As part of a series highlighting the work of young people in addressing the climate crisis, writer Patricia Lane interviews Lister de Vitré, a teenager designing Green New Deals for Vancouver Island communities.

Lister de Vitré

Lister de Vitré and his friend, Ben Mason, brought a Green New Deal to their village of Cumberland, B.C., in May. This summer, these two teenagers are designing a roadmap for a sustainable future for their entire region.

Tell us about your project.

I had just finished Grade 12 when I read Naomi Klein’s book On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal. While it made sense to me, I thought nothing less than country or even worldwide change would matter. It felt like a dull worry in the background since I did not believe there was anything I could do. But then, just by chance, I saw a flyer sent by the Council of Canadians in our family’s mailbox. It said local government action might inspire senior levels of government to act, and on its website, suggested residents could encourage local councils to adopt a Green New Deal. This is a small town, and I was on a gap year. Cumberland has only a mayor and four councillors, one of whom I knew, so it felt doable.

Coun. Vickey Brown encouraged me, but I was nervous because she explained I would have to make a speech to council. She also pointed out that to have an impact, it needed to be more than just me.

Lister de Vitré (left) and his friend Ben Mason (right) pushed for and won a Green New Deal for Cumberland, B.C. Photo submitted by Lister de Vitré

I was a bit stumped because most of my friends are not very interested in politics. But my friend Ben Mason had taken an intensive sustainability and social justice course in high school, and he immediately agreed. He is funny and creative and performs music in public. So now we were two! My neighbour helped me get Rotary support and suggested I contact the school parent advisory committee. Both groups asked their members to sign our petition. We went to council with a list of resolutions and a significant amount of public support.

Council worked with us to fine-tune our proposal to make it relevant to Cumberland. The motion passed unanimously and staff are now working out the details.

Can you give us some examples of the new direction to staff?

Working from a Council of Canadians playbook, two teens from Cumberland, B.C., persuaded the village to adopt a climate and social justice plan. #ClimateAction

I am proud of how seriously council treated the proposal. The plan must include meeting Paris accord environmental targets, green jobs, Indigenous rights, anti-racism and equity measures, housing, independence of elected officials, transit and transportation, energy, drinking water, wastewater and food security. For example, affordable housing is a big problem for migrant, racialized and Indigenous people in our community and the plan must demonstrate how to meet housing and climate targets.

What are some of the barriers that lie ahead?

There are plans to build a natural gas vehicle refuelling station. Staff are now working to ensure the fuel is renewable. Current development rules encourage the use of natural gas for heat and power. But fracked gas is not a clean fuel, and there is growing evidence it is hazardous to consumer health. We have waited so long to introduce carbon reduction measures, that meeting the Paris targets may seem overly ambitious to many. I see politicians who pretend to care about what kids are saying, but then don’t change direction. Changing the rules is hard work.

What are the next steps?

We are both leaving to go to university in the fall. We are taking this region-wide over the summer, and in the fall, I will remain engaged, but hope the Comox Valley Youth Climate Council will support a solid implementation plan.

What keeps you awake at night?

Sometimes I think about the vast scale of the universe and the problems confronting this planet and everything I can do seems irrelevant. But then I get back to real life. Being able to bring about this change has been very empowering for me. Ben and I are just ordinary teens. We made this happen.

When Lister de Vitré pitched a Green New Deal to the village of Cumberland, B.C., Coun. Vickey Brown helped persuade her colleagues it was a good idea. Photo submitted by Lister de Vitré

What gives you hope?

Things are changing. I suppose we can say that the ball got rolling 30 years too late, but it is rolling. I am learning to hold two truths at once. Things can be bad and things can be getting better at the same time.

What advice would you give other youth?

Things are often easier than you think. Yes, I have white, male, economic privilege, but I also have the privilege of youth. Older people often tell me they don't think they could have done what we did. We got a hearing because we are young. It's like Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss every shot you don't take.” Look around you. You know people who know people who make decisions. You have a network. Use it.

What would you like to say to older people?

We stand on your shoulders. You have been doing this work for longer than I have been alive, and I am grateful. I see you. I really hope others will read this and see you, too.

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