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Manvi Bhalla's Toronto Climate Strike Speech 2020

Do you remember the first time you felt eco-grief? An ache in your heart for the ongoing loss of our home, and a panic fuelled by feelings of helplessness? That panic was, and is, a physiological response to a threat, and that threat, as we’ve all come to know it, is climate change. 

Now, climate change isn’t what most people think it to be. Popularly conceptualized as the problem, I instead want to share with you that climate change is rather a soon-to-be fatal symptom of a larger series of system failures that have been going on long before we started labelling them as problematic, and they are the root causes of our grief. Capitalism, the system that prioritizes profit over people; the same that fuelled industrialization to the point where we recognize we don’t have a viable future with it, but we don’t have an immediately viable way of life outside of it either. The patriarchy, which marginalizes the input, intelligence and authority for 50% of our world’s population and alone makes many of the decisions for them. White supremacy, the systematic domination of one race over all others using tools of violence; this violence, often silent yet pervasive, leads to sub-systems entrenched in biases rigged to favour one group and oppress others. Bringing these together, you can understand why change is near impossible without fundamentally deconstructing the world we know. Our world and its systems are not working for the future, they’re working for the few, and a just recovery cannot exist in the same space as it, nor be built with the same tools that led to it. Our current world is rigged to favour and accumulate power with a few, and those few hold the fate of the world, and our lives in their hands, and so I want to validate your panic. This is an attack on our livelihoods; our present, and our future. 

Science says that climate change is largely a human-made issue, and it is fuelled by the astronomically high fossil fuels we burn daily to sustain life as we know it. This burning of fossil fuels for oil and gas, transportation, buildings, electricity, industry, agriculture and waste in order of highest to lowest, produce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emitted gases trap heat in the atmosphere and this leads to rising global temperatures, which then causes a whole host of impacts that differ from region to region, but that threaten our “normal” way of life, from floods to fires; storms to rising seas and more. 

To counter this, the privileged decision makers that built this world up around us ask that we make individualistic changes, by reducing our “carbon footprint”, or making “sustainable” choices and alongside this, they present us with limited or inaccessible alternatives to fossil fuel consumption and consumerism. As if that will fix the systems-based issues at the root of the problem! According to Energy Policy Tracker, the Canadian government has invested 16.4 billion Canadian dollars into fossil fuels since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 67.9% of it being fossil fuels without any climate targets or additional pollution reduction requirements, meaning purely dirty, non-renewable energy. By contrast, they invested 3.99 billion into clean energy. This only reinforces that we are living in an environment where progress is still synonymous with colonial views of commodification, privatization and profit, of the land and all its resources-- and this is simply not sustainable. This is not where our priorities, nor our money, should lie.

Finally, it’s important to note that the impacts of climate change may be inconvenient for some but may be fatal to others highlighting the urgent need to take action. To quote the UN, “the impacts of climate change will not be borne equally or fairly, between rich and poor, women and men, and older and younger generations. Consequently, there has been a growing focus on climate justice, which looks at the climate crisis through a human rights lens and on the belief that by working together we can create a better future for present and future generations.” Essentially, climate justice is a human-centered approach, informed by science, which works to protect the rights of all people equitably, including those most underserved by these aforementioned systems-- and this is a fundamental framework we need to adopt within our movement, to help in achieving a Just Recovery.

So what can we do? First, we must not be immobilized by this threat. That is not an option.

Second, we must recognize that many of our and our ancestors’ successes came as a result of the violation of many treaties, and that has played a leading role in getting the world into the state it is in today. These treaties are sacred agreements made to protect the land and all its inhabitants, including its rightful owners and stewards, the First Peoples. With all this in mind, I want to encourage us all to centre the voices of community in the work we do, take up less space where we can, and offer more to the collective recovery of the land and all its peoples. Alongside this, we cannot fix a problem that has its roots this deep in colonization, the belief of profit over people. We need to actively decolonize our world, and the way we work, live and interact on our land, upon which we are guests, and where we are all treaty people.

Third, I want to tell you that it is your personal duty to make this world a better place. In our current society, we often think we are only responsible for ourselves. But there’s no way out of this issue without the strength of community, and community means that none of us win, till we all win, or in this case, we won’t win until all of us unite over divestment and transitioning to a clean economy. We need to take personal responsibility for this issue, and internalize that it’s up to each of us to do our best to fix the world that our ancestors left for us.

Climate change is not a partisan issue, and neither are human rights, so thus, neither is a Just Recovery. Remember, none of these are radical ideas or unattainable goals. They are the bare minimum, and they are entirely possible when we each take personal responsibility for doing the best we can to address them, and when we choose to speak up about them at all times, including when it’s inconvenient to do so. POSITIONALITY STATEMENT: Hello, Bonjour, my name is Manvi and my pronouns are she and her. I reside in the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, but more specifically, in present-day Waterloo, Ontario. This land is home to the Neutral, Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples and the treaties of this land include the Haldimand Treaty and Treaty 3. Turtle Island is still home to many First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples and I am grateful to have the opportunity to live, work and thrive on this land. I want to make this acknowledgement meaningful by emphasizing its importance to me today. Through the limited examples of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, to Grassy Narrows, to 61 First Nations living without access to clean drinking water - we see a fraction of great degree to which Indigenous peoples face environmental discrimination in “Canada”. Through the examples of Africville, in Nova Scotia, and upon reflection of the historic roots of the environmental justice movement, we see a sliver of the degree to which Black communities have been forced to bear the burden of environmental toxicity and pollution. In present day Canada, studies report that low-income communities, communities of colour, womxn, and other underserved groups in Canada face higher levels of pollution, and are more vulnerable to the impending health consequences of climate change. This is unacceptable and I solemnly and visibly promise to work towards ameliorating these issues.

I want to acknowledge my ancestry as a South Asian immigrant and reflect upon the honour of being a woman of colour, and the duty (and burden) to be a representative of all that is possible for women like me. Finally, I want to acknowledge privileges I have, of both my access to post secondary education, and being able to volunteer my time for such work. There are many voices, of my Black and Indigenous peers and my fellow South Asian community members, that go unheard because they are working, living and thriving as best they can, in a world that doesn’t guarantee liveable wages, income, gender or racial equity, nor social security in all forms. While I am thankful to be given a platform to bring attention to fundamental human rights issues, I do not intend on speaking on behalf of Black or Indigenous communities, nor communities of colour in general, that are disproportionately impacted by injustices, and who are systematically oppressed by policies that currently exist in “Canada”. My only goal is to use opportunities such as these to help the cause in the best way I can, which is through the education and empowerment of others, with knowledge that will allow them to become meaningful allies. For me, being a meaningful ally means being political at every ‘dinner table’, and using my voice to speak up about these issues always, and not just when it is convenient for me! Today I will say thank you in the language of the First Peoples that reside where I currently call home; the first of many words, stories, and pieces of history and culture that I learned and continue to learn daily to fight the systematic erasure of their rich history. Miigwech.

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