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Why Youth Involvement in Politics Could Save Our Planet | Op-Ed

Editor’s Note and Disclaimer: Elizabeth Fraser ran in the Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock riding for the Federal Green Party of Canada as one of the youngest candidates in Canada’s 2019 election. 

On October 21st, 2019, over 18 million Canadians voted in their 43rd federal election.

Getting the Youth to Show Up: Voter demographics, especially those involving youth voters have always been the most interesting aspect of elections to me. Although Elections Canada has yet to release information from the 2019 election, I believe that past voting trends among youth were likely to have continued. It would be a safe bet to assume that overall, there was a pretty low youth turnout.

I think we, as young people, can do better.

This past fall, I ran as a candidate for the Green Party in my home riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. It was one of the best and most difficult experiences of my life and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. Like any first-timer, while I learned so much, there were more lows than highs. So why would I put myself through it again?

  • Because I believe that political involvement by youth has some of the greatest potential for impacting real change on environmental issues facing our world.

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Eco-Anxiety: The climate crisis is pressing, and we are under its time crunch. A lot of young people today are becoming increasingly affected by this, and it manifests through strong feelings of ‘eco-anxiety’. These feelings are often followed by a desire to get involved in environmentalism and advocacy. While this can take many forms, action is often taken through social movements, as they tend to be more accessible:

  • Through spreading awareness,
  • Attending climate protests, and
  • Signing petitions.

These are all important initiatives that more and more young people are undertaking.

It is the first jump towards making a statement, saying: “This is my future and I’m not going to take this sitting down”. Not everyone can be Greta Thunberg and every role is important in advocating for climate justice.

Ultimately, for me, I was left feeling unfulfilled. I was having all this anxiety about the state of our environment, my future, and my potential children’s future. Every time I saw an article or report on the climate crisis models and their escalating time frames, I knew that to make a difference and ease my mind, I needed to do more. Education and protests weren’t cutting it anymore, I needed action.

My journey to becoming a political candidate started in September of 2017. I had just begun my undergrad in Public Affairs and Policy Management at Carleton University. Most of my peers were involved in various political organizations and political parties; I felt a little left behind. So, I reached out to the Green Party and expressed my interest in being more involved. That spark of interest led to the founding of Carleton’s Green Party Club. My involvement within this club presented me with the opportunity to challenge myself as an advocate by putting my name forward as a candidate in the 2019 federal election.

I know politics isn’t for everyone. It’s often something young people shy away from, especially if they are still developing their own ideas and beliefs. But there are often bigger problems young people have with politics. The social movements that so many of us are a part of are often at odds with the government in power. This is completely justified, as governments rarely place importance on environmental issues that the youth feel is urgently needed, and this is incredibly frustrating.

I think most of us feel as though most politicians don’t reflect or relate to what we care about most.

Politicians have a distinct set of priorities and, more often than not, those priorities do not advocate for the environment.

So, we protest. We tell them to do better. If this is what we want, this is what our politicians should represent. It is the job of MPs and your Prime Minister to listen not only to you but to scientific evidence, not those who are doing the most damage to our planet, who have conflicting environmental interests, or who hold a short-sighted view of our impending crisis.

So, what do we do? This same question is one I have pondered for a long time. Social movements are important in moving important issues forward, like educating masses and acting as a physical representation of how much we care about the environment and its future.

But what if you want to feel more active, and as though you are contributing more? Well, that answer came to me through my involvement in politics.

  • I have come to understand that political involvement, regardless of party affiliation, can help young people, and all people, feel more empowered and better contribute to change.

The reality of many environmental issues is that they stem from political decisions. Laws and regulations from our governments determine how much companies can pollute, how large or small protected areas are, and how quickly an economy transitions to low or net carbon. But if there isn’t political will on Parliament Hill to implement changes, then our collective attitudes towards climate and environmentalism will either stay the same or worsen.

So how do we get the political will there? How do we get politicians in power who are willing to fight for these changes, to make real improvements, and have a real impact on our future?

The climate crisis is not a partisan issue, leaders and members from all parties need to be at the table and lend their voices.

Well, to me, the answer is kind of simple: you get more young people into politics. The same people who want to address the issues, communicate its urgency, and are willing to confront conflict to do so.

Elizabeth Fraser and her fellow candidates / Source: Elizabeth Fraser

There is a power in social movements that can be transferred to politics. The youth who lead and are involved in these movements have a strong voice, are dedicated, and know what they want. If more young people are encouraged to get involved in politics, to add their voices with whichever political party they best align with, they can influence change within our country. This involvement doesn’t have to mean running for office. Being a political candidate is not for everyone. But there are many other ways:

  • Volunteering for a local campaign or with your EDA,
  • Becoming a member of your party’s youth organization,
  • Joining a campus club, and
  • Most importantly: voting.

There are so many different ways and they all matter. They all mean more youth will vote and that more youth will, directly and indirectly, tell their government what issues they care about and how they want their government to act.

I hope that by empowering other young people, no matter their political orientation, to vote with an environmental conscience can make a difference. While I didn’t get involved in politics for the environment, I ended up finding one of the best platforms for spreading my message of environmentalism.

There is no better time than now to start getting involved, to start voicing your concerns about the future of our environment in the political arena.

As young people, it is easy to feel as though we will never have enough power to make a difference. But through political involvement, we can have a say in the future of our planet: with our voices and our votes.