot of the environmental work that I’ve been doing recently, carrying that message of community and traditionally underrepresented voices in a lot of environmental decisions,” Armstrong says.

From this experience, Armstrong realized those who are affected the most by climate change are often those whose voices are heard the least. Those who are poor, racialized or disabled are statistically more vulnerable in a warming world.

Now, as the program specialist for Youth Climate Lab, she is trying to carve out a space for those voices by mentoring other young BIPOC folks through the group From Root to Sky.

According to Alan Diduck, a lawyer, professor and the retired environmental studies department chair at the University of Winnipeg, grassroots organizations have always played a part in keeping governments accountable.

“Community engagement and public-interest litigation have been driving forces in keeping law, policy and environmental performance moving forward,” he says. “The evolution of environmental law in Canada includes numerous examples of successful legal challenges and social activism that have helped improve environmental law and policy.”

From Root to Sky aims to empower young activists to take “collective anti-racist climate action, through dialogue, networking and learning opportunities.”

“One of the things that is really centered in that program is the recognition that a lot of the systems of oppression, colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism, all of these things that are actively working against our communities ... are also the systems that are perpetuating the climate crisis. So we need to be looking at all of these things together,” she says.

While the work is happening slowly, it’s comforting to know there are people like Armstrong at the helm of it.

Allyn Lyons grew up on Treaty 1 territory. It’s pronounced uh-lyn lions.

Published in Volume 78, Number 13 of The Uniter (January 10, 2024)

Related Reads