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For UBC Climate Hub Founder and Director Grace Nosek, creating a hopeful community around action on climate change is crucial to community wellbeing, empowering youth, and building a more just and resilient future. In this installment of Conversations in Wellbeing, the UBC Law PhD candidate and climate activist shares her thoughts on building resilience in the face of crisis, and why collective action, joy, hope, and agency are more important than ever. 

We need to give youth leaders the time, space, money, and support to do their work. Now more than ever, young people will be looking for hope, agency, and joyful community in the face of interconnected crises, and the world will need leaders empowered to guide us to a more collective, informed, resilient, and just future.   

As high school and university students grapple with cancelled milestones, isolation from their peers, and disappointment over drastically changed educational experiences, there is a growing sense from young people that life has been cancelled before it even really got started. Experts were already alarmed about the rising toll of the climate crisis on young people’s physical and mental health. Now, youth around the globe must grapple with the twinned crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and a warming world, as well as systemic racism and a host of other issues. 

One of the most powerful balms for climate despair is action.

Thus, youth climate justice groups are doubly important—they give young people an avenue to channel their grief while effectively advocating for systemic global action on climate justice. Such groups are well positioned to serve the same multipurpose role in responding to COVID-19. They are helping to keep communities as safe, informed, and connected as possible as the pandemic unfolds. They’re at the forefront of advocating for justice as we rebuild. And, they are giving young people hope in a moment of deep grief and uncertainty. But youth climate groups, already chronically underfunded, are poised to be even harder hit by budget cuts across governments, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations. Institutions of higher education can and should play a key role in supporting youth climate organizers and empowering young people to lead us to a more collective, informed, resilient, and just future.   

In recent weeks we have seen how COVID-19 compounds existing inequalities, creating profoundly disproportionate harms for different communities, including racialized groups, Indigenous peoples, and unhoused people. Recognizing that, like COVID-19, climate change is inextricably linked to a multitude of systemic injustices, youth climate justice organizers champion climate action plans that address those many injustices. For example, youth climate organizers have highlighted how white supremacy drives climate injustice.

Youth around the world have also pushed for some version of a Green New Deal—a comprehensive national policy for a rapid shift to 100% renewable energy that leaves no group behind, especially frontline communities and communities dependent on the fossil fuel economy. In the US, the Green New Deal framework introduced by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey included a job guarantee, labor protections, a requirement to obtain the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples, and universal healthcare, among other provisions. Many are arguing that a Green New Deal is more necessary than ever to rise to the massive and inequitable economic, public health, and climate challenges now facing the world. 

Collective action, collective wellbeing

As scholars have pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic creates a huge collective action problem that requires getting the public to think and act for the long-term, collective wellbeing of their community—by, for example, following social distancing rules—even though such thinking can be challenging. Climate change has often been described as the biggest collective action problem of all time. In the past several years we’ve seen how youth climate strikers have become expert in communicating the importance of taking bold action to disrupt the status quo in the present to stave off catastrophe in the future. 

Those in the youth climate movement empower the public to believe their community-level actions make a difference when joined with the collective power of millions of others working across the world, even if they can never see the tangible result of their work on the climate system. This is exactly the mindset we need people to embrace for social distancing policies to be effective—that their decision to stay home matters even if they never know whether they contributed to lives being saved. 

Sorting fact from fiction 

There is an avalanche of misinformation about the pandemic circulating around the world, often with deadly consequences. There is also emerging evidence from the US that those who do not believe in manmade climate change are less likely to engage in social distancing. For decades, climate justice advocates have had to identify and push back against climate misinformation campaigns spearheaded by the fossil fuel industry and its allies. They are adept at identifying misinformation campaigns driven by profit or political gain and can help the public sort fact from fiction around the global pandemic. Climate justice advocates have spent years honing their ability to effectively communicate scientific consensus to skeptical members of the public. We need to continue training young climate leaders to spot misinformation and to engage the public on both climate and COVID-19.

Creating a community of care

COVID-19 has left people around the world feeling lonely and isolated. Many are grieving—for both the pain and loss of the present and the fear of a terrifyingly uncertain future. Youth climate justice organizers have spent years learning how to face visceral ongoing and anticipatory grief by building deep social bonds, often across geographic boundaries. Emerging research shows that strong social bonds could be key in protecting vulnerable populations during crises. Youth climate justice organizers are already adapting their skillsets to build community and care around the pandemic. For example, such organizers were pivotal in creating “COVID-19 Coming Together,” a mutual aid group with thousands of members in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

So how can we support youth climate justice organizers?

We need to find ways to give high school and university students either money or academic credit for their time as they lead on these issues. We also need to give them a genuine seat at the table in governments and institutions of all levels. The Climate Hub at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is one exciting example of what that support could look like. After enthusiastic campaigning by student organizers, UBC funded the creation of the Climate Hub, a hybrid entity combining significant financial and administrative support from the university with a governance structure that allows student staff and volunteers to shape priorities for the organization and collaborate with stakeholders from across the university and beyond. 

We need to give youth leaders the time, space, money, and support to do their work. Now more than ever, young people will be looking for hope, agency, and joyful community in the face of interconnected crises, and the world will need leaders empowered to guide us to a more collective, informed, resilient, and just future.   

Join Grace, and other panelists, December 9th for a panel discussion Leveraging the Okanagan Charter to Bounce Forward From the Three Major Crises of our Time: COVID-19 Pandemic, Systemic Racism, and the Climate Emergency: A Canadian Post-Secondary Leadership Virtual Dialogue Series

Learn More 

Celebrate the power of friendship and community with the UBC Climate Hub, in this video about how we can all find hope, joy and community in the climate movement.

View Video


Photo Credit: Avery Holliday, David Suzuki Foundation's "Finding Your Climate Community."

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