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GUEST COMMENT: We need a climate debate

Our Time organizer Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen speaks to the rally attendees in front of CBC North on Wednesday evening. Nick Pearce / NNSL Photo
Our Time organizer Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen spoke at a demonstration in front of the CBC building on Franklin Avenue on July 18. Gagnon-van Leeuwen is one of the founders of the Yellowknife chapter of Our Time, a national campaign led by young people who want Canada to implement a Green New Deal.
Nick Pearce/NNSL Photo

Two months ago, I was not a climate activist. But the massive wildfire near High Level threatened to cut off our road to the rest of the country and I knew I had to do something. So, I walked into a meeting to help organize a town hall about the Green New Deal.

When I left the meeting, the Yellowknife chapter of Our Time was born.

Our Time is a campaign led by young people across Canada to demand real action on climate change.

Last Wednesday, dozens of Yellowknifers joined me in front of the CBC's northern headquarters during the six o'clock news. We asked CBC to host a leaders' debate on climate change and the Green New Deal in the lead up to this fall's federal election.

Thousands of people across Canada did the same in over 30 cities and communities.
We did this because we are in a climate emergency, and it is about time the media and our leaders acted like it. According to the best science we have, we only have 11 years left to have our act together on climate change.

We need to completely transform our society and we need to do it now. If we don't, we risk passing catastrophic climate tipping points, fundamentally altering the planet from the state that has sustained our civilization so far.

That's why we're calling for a Green New Deal – a bold plan to transform our society to solve climate change in a way that doesn't leave anyone behind.

We are already seeing more and more extreme weather, especially here in the North. Last March, a friend visited me in Yellowknife. I told her – as you, dear reader, may have told visitors – that March is the best time to visit Yellowknife. We would ski in a winter wonderland and dance in the Snowking's snow castle.

Instead, a record heatwave saw temperatures rise above 20 C in parts of the territory. Soon after she got here, the snow castle closed early for the first time in its history. Much worse, ice roads melted overnight, stranding people away from their communities.

In the last election, leaders spent only 15 minutes discussing climate change over the course of five leaders' debates. We cannot allow this to happen again. We are facing a crisis unlike one we have ever known.

We deserve to know which of our leaders has a real plan to tackle it, a plan like the Green New Deal. The only way to make sure this happens is holding a federal leaders debate on climate change.

The CBC is our public broadcaster. As we reminded the CBC last Wednesday, it belongs to us. We fund it with our tax dollars. In an emergency, it has a responsibility to make this conversation happen. We should not have to show up at its door to remind it of its duty.
Some might say that the CBC shouldn't host a climate debate because that would be telling people how to vote. It's not – it's the CBC doing its job.

Scientists are telling us we need bold action right away to preserve our way of life. Covering a national emergency is not taking a political stance. It is the CBC's job to ask hard questions so that people across Canada have the information they need to vote in October's election. And every major political party has put out a climate plan, one they should be ready and willing to argue for during a debate.

As a millennial, I have often heard people say that my generation is lazy, entitled and self-obsessed. Some dismiss the powerful climate justice movements that youth are leading around the world as our latest tantrums.

To me, these movements are proof that we are not lazy, but instead determined. That what we are entitled to, along with everyone else, is a healthy planet that can support a just society. And that far from being obsessed with ourselves, we are coming together with people of all ages to stand up for future generations.

"Don't underestimate the power of people coming together and standing up for what they believe in," our speaker Neesha Rao said at last week's rally. "This is how social change has always happened in history, and it works."

Two months ago, I was not a climate activist and Our Time Yellowknife did not exist. In that time, we hosted a town hall where over 80 Yellowknifers gathered to come up with a local vision for a Green New Deal – almost 9,000 people did the same across Canada.

We spoke to over 350 people who signed our petition calling for a climate debate – over 10,000 people did the same across Canada. Last week's rally made the front page of this paper and was live on CBC North's Northbeat.

We are building a movement. If you believe in a healthy planet and a just society, come be a part of history with us.