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Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky is paying attention to the hundreds of young people who tell her that getting a green job alleviates their climate anxiety. She helped an artists’ collective in Mi’kma’ki (Halifax) ease their climate despair by creating written, movement, sound and visual representations of what is possible in a justice-centred 2030.

As the international policy specialist at Youth Climate Lab, she hosted a podcast for young activists all over the world to tell their stories of grief and climate justice. She is also the director of sustainability and impact-driven work at Emerging Youth Consultancy. Her master’s degree research will explore the power of story and art to engage young people to transform potentially paralyzing climate anxiety and ecological grief into action.

This piece is part of a series of 55 profiles to date that highlight the work of young people across the country in addressing the climate crisis that I have been doing over the past two years. These extraordinary humans give me a lot of hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky’s painting for the Restorying Climate Just Futures Project, which involved artists in Mi’kma’ki (Halifax). Photo courtesy Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky

Tell us about your idea.

I am exploring how meaningful work, group solidarity and art and storytelling help people move past potentially paralyzing grief into action.

I graduated from university with a degree in international development studies and political science just as the pandemic took hold and spent many months looking for work. The climate crisis was so apparent, and everywhere people were struggling. I wanted to help so badly. It was very hard to keep up my morale. As soon as I got work, I felt better knowing I was making a difference. As a fellow at the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity, I surveyed over 200 Canadian youth and learned that finding meaningful work transformed their mental health. I saw artists in Mi’kma’ki move from despair to hope as they began articulating their visions for a better 2030, and experienced my own art deepening my sense of possibility.

Hosting the Building Back Better — Artists Multi-solving podcast showed me young climate activists light up with hope and a sense of empowerment when they engage with others.

What you have to say matters and it is important that you express it, says Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky. Photo by Divya Kaur

How will your master’s program help youth make the connections?

"If we are to practise intergenerational equity, we must protect young people. This requires society to shift stories away from despair to action-fuelled hope. I want to help make that happen," says Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky. #ClimateGrief

I will support a group of youth in Metro Vancouver to share multimedia storytelling projects illustrating their climate anxiety and develop a vision for a better world. A website and social media will allow a wider audience to be a part of the experience.

What drew you to this work?

I have attended rallies and engaged in student politics for almost a decade. When I experienced burnout, I realized activism fuelled only by the urgency, the nature of the stakes and the enormity of the challenge can actually make things worse. I gained a sense of balance from steady, meaningful work and saw how transformative it was to engage with others towards a positive future. If we are to practise intergenerational equity, we must protect young people. This requires society to shift stories away from despair to action-fuelled hope. I want to help make that happen.

Sabrina and her mother Lynn Skotnitsky. Photo courtesy Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky

Did the way you were raised shape your ideas?

My parents made careers helping people. My mom is a leadership coach and has worked all her life for women’s rights, equity, diversity and inclusion. I went to my first women’s march in utero! My dad is a doctor and an immigrant from Mexico. Our travels there showed me how privileged we are in Canada, with clean, reliable water, modern toilets, and other aspects of our lives we take for granted. It never seemed fair to me that my families in the two countries would be so differently affected by issues like poverty, corruption, climate change and COVID-19.

My parents have been very supportive of my bisexual identity, but I know other young people are not so fortunate. These experiences fuel my sense of social justice and inform the ways I engage with the climate movement. For example, it matters to me that youth, Black, Indigenous and people of colour, newcomers and people in remote areas are both more severely impacted by climate change and face greater barriers to the low-carbon economy.

What gives you hope?

Young people are the wisest, most inspiring, engaged and innovative people I know. If we can work in solidarity and channel that energy to address the multiple crises facing us, I truly believe we can build a better future.

Sabrina Guzman Skotnitsky at the 2019 Power Shift Climate Convergence protest in Ottawa. Photo by Desirée Wallace

Do you have any advice for other young people who may be searching for their own path?

What you have to say matters, and it is important that you express it. There are so many ways to communicate. Tell your stories in whatever medium gives you a voice. If it speaks for you, others will hear it.

What would you like to say to older readers?

Young people cannot — and should not — be expected to do it alone. Intergenerational collaboration is essential. I know young people can make it hard for you to participate. We can all be cruel and thoughtless. But the mentors in my life tell me they get a lot out of the relationship too. Try to have a conversation and stay curious long enough to earn the trust of the young person that you will listen to them.

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