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The mobilization is less flamboyant and more divided than five years ago, but very much alive, say activists.

Climate activists want to regain the momentum of 2019

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Exactly five years ago, 150,000 young people marched for the climate in Montreal.

  • Violette Cantin (View profile)Violette Cantin

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On March 15, 2019, hundreds of thousands of young people marched around the world to demand more action on climate change. In Montreal, the demonstration brought together 150,000 people, mostly students. Five years after this unprecedented mobilization, how is climate activism among Quebec youth? March 2019. It was really this feeling of having accomplished the impossible collectively, says the man who was only 16 years old at the time and who was co-spokesperson for the organization Pour le futur Montréal.

The year 2019 was a good year for climate mobilizations: on September 27, nearly half a million people accompanied Swedish activist Greta Thunberg in the streets of Montreal, in a demonstration of unprecedented scale. The movement had the wind in its sails, until the course of history changed in 2020.

The pandemic has dissolved structures on campus, where we had thousands of people involved, laments Albert Lalonde, now a law student at the university. These structures, which allowed very rapid and large-scale mobilizations, simply evaporated, because everything became dematerialized with the pandemic and distance learning.

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At just 21 years old, Albert Lalonde has already had more than five years of climate activism.

The head of mobilization at Greenpeace Canada, Louis Couillard, agrees. The strongest movements are also the ones that fall the lowest, I think. This is what we saw with the pandemic. The campuses closed, we stopped meeting.

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We meet him in downtown Montreal, while he is taking part in a sit-in to demand an investigation by the Environmental Public Hearings Bureau (BAPE) into the Northvolt battery factory project in Montérégie. A crowd of around 200 people gathered; you can see a lot of families and graying faces there.

Louis Couillard readily recognizes that current environmental actions do not have the scale of those of 2019.

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“There will be a before March 15 and an after March 15 , and this, in Quebec and across the entire planet,” declared Louis Couillard in 2019.

But behind the scenes, things are being organized, he explains. At the time, it was really beautiful what was happening. There were attempts to organize, but it was chaos, it was difficult to retain members, to quantify whether we were moving forward or not. Now, things are more settled, but there is a momentum that needs to be rebuilt.

On March 15, 2019, Louis Couillard was 22 years old and he was on the street, like so many of his comrades. In our opinion, there will be a pre-March 15 and an after-March 15, in Quebec and across the planet, he declared at the time.

Today, here is his observation: There are still people who are very mobilized, but there is no longer the same buzz, it's x27;is safe. There is no longer that momentum.

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The mobilization to demand a BAPE investigation into the Northvolt factory project in Montérégie brought together around 200 people.

The support mobilizer within the organization Mothers on the Front and student at Concordia University, Ashley Torres, believes that youth is indeed well mobilized, but for several distinct causes.

We are experiencing precariousness at the moment, she notes. Students are experiencing the housing crisis, which has really worsened since the pandemic. There is also the increase in tuition fees for English-speaking students in Canada. Louis Couillard, for his part, cites the genocide in Palestine as an issue that concerns young people.

There are a lot of struggles, that means that x27;we are a little more divided. But the energy is still there, believes Ashley Torres.

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The energy of the climate movement is still there, believes the young mother and activist Ashley Torres.

Within the organization Environnement Jeunesse, which raises awareness among young people about environmental issues, we notice that several of them live out their climate activism through very concrete actions.

Like setting up a solidarity fridge in your CEGEP, for example, or a sharing space where you can take food, explains its general director, Sarah-Katherine Lutz.

She believes that the economic situation can limit the involvement of some. Rent costs more, groceries cost more. […] Young people tell us clearly: they have to work more, which means that their time available to get involved decreases.

Large mobilizations for the environment have still taken place since the pandemic: in the fall of 2021, more than 100,000 Quebec students went on strike for the climate.

We must see these demonstrations as one element among a set of means, recalls Professor Oumar Kane, of the Department of Social and Public Communication at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

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A few thousand people marched for the climate in Montreal on September 24, 2021.

He notes in particular that organizations are actively mobilized to make environmental pleas to governments or in schools.

I don't think we should look at 2022 or 2023 and realize that there haven't been as many people as #x27;in 2019, and say to yourself that it is therefore a failure. There are a plurality of means that are implemented by these organizations which are very active.

And he believes that Quebec could witness new large-scale climatic events… before long.

We are going to have a more favorable situation, a more favorable moment in two, three or five years. And at that point, we're going to have something extremely large… But we can't expect to have that every year.

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