Teegan Walshe doesn’t sit on the sidelines

June 13, 2023 | Updated June 15 – Many people think they have little or no influence on how the world works. Teegan Walshe never gave that notion more than a fleeting thought.  A Petition that this local high school student helped to create and initiate, along with youth from Fridays For Future Qualicum, was recently tabled in the House of Commons.

Teegan Walshe, studying for grade 10 final exams, May 2023, Qualicum Beach, BC.

The Petition asks that all Members of Parliament be required to consult with youth representatives under the age of 18 before Parliament holds the Second Reading of any Bill that directly affects Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Children born in 2020 will face, on average, two to seven times more extreme weather events than their grandparents, said the region’s MP Gord Johns when he presented the Petition in Parliament on June 8, 2023. “Those most affected by climate change are the youngest generation,” said Johns, “as they will live to see the worst effects of this crisis.”

Residents of Qualicum Beach, just a few kilometres from Cameron Bluffs where a 254 hectare forest fire still rages after 10 days on the perimeter of nearby world-renowned Cathedral Grove, cannot be blind to effects of the climate crisis, or to the impending impacts locally and around the province. Excellent story and images of the Cameron Bluffs wildfire were reported by CHEK News on June 12.

Matt MacDonald, lead fire weather forecaster for the B.C. Wildfire Service recently gave examples of just how extreme the wildfire season has become, according to a report by the North Shore News. “After receiving 40 mm of rain last month, the massive Donnie Creek wildfire [in northeastern B.C.] rebounded quickly and made a 30-km run just five days after the rain. And the Newcastle Creek wildfire burning in the north has burned a full metre below the surface due to drought conditions,” said MacDonald.

Fifteen-year-old Teegan Walshe, a self-described climate activist, says “something clicked” for her two years ago when a so-called “heat dome” hit British Columbia. From June 25 – July 1, 2021 at least 619 deaths were attributed to the record temperatures experienced in British Columbia, according to a B.C. Coroner’s report.

Teegan says of the summer of 2021, “That was the summer we started Fridays for Future” in Qualicum Beach.

The strike heard around the world continues to reverberate

In 2018, another 15-year-old, Greta Thunberg, started the Fridays for Future movement in her native Sweden after she began a school strike every Friday to protest the lack of action by world leaders to address the growing climate crisis.

The young Swedish girl’s determined vigil caught the attention and the imagination of the world, spawning Fridays for Future groups around the globe.

Distant Wildfire Original artwork by Kasper Reist, 2023.

On June 9, 2023 Greta Thunberg graduated from high school. On that occasion, she wrote on her Twitter account that it was “week 251” since she began Fridays for Future (also known as School Strike for the Climate), and that this would then be her last school strike.

“When I started striking in 2018,” Thunberg wrote, “I could never have expected that it would lead to anything. After striking every day for three weeks, we became a small group of children who decided to continue doing this every Friday. And we did, which is how Fridays For Future was formed,” she said.

“Some more people joined, and quite suddenly this was a global movement growing every day. During 2019, millions of youth striked from school for the climate, flooding the streets in over 180 countries.” Despite the interruption of the movement’s momentum by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thunberg writes, “We’re still here, and we aren’t planning on going anywhere.”

But, she says, the world is “still moving in the wrong direction, where those in power are allowed to sacrifice marginalised and affected people and the planet in the name of greed, profit and economic growth. They continue to destabilise the biosphere and our life supporting systems.”

“We who can speak up have a duty to do so. In order to change everything, we need everyone. I’ll continue to protest on Fridays, even though it’s not technically “school striking.” We simply have no other option than to do everything we possibly can. The fight has only just begun.”

On June 8, Newsweek reported Greta Thunberg “Rips Russia Over Ecocide in Kakhovka Dam ‘Atrocity.’ This ecocide as a continuation of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine is yet another atrocity, which leaves the world lost for words,” Thunberg tweeted, responding to a video posted by the government of Ukraine that captures an aerial view of rushing water pouring through the broken barriers of the dam.

Building climate crisis awareness

Teegan says, “I grew up in a homeschool co-op that was pretty focused on environmental issues, but I didn’t actually really understand climate change or the climate crisis until about grade eight,” the year she transferred to Kwalikum Secondary School in Qualicum Beach.

School Gardens Original artwork by Kasper Reist, 2023.

There were quite a few kids concerned about climate change she says, especially worldwide because there were a lot of other extreme weather events happening at the same time. The more she learned, the more she realized it was “obviously a very big problem.” Over the years, she says, “I had [absorbed all] this information, and then… I can’t explain it, suddenly it all just clicked.”

“We live in a small community, but we have a fair-sized high school,” Teegan says. “I think other people were thinking about it a lot more [too] but dialogue wasn’t happening. Now that I’ve been involved in Fridays for Future, I’ve met a lot more people who are interested in [the climate crisis and the environment], and who feel the same way.”

Echoing Greta Thunberg, Teegan says when Fridays For Future started in 2018, it was gathering a lot of momentum, building up and spreading to every single continent, including Antarctica,” where, she laughs, “There was even a strike there on a research ship!” She says FFF groups were making a lot of progress, being noticed and getting opportunities to meet with politicians.

Teegan describes Friday for Futures as “mostly a grassroots thing, so every group looks very different. We take on different projects locally or provincially or nationally, but they’re not necessarily related.”

The Qualicum Beach Fridays for Future group occasionally connects with other Fridays for Future groups across Canada, which they did with the Petition to recognize the youth voice before passing any Bills in Parliament that impact Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emission targets. For that project, Teegan says they collaborated with FFF groups in Ontario, Alberta and across B.C.

The rationale for the Petition was simple. “As Fridays for Future is a youth movement, one of our concerns is youth voice and making sure there is accurate representation in Parliament for young people,” says Teegan, people under 18 years of age who are not permitted to vote.

“I and Sierra Foster, another Qualicum Fridays for Future member worked on the Petition,” Teegan says, helping to shape the Petition wording and door-knocking for a month to get enough signatures to have the Petition presented in the House of Commons.

“In our experience with FFF and climate activism in general, often when decisions are being made by governments, we can tell that they might have been a little bit different if they had a young person’s perspective,” she says “because we’re looking ahead at our whole future.”

Teegan enjoyed door knocking. “I’d say it was really positive, in general there was a good response from people. Even if people didn’t want to sign [the petition] we still had good discussions with them and I learned a lot.”

A youth-led Climate Forum was co-sponsored by the Fridays for Future Qualicum group on April 13 in Qualicum Beach drawing an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred people. Teegan joined other panellists, Indigenous climate activist Kalilah Rampanen, Lily Woodbury from Surfrider Pacific Rim and Guy Dauncey, a long-time Vancouver Island environmental activist.

To date, Teegan says they have collected about 1,000 signatures, roughly 400 paper signatures and 600 electronic signatures online, enough to allow the Petition to be brought before the House of Commons again to attempt to persuade Parliament to accept the Petition as policy.

“Right now,” says Teegan, “it’s at the stage that [MP] Gord Johns has read it once in Parliament. He can read it once for every 25 paper signatures and every 500 online signatures.” She says they also have an opportunity to launch another paper signature campaign. “I think we’re definitely going to be pushing for it because the more people hear about it, the more people will start to think about it,” she says.

Schooling the future… generations

Teegan says, “I think definitely elementary and high school should have environmental aspects in their curriculum.”

“In school we learn about the science, but we learn about it in a sort of mellow way,” she says. “But then, we’re continuing to burn fossil fuels, the temperature has risen between 1.1 and 1.33 Celsius, and we’re not stopping burning fossil fuels. We learn about all the facts, but we didn’t really talk about how alarming it is that we haven’t done more about this crisis. That sort of started to sink in over time,” says Teegan.

Asked what suggestions she would have, Teegan dives right in. “I think it would be great if we could include information about climate change, not just in science class but in all subjects so students could really make the connection about how it affects each subject. Social studies, history, geography, and math are all real important when it comes to the climate crisis.”

Riding To A Hopeful Future Original artwork by Kasper Reist, 2023.

“In Social 10 right now, we did have a short section in our geography unit on environmental issues but it would be really great if that was extended to a politics unit where we talk about how political systems work [regarding] climate change issues.”

She is very keen on connecting the dots between math, especially statistics, and the climate crisis. She says, “a lot of misinformation about climate change stems from not understanding how statistics and graphs and science works.” She said using examples like the hockey stick graph created by climate scientist Michael Mann, would enable people to learn how to use these different tools. “Misunderstanding,” she says, “happens a lot, often by accident, when people don’t know how to read a graph.”

Teegan says, “We do have specific classes tailored to climate education in higher levels of high school, like grade 11 and 12, but they’re optional. I think it would be good to some aspects of courses as core courses so everybody gets at least a basic understanding of the problem and actions that need to happen.”

“It would also be great if we could give teachers more resources to teach climate change in the classroom. You could do that district by district or even school by school,” she says.

“It’s definitely an awkward time to be in high school because I’m graduating in 2025,” says Teegan. “In five years from then we’re supposed to halve our [carbon] emissions in the world if we want to stay in line with the Paris Agreement. I’m planning to go on for post-secondary education and that takes five years or so. I have to be balancing school and climate activism at the same time because we can’t wait.”

Never underestimate the power of one person to create real, positive change in the world.