Wendy Wang
Oct 7 · 5 min read

“Use less plastic. Eat less meat. Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

A week ago, Toronto had its first Friday for Futures climate strike. The crowd of 20,000 paled in comparison to the one million at the Raptors parade, but that was to be expected. After all, we’ve been able to predict the effects of climate change for the past few decades. The Raptors winning? That’s something we didn’t predict.

Gathering at Queens Park during the September 27 Toronto climate strike. (UofT Medicine / Twitter)

A week before that, in typical high school fashion, my teacher decided to have a class discussion about climate change. What exactly is anthropogenic climate change? How long have we known about it for? What can we do to help out? Disinterested and tired, my classmates and I monotonously recited the answers, “Change in the global climate primarily caused by greenhouse gas emissions,” “Since the late 1900s,” and “Use less plastic. Eat less meat. Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

One classmate, however, blurted, “Why should we do the small things? I feel like only the big things will matter.” To which the rest of the class snickered because everyone knows that the little things add up.

High school students brainstorming project ideas for the 2019 1UP Leaders Lab Design Jam. (1UP Toronto)

But when our teacher subsequently asked, “What are you guys doing about climate change?” No one was prepared to answer because what can the average 16 year old really do about climate change? After a bit of awkward silence, I hesitantly raised my hand to speak, “I work with a non-profit organization, Urban Minds, to increase youth engagement in city building. From my first day as a volunteer to today as the president of their youth program, 1UP Toronto, my mission has never swayed: I want to improve and prioritize sustainability at as large a scale as possible. Through 1UP, I can help educate youth, create better communities, and improve public spaces. We may only be located in Toronto, but that still means increased sustainability and livability for 5 million people.”

Despite this, and the fact that in a class of twenty, I was the only one who could say I was “doing” something, I still feel like I’m doing nothing. Because these days it feels like you’re either Greta Thunberg or you’re nothing. We’re both 16 and yet she has essentially single-handedly started an international movement to fight for global climate action. How can I possibly compare?

For this reason, and because I’m not much of an activist, when I was asked if I would attend the climate strike, I was reluctant to say yes. The reactions I received were half-joking accusations of me being a climate skeptic and doubtful looks from those who knew I valued environmentalism and sustainability. I couldn’t help but wonder how shouting and marching would help if my own long-term dedication to city sustainability already felt like a desperate and almost useless fight. I couldn’t help but think that the strike wouldn’t help at all unless everyone participating was also “doing” something. After all, the environmental footprint of an individual or even a collective is nothing compared to that of the monopolies and the nations of the modern world. Time and time again, strikes, walk-outs, and protests fail to create the corporate and political changes that are necessary to yield long-term solutions. Instead, they usually result in half-hearted political statements and sound-bites edited perfectly for the media’s short attention span.

However, as I lingered longer on these thoughts, I realized how hypocritical it was of me to brush off my classmate when she said it’s the big things that matter, not the small things. A sense of purpose and anger is growing amongst people my age, but so are cynicism and hopelessness. Many of us have grown accustomed to a mindset where we’re constantly searching for opportunities to do bigger things, but while doing so, we disregard our own accomplishments and we forget to remember the “butterfly effect,” where many small actions can accumulate to create great power. When we forget the importance of the little things, we ignore the actions of those who have already done everything they can and those who will do so much more. Every individual can only do so much, but when 20,000 Torontonians, and millions more around the world act against climate inaction, we have power as great as the governments and businesses that run our world. The turn-out at the global climate strikes symbolizes the need for change and the willingness of the youth to be that change.

Nina Gualinga has been advocating for climate and indigenous rights since age 8. (WWF)

But if you want to do something big, don’t let something like age stop you. Too often I hear, “Don’t worry, you’re only 16 and can only do so much right now.” That’s only when you let age get to you. 16-year-olds across the world have taken action against climate inaction, but they receive backlash and words of disapproval instead of the praise and admiration that famous activists often get. So don’t let the “Greta Thunberg or nothing” mindset stop you either. Just keep in mind the importance of the little things, because whether you are 6, 16, or 60, everything counts. It’s not worth the time to dwell on whether or not your actions will impact the world, because regardless of how small of an impact you’ve had, it’s still an increase in change for the better.

A funny but thought-provoking poster I saw at the climate strike.

And if you were wondering, I did end up going to the climate strike. It was loud, tiring, and overwhelming, but an amazing experience nonetheless. I 10/10 recommend you protest for something you believe in, even if you’re “not an activist.”

Wendy Wang is the 2019–2020 President of the 1UP Toronto program, powered by Urban Minds.

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

Wendy Wang

Written by

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

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