Listening to Today’s Youth

September 17th, 2021

Katimavik volunteers discuss climate change outside Peterborough City Hall. Georgia MacKinnon wants fellow youth to remember that climate action and climate justice are political and that youth above the age of 18 can take action by voting in this election. (Photo by Georgia MacKinnon.)

By Georgia MacKinnon, Katimavik volunteer with GreenUP

As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out, “the human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.” Today’s youth are and will be most impacted by how we do or do not take climate action in the coming years. We need to hear their stories and be moved to action by them, for them. This week we are sharing a story from Georgia MacKinnon, a recent Katimavik volunteer with GreenUP.

 If you told me in January 2021 that come July 2021 I would be living in a house with ten other Canadian youth, volunteering for GreenUP in Nogojiwanong/Peterborough, there is no way I would believe you. Yet here I am. This summer I packed up my belongings, left my home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and joined my Katimavik cohort.

Katimavik is a nationwide program focusing on volunteerism and truth and reconciliation. Youth participants spend five months in several different host cities, taking on meaningful work with local organizations as well as committing to weekly truth and reconciliation learning and other community-building initiatives. I’m two months into this adventure and it has already been life changing.

Ever since I was a little girl the natural world has piqued my interest, whether I was stopping in every neighbour’s yard to sniff their flowers or gardening alongside my family. Upon arrival here in Peterborough, I was happy to discover a local non-profit with a focus on the environment on our list of possible volunteer placements.

I began my volunteer work with GreenUP by helping with their Girl’s Climate Leadership Program. Between bike rides and building planter boxes, it was inspiring to see future leaders being introduced to possibilities and hope for sustainable, inclusive ways of living on our planet.

After my time with the Girl’s Climate Leadership Program, I went on to work with Active School Travel Peterborough, specifically focusing on School Travel Planning. School Travel Planning is a community-based process that uses data to identify barriers to active modes of school travel (like walking, biking, wheeling or busing) and develop school-specific action plans to address those barriers.

I worked on survey data analysis, mapping applications, communications, and promotions, and on developing tools for stakeholder engagement. I traveled to Lakefield, Ontario by taking the new rural transit bus, The Link, which connects Curve Lake First Nation with the Township of Selwyn and the City of Peterborough. I attended the local farmer’s market to help promote the School Travel Planning project coming to the Township of Selwyn.

Katimavik volunteers carry lumber and other supplies back to their house in Peterborough where they built a Little Library to provide free access to books in the neighbourhood. (Photo by Georgia MacKinnon.)

This experience has helped me refine my future plans. I came into Katimavik knowing that I would like to attend university for something involving social justice, science, and environmental action. During my time volunteering with GreenUP, I learned about the field of environmental engineering.

While helping out at the Girl’s Climate Leadership Program, I had the privilege of meeting Jen Feigin, a founding member of a sustainable building school called the Endeavour Centre. Her talk of engineers inventing new sustainable building materials sparked my interest in the field of environmental engineering.

My experience has helped me to recognize that youth like myself are able to get involved in climate action and make a difference. For example, when I was in elementary school, I joined a group of students and with the help of a teacher we founded our school’s composting system. This composting program is still up and running, almost ten years later. I am proud to think of how I helped reduce ten years’ worth of methane emissions by diverting that food waste out of our city’s landfills and into composting. These actions may seem small at the time, but the impact matters.

Youth can take many steps towards climate action:

  • finding active and alternative ways to travel to and from school and work;
  • volunteering with local environmental non-profits;
  • bringing a garbage bag and gloves on walks with family or friends to pick up trash along the way;
  • or growing some vegetables at home to reduce food shipping impacts.

For youth like myself who are 18 and older, an important climate action can be registering to vote in the upcoming election and reminding others to do so as well. Climate justice and climate action are political.

A participant in the GreenUP Girls’ Climate Leadership Program builds a planter box with guidance from Jen Feigin of the Endeavour Centre School for Sustainable Building. Katimavik volunteer Georgia MacKinnon spent part of her summer supporting this program. (Photo by Genevieve Ramage.)

Growing up during the climate crisis can leave me feeling defeated. Media coverage of our changing planet is overwhelming. Volunteering with GreenUP and participating in Katimavik have also taught me the importance of taking time to focus on yourself and debrief. I would like to remind young people engaging in climate action to take time to rest and to have fun. My Katimavik house schedules multiple self-care blocks weekly and we’ve taken time to get outside and play sports or games together.

We must also celebrate the small wins that society and individuals are making towards a sustainable future. Taking the time to read about discoveries and victories that people across the earth, young and old, have made can be a pleasant thing to do on days when the media seems to be only negative.

The experiences I’ve had over the past few months have shown me that you are never too young to make a difference and that climate action is possible. We need every young person to do their best in the fight for our climate. Overcome inaction and the fear of being imperfect. There are so many amazing people working hard in their communities and recognizing everyone’s efforts is a step in the right direction. If more youth can experience the kind of education I’ve been privileged to have access to with Katimavik and GreenUP, we, as a global community, can be hopeful for a better future.

Georgia MacKinnon feeds some birds at the house she and her fellow Katimavik cohort stayed in while they were working in Peterborough this summer. Connecting with nature is a key foundation for Georgia and other youth who are fighting for climate action. (Photo by Georgia MacKinnon.)

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