Fridays For Future Sudbury marked the four-year anniversary of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s first school strike on Friday, just as its members prepare to bring their case to the courts.
The press conference, held among the trees behind Salute Coffee Company on Armstrong Street on Aug. 26, served as a moment of reflection for the city’s young climate activists to acknowledge how far they’ve come while looking ahead at how much more they want to do.
This year, they wanted to pose a question: What does freedom mean in the Anthropocene?
The question comes from the lyrics of the song “In the Anthropocene” by Nick Mulvey, which Sudbury climate activist Sophia Mathur, 15, said she first heard while attending COP26 in Glasgow in the fall of 2021.
“My parents and I, we heard the song in the pharmacy and we really like it,” she said. “We like the message of in the Anthropocene, in this world that we’ve created, with how we’ve treated our world, what does our freedom mean?”
The Anthropocene is an unofficial unit of geological time used to describe the most recent period of Earth’s history, where human activity began to have a significant impact on the planet’s climate and ecosystem.
That question of what freedom looks like in this era is the basis of this year’s event.
For Mathur, it’s a question to shift people’s perspective: “We want (the) freedom to feel safe. We want people to think, what does your freedom mean? What is it to feel free in this world? Free from climate change, and free from fear of climate change?”
For the young activists, freedom in the Anthropocene means a number of things that they hope to achieve: freedom for kids around the world scared for the future; freedom to enjoy nature and wildlife; freedom people around the world feeling the effects of climate change; and freedom to be alive.
Sharon Roy, a member of Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, said to her, it means being able to enjoy the greenery of the city.
“We have some amazing green spaces in Sudbury that we really need to be working to preserve,” she said. “I thought it was no small irony that recently, we celebrated the planting of the 10 millionth tree, when the Laurentian University green space’s future is still not certain (due to the school’s financial restructuring).”
She added, “I want to thank the kids for bringing these issues forward, bringing them to everybody’s attention, and doing so much hard work for many years to help us try and turn that around.”
While the group has been working away at the local level, Mathur, along with other young climate activists, is preparing to bring her fight for climate justice to the courts.
On Sept. 12, the Mathur et. al. case against the Ontario government will go to trial, two years after a judge denied a motion to dismiss their complaint. Mathur and her colleagues are seeking mandatory orders related to the province’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, arguing that the current goals are insufficient to combat climate change.
“We are using our rights to fight for a livable future for all,” she said.
In the next year, Mathur said the group will be primarily focusing on convincing the City of Greater Sudbury to sign the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a global initiative proposing a phase-out of existing fossil fuel production and a transition to renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.
During the presser, Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger, who is seeking re-election, said he supported the idea of the city signing the treaty, though didn’t make any firm commitments.
“Support for the Non-Proliferation Treaty is something that I do believe squarely aligns with the direction that council has been going in and has fully supported,” he said.
Bigger also reiterated some of the city’s future climate goals, which include reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and building a new zero-carbon facility to house local non-profits in the Junction East project.
Like her fellow activists, Mathur is too young to vote in the October’s municipal election. Though she said she’s pleased to hear Bigger’s support for their work, they have bigger priorities throughout the campaign.
“When it comes to climate change, what we want to see is cooperation,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter who gets elected, we still want to see climate action. We still want to see them talking about this. With the municipal election, a lot of the youth will be looking out for the climate policies and trying to continue to endorse the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.”
Their presentation included a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” sung by YES Theatre’s Maryn Tarini, as well as the debut of a new dance to the song that inspired their theme, “In the Anthropocene” by Nick Mulvey.
Fridays For Future Sudbury is also inviting young Sudburians and anyone who is passionate about climate change to join them on the morning of Friday, Sept. 23, to participate in the Global Day of Action. The event will be held at Founders Square in Laurentian University.