These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Anna Erickson has been organizing real action on climate change since she was eight years old. Now 18, this Victoria, B.C., green, civil engineering student won a Youth Climate Activism Award from the Institute for Sustainability Education and Action (I-SEA) for getting her Grade 3 class to collaborate with her and a friend in writing, illustrating and publishing a book for other elementary school students, organizing effective resistance to developing a park in her neighbourhood when she was in Grade 7, and her leadership in the student strikes in 2019 and 2021.
Tell us about some of your organizing efforts.
In Grade 3, I felt very sad when I learned that so few coastal Douglas firs are left. With mentoring from the Ancient Forest Alliance, I and my 10-year-old friend Abby McCluskey persuaded our parents to drive us and my classmates to Royal Roads University where there is a stand of the big trees. We had a musician play while we all created the art right there. We wrote the text, which included some facts and some inspirational thoughts and used software to produce it. Ten years later, We Heart Doug is still in the libraries of a number of schools in our city.
In Grade 7, the place we loved the best, the park across the street from our Victoria home was slated for development. My sisters and I ran wild in its creek and spent hours climbing trees, building forts and having picnics there. When a neighbour asked if we would help her organize a community gathering to ask the city council to rethink the development, we jumped at it. I handed out flyers and asked people to come. I also gave a talk about why the park was important to me. Even though I subsequently spoke to thousands at the climate strikes, that speech was harder because it was so personal. A number of city officials attended and there was a lot of media generated, I think, in part, because us kids were so invested. I am happy to say the park has yet to be developed.
By the time I reached Grade 10, I was helping organize the Victoria student strikes. In September 2019, I spoke at a rally attended by thousands. During the COVID-19 years, I also led marches of striking students although, of course, they were much smaller.
People often ask what happened to that movement. I am a case study of why the gap has been created. I was a young participant and COVID interrupted the hand-off to my cohort. But I hear of high school students today wanting to get it going again, and I am going to be meeting with them and sharing all the information we gathered about what it takes to make a student strike work and to help if they want. We know how to let schools know, how to apply for permits and have hundreds of contacts who are willing to help.
What makes climate organizing hard?
Kids can be pulled in a lot of different directions and are not always clear about their focus. That means they can seem unreliable sometimes. It is important to have a backup plan.
Anna Erickson has been organizing real action on climate change since she was eight years old. #YouthClimateAction
It is really important that very young kids are being taught about the climate crisis but it can lead to eco-anxiety. It can easily feel as if your effort will amount to nothing. But we are only just now finding out how perturbed executives of oil, gas and coal companies were about the student strikes. They couldn't control them! So you never know when your work will matter and to whom.
What gives you hope?
The student strikes and all the other work I have done has been youth-led but adult-supported in so many different ways. Like this column, it is very heartening to read stories of people not so different from me making a difference in so many ways.
The kids coming up behind me are only just getting going. They will be unstoppable.
What do you see if we win?
We are fighting for the ability to have for all of us what I had as a child — to be outside in clean air enjoying clean water and green spaces. There is good evidence that spending time in nature makes us kinder and more compassionate. When we win, the world will be better all around.
What will you advise the younger kids coming up behind you?
It really is who you know and who they know that can make things happen easily. Use your networks.
Bring your passion and interests to the work. Become informed about the crises we face but focus on your dreams.
What would you like to say to older readers?
People say: “It’s up to you,” but the truth is, it is up to us. It is not some future threat. Smoky summers, droughts and pandemics are here now. Find ways to support young people around you and avoid putting them down even if their ideas seem small.