“Protecting What We Love” environmental activism event in Kitchener gathers community for climate change discussion

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Photo by Jackie Vang

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, between 5 to 7 p.m., a number of environmental activist groups hosted the “Stewards of our Future: Protecting What We Love” community discussion event at the Rotunda at Kitchener City Hall.

Hosted through the collaborative efforts of Divest Waterloo, Faith & the Common Good, The Centre for Public Ethics and the Grand River Environmental Network (GREN), the event featured the chance to engage with Dr. Dianne Saxe, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.

Focusing on two main goals, the preservation and care for life on earth as well as the protection of local water sources and land rights, the event gave the opportunity for local residents to interact with and amongst each other, create a conversation and prompt an open dialogue regarding what to do about preparing for the environmental crisis we are currently in.

Laura Hamilton, a climate change activist and member of Divest Waterloo, believes that “the big story coming out of this event is how well it’s been received by our community.”

The interest, she believes, came as a result of COP24 (Conference of the Parties) — the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference. From Dec. 3, 2018, to Dec. 14, 2018, in Katowice, Poland, environmental advocates like Sir David Attenborough, Al Gore and Greta Thunberg came together to discuss the implications and future of climate change and come to an agreement regarding the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Amongst the powerful and reverberating speeches that punctuated the conference, António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, contributed his own thoughts on the matter of climate change.

“Every day we fail to act is a day that we step closer towards a fate that none of us wants … Our fate is in our hands. The world is counting on all of us to rise to the challenge before it is too late,” Guterres said at the conference.

“It’s a crisis and there’s no denying any of it now — and yet there’s this kind of inertia … We thought: ‘wouldn’t it be cool if [Dr. Saxe] came and talked about climate change in that context and we had a panel respond to her?” Hamilton said.

The response to the event was more than they expected. They originally expected around 220 guests — as the Rotunda can fit approximately 200.

However, by Tuesday, they had over 350 registered to come, with even more expected to show up — their largest event yet.

“Tickets went on Eventbrite in a matter of days — and we’ve never had it happen for an event before … We’ve been organizing Divest going on five years here in our community and we’ve done some big events before, but nothing has ever had this kind of immediate response,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton attributes a large portion of this success to the overwhelming international support behind COP24.

“The language was plain and the urgency became more apparent to people … We have to turn the ship around in the next year if we stand a chance of avoiding [something worse],” Hamilton said.

“I do think [perceptions are] changing.”

As far as future planned climate change activism events, there are a number of unconfirmed whispers of activity that will be manifesting in the future.

However, Divest Waterloo has officially planned an event for Feb. 7, “Our Water Our Future,” from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the First United Church in Waterloo.

They and a number of other groups plan to discuss the impact that Bill C66 will have on the local environment and water sources.

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