“Let’s hear it for the world,” shouts Lianne Bertoni Lambert.
The mother of three is holding a sign that reads “Wake up world, there is no Planet B,” standing with two dozen protesters on Four Mile Creek Road, in front of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Town Hall.
Friday, March 15 was the day for a world-wide Global Climate Strike, wherein children and youth everywhere were encouraged to walk out of school and let their elected officials know how disappointed and angry they are about the lack of government action regarding climate change. In some cities these events are taking place weekly, in some monthly.
The movement started when 15-year old Greta Thunberg decided to stand in front of the parliament buildings in her native Stockholm, Sweden every Friday, demanding social and climate justice. Thunberg has since been nominated for a Nobel Prize, and has spawned worldwide action.
That action included Niagara, with local youths and their parents letting their lord mayor and council — as well as any passersby — know about the dangers of ignoring climate change.
“This is great. Everyone’s excited and proud to be here,” says Lianne. “It’s an important issue. This is pretty cool,” she says, beaming with enthusiasm and pride. Her three children are among the strikers, and the organizers.
Her daughter Kaitlyn,13, says, “I’m a firm believer in our generation changing the environment.” Kaitlyn’s sister Morgan, 12, says, “It feels good, it means a lot to be here. Our resources are limited, it’s getting harder to live on this planet.” She concludes, indicating something of the mental state of youth today, “If we know positive changes are happening, we won’t have to worry anymore.”
Morgan has some suggestions for ways to begin to address the issues. “Recycle, reuse clothes, reuse stuff. Bring your own thermos to coffee shops,” she says. “We could try to shut down some factories and use them for more environmental purposes. We could close down some clothing factories and see what people would do. I’m wearing my mom’s sweater from 1993 and hand-me-downs from my older sister,” she says proudly.
Simona Berardocco, 11, says, “People have to start realizing that someone else is not going to fix their problems.” She also has some suggestions for what could be done to make things better: “Raise gas prices so it’s more expensive to drive. Make more biking paths. Make traditional cars more expensive, and electric cars less expensive. Find alternative fuel sources.”
Kaitlyn was inspired by Thunberg when she wrote about her for a current events assignment at school. She decided to coordinate the event with her friend Elena Berardocco, 13, and their combined siblings. “I didn’t expect too many people,” she says, surprised by the turnout — including Niagara MPP Wayne Gates and Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
Kaitlyn’s suggestions for beginning the work on tackling climate change include better transit available to kids, and “more renewable energy sources for public buildings.”
Devon Fornelli came from St. Catharines with his son Paolo, having found out about the event online. “We have to show the government representatives that this is important to us,” he says. “The environment is everywhere; we’re stuck in it.”
When NOTL Coun. Norm Arsenault replied to Lianne’s invitation to local politicians to join the strike, the girls began to realize this was ‘real,’ says Lianne. In his email, he says, “Kaitlyn and Elena and all children around the world need to be congratulated for taking a stand and saying ‘Enough, governments, you are messing up our futures.’”
Lord Mayor Betty Disero was also part of the strike, talking with the students and waving at honking cars as they passed by. “I think we really need to act locally,” she says, pointing out that one of the first actions this council took was to ban plastic water bottles from council meetings. “We are also paperless,” she says. “We have a push on tree planting, and we created a tree bylaw to make people think about the impact of trees on the environment,” the lord mayor continues. “We are looking at a permeable substance as an alternative to asphalt, so water doesn’t run off and instead trickles through the surface.”
Expressing enthusiastic support of the youth and their strike, she says, “We can bring this forward at this council, we can bring it forward to regional council. I’m looking to my colleagues to see what we can do. This kind of event gives youth even more ownership of this community.”
Rahel Schmitz, mother of Elena and Simona, says, “This is their first exposure to this kind of thing. I think this is a valuable exercise.” Rachel believes this kind of action is very important for her children. “This is not just about confidence. They have never known the climate we have. This is their norm — these extreme temperatures and crazy winds are their normal,” she says with frustration, the wind howling around her and blowing signs out of the kids’ hands. “We need to unite and address the issues. No blaming, no finger-pointing, let’s just fix it and fight for it. I think this is something that can bring us together.”
In terms of the actions the family is taking at home to fight climate change, Rahel says, “I’m very conscious of plastic, of the car I drive. We have reduced our meat consumption. The little things all add up and you gain momentum.” The NOTL resident continues, “A lot of hesitation comes from feeling overwhelmed, and the fear of giving up all of your creature comforts. Rather, how can I keep my creature comforts but also all other creatures can keep theirs? How can we all benefit?”
Rahel, Lianne, and other parents at the protest say they will support their children in any future strikes. “I’ll drive them if they want, or they can walk,” says Rahel, “but it has to come from them.”
Coun. Arsenault sums it up succinctly: “Grown-ups need a smack in the head. Climate change is here, there’s no doubt about it. People are still polluting like there’s no tomorrow.”
“It’s all about baby steps,” he says. “But Niagara-on-the-Lake can take a leadership role: there are better ways.”