This summer, I turned 18. Let me rephrase that: As of only a few months ago, I am eligible to vote in the upcoming federal election – and this Monday, I plan to.

At first, I was less than thrilled at the prospect of having electoral power. As a young voter, I find it difficult to feel connected to a political world I’ve never really had to worry about before. Up until recently, I’ve usually dismissed politics as something I don’t care about or I don’t like. It is easy to overlook the ways some issues really affect us from the protective bubble of growing up. But recently, through getting involved in activist groups like Our Time, I have come to realize for myself that my statements of disdain for politics have been misplaced.

Emma Butler, 18, pictured at a climate event in Yellowknife. Butler plans to cast her first-ever vote in a federal election based on their take on climate action. Supplied photo

Climate change, among others, is an issue whose importance is obvious to me as a young person from the North. This year, I joined Our Time in calling on the CBC and the Leaders’ Debate Commission to host a federal leaders’ debate on the climate emergency and a Green New Deal. A green new deal is a bold vision for a greener future in our country that leaves no one behind. It extends beyond just confronting pollution, by shifting the economy to align it with what is called for by the most reliable science available, with a commitment to Indigenous rights, racial justice, job creation and support for workers in transitioning industries. While both entities unfortunately refused to host the debates, this campaign made me realize that climate change is a political issue.

When we talk about climate change, it is common for the focus to turn to things like driving less, composting, and waste reductionthings that we average people are taught to do in the hopes of saving the planet. I want everyone to understand that in order to prevent irreversible change that would threaten the way we live and the survival of life on Earth, these efforts alone will never be good enough. Fundamental change needs to happen. While there is certainly a role for individual action in the reduction of carbon emissions, individual habits are not the real problem: as much as 70 per cent of said emissions are produced by 100 companies. They need to be specifically targeted and held accountable by governments around the world.

These are major changes, not tiny efforts; long-term goals, spanning well beyond the four-year term. They’re changes I’m committed to being a part of, having recently begun my studies in renewable energy engineering. The focus must shift from how to make things bigger and cheaper to how to make things sustainable. Systemic change is vital to the survival of our planet. Once I understood this, I understood that the concern and love that I have for the planet would be a deciding factor for me when I face a choice in the ballot box next week.

Our Time youth volunteers across the country have gone through a process of meeting with federal candidates across the country to determine who has the experience and drive necessary to advocate for these changes, through a plan like a Green New Deal, once in power. We’ve endorsed 35 candidates from different parties across the country, and now they need our support.

Youth, join me at the polls. We typically have the lowest percent turnout of any age group, which is one of the reasons why we have often been dubbed apathetic. I disagree with that label — I see so much passion and resolve in my peers; from social justice, to mental health and climate change, we’re not afraid to speak up for what we believe in. It is a matter of believing in our responsibilities as individual voters, and realizing how powerful we can be as a collective voice. We are so many, there’s no reason why, if we all just show up and vote, our priorities shouldn’t be reflected in the outcome.

Politicians, draw us in. Show us you care about our futures, our survival beyond the four-year term. Show us you have a plan to combat the emergency looming over us. We care about this issue, we want to know, we are asking—no, demanding—you to speak and act on it, so listen.

Others, too, do not feel stuck with a frontrunner candidate. Every vote counts. We can join our nominal voices and elect a champion for a Green New Deal, for progress in the direction of healing our planet.

This movement is one for a better world. This issue is one that affects everybody. Join your voices to ours, demanding reform and dedication to life. When the world speaks up together, we are not easy to ignore.

We have 11 years, the science says, to have completed all of the necessary changes. I am just a kid, with my life ahead of me, and I don’t want it to be in a world where cities and creatures I once knew no longer exist, where nature is damaged beyond repair. We are already being affected here in the North – temperatures, animal migrations, and weather patterns are changing noticeably.

We aren’t alone on this planet – we share it with other countries, other peoples with other ways of life, and other animals. It is not right for us to neglect to do our part to protect it. I want to vote. I want to contribute my voice to determining what my country collectively stands for, and I want my country to stand for a Green New Deal and the combating of climate change. I know I will be voting for my future and for the future of the planet I know and love. I invite you to join me.

Emma Butler


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