As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Teagan Yaremchuk, a community organizer for Nature Canada.

Author’s statement

With the realities of climate change, inequality and the pandemic, one could be forgiven for choosing despair. But the world is no better off for that, so I choose to study hope, a discipline that requires practice. Here, treat yourself to a few minutes of joy in the next instalment of my series profiling amazing — and yes, hopeful — young people contending successfully with the climate justice crisis in Canada.

Teagan Yaremchuk on a hike. Photo submitted by Teagan Yaremchuk

Teagan Yaremchuk

At Nature Canada, Teagan Yaremchuk, 28, supports community groups across Canada to harness the power of nature to overcome the climate crisis.

Tell us about your work.

Left unchecked, climate change will undermine Nature Canada’s efforts to protect the environment. When communities protect and restore their own natural areas, these “nature-based climate solutions” can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). My job is to support local communities to make the changes they need.

Since February 2020, we have engaged thousands of people around this idea, many who represent our network of over 900 organizations. So far, over 100 groups have asked for our help.

Why are nature-based solutions helpful, and what are some examples?

Sometimes we help stop development of a wetland to preserve crucial biodiversity and regulate seasonal or extreme weather flooding. Or we might support regenerative agriculture with tree planting and soil regeneration to allow an area to regain its natural balance.

Some of the best climate solutions are found in nature. All we need to do is nurture them. #ClimateSolutions #Nature #ClimateCrisis

Perhaps a community wants to plant native trees as a soil preservation, biodiversity and carbon sequestration strategy. Preserving grasslands is a priority for some Prairie communities. In coastal areas, eelgrass conservation can make a big impact. In urban areas, local people might want to encourage green roofs, permeable surface covers or other nature-based solutions.

Where does justice come into this?

There is a strong correlation between areas with environmental degradation and racialized and Indigenous people’s homes and communities. Protecting the natural world benefits us all and reduces this systemic discrimination.

Why is this so attractive to so many people?

People who work the land understand the intrinsic value of soil, trees, grasslands and wetlands and the species they house. But a lot of small towns and rural communities have been left out of the conversation. This is a way to harness local knowledge and expertise.

How do you help?

People really care about their home environment. They know what needs protecting. We provide workshops to educate people about the science and technical requirements. We have templates and coaching available to support community outreach and reach decision-makers. Perhaps most importantly, we link communities to others doing similar work, so they can share knowledge and encourage each other.

Teagan Yaremchuk (centre) with her father and sister. Photo submitted by Teagan Yaremchuk

What inspired you to do this work?

I grew up in a family that valued giving back to the community and spending time outdoors. My Ukrainian immigrant grandparents were heavily involved in their Thunder Bay community by being part of their church board and choir for many decades. They worked with other organizations to send older Canadian hospital equipment to hospitals in Ukraine after the Chernobyl disaster, and set up a scholarship for high school students from their villages in Ukraine to send them to university. My dad helped bring active transportation to our hometown of Almonte, Ont., including bike lanes on roads and walking and biking forest trails. It was natural to me to choose work that supports people to harness the power of their local ecosystems to protect us from a rapidly changing climate.

What do you worry about?

It scares me that we have known about the life-threatening dangers of climate change since before I was born and are still nowhere near close to being safe. I see Indigenous people continuing to try to defend the land, but being criminalized for doing so.

What gives you hope and keeps you going?

The response to our approach from so many people from such diverse communities has been so inspiring. Canadians are alive to the dangers, and they are acting. I truly believe they will insist that decision-makers become much bolder.

Do you have any advice for young people?

Don’t just ask what the world needs. That will overwhelm you. Instead, ask what brings you joy and find a way to match that with making a difference. Climate change is so all-encompassing that we are all needed and everyone matters.

What would you like to say to older people?

Sometimes older people caution me to worry less about justice and focus on only the environment. But that is not how we win. If we are to act together as a nation, we must include everyone, and that means we have to link income inequality, racism and gender with environmental degradation and carbon pollution. Make room for the urgency we bring to the conversation and welcome these tough conversations.

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