Monday, August 31, 2015

Two Ontario Nature Youth talk about Environmental Activism

A portion of the poster Mariel created.
When Etobicoke native, Mariel Lepra joined Ontario Nature in the fall of 2013, she immediately proposed a campaign for the Youth Council.  Deeply concerned about the decline of bee and other pollinators’ populations, Mariel suggested the campaign advocate for the banning of neonicotinoid pesticide use in Ontario.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t an area on Ontario Nature’s radar! It took this (now) 18-year-old youth to make it a focus of the organization.

“I’d read about bee and colony collapse disorder in books like Keeping the Bees, and about neonicitinoids and wanted to help.  Staff at Ontario Nature exclaimed, “You opened our eyes,”” Mariel says.

Receiving plenty of positive feedback from the general public, the campaign consisted of getting people to sign postcards and petitions. Mariel and friends hand-delivered over 1,200-signed postcards to Queen’s Park. She also co-wrote a letter to Premier Wynne on behalf of the Youth Council, urging her government to ban the use of neonics.

The Youth Council members created a video as well.
They are working with partners to encourage Ontarians in planting pollinator gardens and native plants.

Interest in Nature

Mariel has always been interested in nature and remembers hikes with her father as a little child: “He taught me not to fear insects,” she laughs.
I ask her how her friends perceive her activism: “friends from high school will tease me about being a vegan, but they respect what I do.”

To my query about why there are not more youth acting on behalf of the environment, Mariel says that people are apathetic in the face of what seems like insurmountable problems like global warming and deforestation, “So why bother?"
"In terms of activism, it seems easier to relate to social issues, than to the environment,” she says.

Add to this, the notion that climate change is something in the future, a long way off, ““I won’t be around by then so it won’t affect my lifestyle” is how many young people think of it,” Mariel reflects. “That mentality is absolutely disgusting.”

Parting words from Mariel are: “You can make a difference.”
Mariel suggests starting off by doing something small like recycling or signing petitions or talking to your parents: “You don’t have to be radical to be an activist.”

Mariel worked as the Youth Intern for Ontario Nature this summer. She will be attending University of British Columbia and hopes to specialize in marine biology.

Moe Qureshi is a graduate of environmental science and chemistry program about to skip over his Masters and start right into his PhD.
Founding member of the Youth Council at Ontario Nature, Moe has been working with the organization as a mentor and youth advisor. His main role is to seek funding for the Youth Council (a group of around 35 young leaders from across the country).

“Youth organize our events, so that they can grow and learn.  I oversee it.”

I ask Moe what was the motivation behind helping to found the Youth Council? He explains that although he was doing environmental work at school and with a local environmental organization (in Peel region), “there was still more I could do. I felt that I was missing out!”

Moe attended Ontario Nature’s first youth summit and met many like-minded young people who were just as passionate about nature as he was.

“The thing that really sparked me was that some of them were wondering how they could start their own eco-clubs or organize stewardship events. I was doing those things already. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but to other students in communities that weren't as responsive, it was harder to do.”

Moe was concerned that without proper support and nurturing, youth talents, ambitions and motivation would be squandered. “It was about seeing students who were hungry to do more, to make a difference in the world and didn’t know they could. Youth council is connecting these students–sharing our knowledge, such as who to talk to, how to raise funds, how to advertise, how to talk to their principals. Students need resources.”

Things are changing rapidly. Moe points out that only five years ago, not every school had an eco-club. Now they do. “When I was in high school, environmental science wasn’t a course. It is now. I think it will only get stronger and stronger. “

Do youth care?

“They do care. The key is, if they see other youth acting, it’s more likely that they will get involved,” Moe says. “Whenever you have events that demonstrate that other youth are there and engaged, then it is less threatening. It’s like, students their age are getting involved, why don’t they?”

What is the hook?

“For us, we were showing students that with or without them we are moving forward, and it is up to you if you want to be a part of that.”