On Sept. 8, a mother stood in front of a crowd in downtown Duncan, holding her child who carried a sign that read, “Climate Justice Now.”
“I fear for them,” she said to the roughly 75 people gathered in Duncan’s City Square. The crowd gathered to push for action and voice their concerns about a climate emergency, which they say jeopardizes their future.
Organized by the Cowichan Climate Hub, participants held signs high and many took to the microphone to share their experiences and make a call to action. The non-partisan event took place amidst the backdrop of a Canadian federal election — one in which climate change is a major issue for voters.
“I can’t act alone to protect them (children) from climate change,” the mother said.
Fire department shifting focus due to climate change
David Slade, a member of the Mill Bay Fire Department, spoke about how in the past five years, the fire department’s focus has shifted from responding to mostly smoke detectors and chimney fires to wildfire response, which are more common because of climate change.
He urged for a shift away from fossil fuels to help curb increasing temperatures in the Cowichan Valley.
“If we continue with business as usual I believe it’s only a matter of time until some of our communities, like Cobble Hill, Maple Bay, Youbou or Crofton, suffer the same tragic fate as Fort McMurray in Alberta or Lytton in B.C.,” he said.
“Vote like it’s an emergency,” Slade added, spurring the crowd into a chant.
Students speak up
Ellie Barnhart, a 17-year-old student from Cowichan Secondary School, took the microphone, expressing her fear for the future and what it may bring.
“What’s really terrifying about the climate crisis and its effect on my future is that there is no reassurance besides change. There is no way to make me or anyone else with climate anxiety feel better besides action,” she said.
The youth encouraged others to vote in the upcoming federal election, in favour of action.
A student spoke about her need to switch careers due to climate change and Guy Johnston, a commercial fisherman, spoke about declining salmon populations due to warming waters.
“It’s a man-made problem, so it is a problem we can solve, and I think that’s what we need to do,” Johnston said.
Farmers, environmentalists voice opinions
A Gibbins Road farmer spoke about his experiences with climate change, saying the topic has brought him, and his children, a great deal of grief and anxiety. Another farmer, whose family has had their hands in the ground for three generations, said he feared for future generations and urged the government to take action against climate change.
Cowichan Watershed Board executive director Tom Rutherford said the Cowichan Valley is defined by its rivers, and the fish in it.
He said with “the way things are going,” in most people’s lifetimes salmon stocks in nearby rivers will be depleted.
“I have kids, I know their lives are not going to be anywhere near as full of opportunity as mine was.”
This, he said, causes him sadness. But he pointed to the pandemic as proof that the human population can adapt and change when faced with extreme crises. Though he is neither a climate scientist or health-care professional, he said, in his view climate change is a greater threat to humankind than COVID-19.
“We know we can change things,” Rutherford said. “Vote for the person that will push the change we need.”
The organizers of Wednesday’s event asked supporters to demand several things from the Canadian government: Spend what it takes to effectively fight climate change, create new economic institutions to get the job done, stray away from private for-profit industries, shift from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures, tell the truth about the severity of the crisis and create a sense of urgency about measures needed to combat climate change.