The Place to Find Hope

On November 30, I attended a public gathering dedicated to protecting old growth forests of Vancouver Island. Over 150 people attended a slide and information presentation in Victoria. The images of significant last standing giants of old growth were breathtaking. Many of them are found within a short distance of Port Renfrew in the pocket of old growth called ‘Avatar Grove.’ The fact that the Forest Practices Code is not sufficient to save the remnant pockets of southern Vancouver Island old growth is shocking. The recent provincial government decision to re-organize the departments, creating a ‘Department of Natural Resources Operations’ has muddied the waters. It is not clear how it will impact conservation goals. The news that the research branch of the forest service is being shut down as part of re-organization is troubling.

Pockets of old growth are being discovered and documented by the organization that sponsored the meeting, Ancient Forest Alliance ( Ancient Forest Alliance is new on the scene, founded in January 2010 by Ken Wu. In less than a year it has grown quickly as an important voice in forest protection in BC.

What struck me about the AFA team was its idealism, its energy and its youth. For those of us who have been in conservation battles for decades, it was electrifying to listen to a new generation of young activists who are passionately committed to this land and its forests.

Adriane Carr, Paul George and I found it reminded us of ourselves in the mid-1980s fighting to protect Gwaii Haanas. Yet, these young activists have a different energy. Something hard to articulate is their knowingness—an awareness of the fact that the lines they draw in the sand are around tinier and tinier ecosystems.

As you read this I will be at the climate negotiations in Mexico, where the early dispatches of calls for action are from the global climate youth movement. Over 1,000 young people from forty countries have made their way to the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP16). Youth are at the forefront of the call for global climate action.

The chair of COP proceedings has the discretion to recognize representatives of civil society. While there is no obligation to do this, UN practice allows two interventions a day from those not speaking for nation states. On the first day, youth demanded protection of global forests as carbon sinks. A young New Zealander, Emma Moon, spoke on behalf of global youth in demanding a proper classification system for forests, distinguishing between natural forests and plantations.

On the third day, youth took the stage again. One of my colleagues, Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu, who serves as climate critic in the Green Shadow Cabinet, is already in Mexico for the conference. She wrote that the youth provided ‘a moment of hope.’

A twenty-two-year old young woman, Hanna Smith of the UK, spoke on behalf of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. ‘We are reaching the end of the first (Kyoto) commitment periods, and we—the International Youth— are asking you to look beyond your national interests and towards the interests of us all as global citizens,’ Smith told UN leaders. The youth urged negotiators to take seriously the proposal from Grenada that emission reductions be made aggressive and sufficient to avoid a global average temperature increase of 1.5oC. According to Adriana, the youth were ‘broadly applauded.’

Meanwhile, closer to home, on October 21, United Nations Day, students from Salt Spring Island schools held the 5th Annual Children and Youth Peace Assembly. They launched the ‘peaceworks’ project asking all of us to sign on on-line to a ‘command statement’ calling on ‘the United Nations and all the governments of the world to bring world peace and the complete end to all wars on planet Earth by November 11, 2018—100 years to the day that the treaty to end all wars was signed (

Looking to our children for leadership is not really new.

We have embedded in our collective consciousness (regardless of religion) fragments from gospel (‘And a little child shall lead them…’), and song, (‘we rise again in the faces of our children’) But there is a peril in recognizing youth leadership. It lies in the generational cop-out: ‘these will be issues for the next generation. They will be wiser….’

Ending war, finding peace, eliminating poverty, saving what’s left of ancient forests and rare species, and weaning our addiction to fossil fuels are not issues with long time lines. The need for action is well past its ‘best before’ date.

We cannot abandon our children to solve these issues where we have failed. It is our responsibility as adults, no matter how grey our hair or aching our bones, to fight ever harder for our children’s future. It is in that compelling honesty of youth, in their energy and clear-eyed statements of the changes that must come, that we should find inspiration and resolve.

In the face of evidence to engender despair, it is the young who keep alive in us that most courageous of emotions—hope.

Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and youth emeritus. For full disclosure, Ken Wu is also working part-time on her campaign to be elected as the MP for Saanich Gulf Islands.