Dr. Sappong currently works as a Family Doctor with the homeless population in Toronto. She understands the connection between individual health and environmental health, and is a passionate advocate for access to healthy environments and social justice. As Co-Founder of PlasticFree Toronto, she works to educate and inspire her community to pursue low waste and sustainable lifestyles, while also taking action on issues of environmental pollution, climate change, poverty, and institutionalized racism. PlasticFree Toronto regularly hosts community workshops, political activism seminars, movie-nights, and beach clean-ups.
Reimagining Planetary Health
Antonia starts with a definition, saying, “So what is planetary health? Basically, this is the understanding that human health is reliant on the health of our ecosystems and our world more broadly. Obviously a healthy ecosystem allows for us to build strong and resilient communities, which allow for things like employment, access to food, access to education, all of the things that allow us to be healthy and thrive. And so when we talk about climate change, we know that it’s going to have profound impacts on human health and they’ve already said that we’re going to see increased heat related illness. We’re going to see increases in vector borne disease. So things like Lyme disease, mosquito-borne diseases. We’re going to see impacts in terms of things like human migration, food insecurity, water insecurity. So, so many things. So we can’t really talk about human health without considering the health of our world.”
Steve Shallhorn and Sarah Kamau were among the speakers who helped us explore and express the importance of talking about and working for climate justice. They shared insights about how we might frame and present our conversations from a labour perspective and a global perspective.
Steve Shallhorn – Executive Director at Labour Education Centre, Bio
The Labour Education Centre is a Literacy and Basic Skills provider and an Employment Service. These programs are funded by the Ontario provincial government. LEC also has a pre-apprentice program for the construction industry called I’m Eglinton. LEC also provides fee for service skills training for union members. LEC was founded in 1987 and is a project of the Toronto and York District Labour Council.
LEC’s Working Green program is a research and action approach to climate change. Working Green helps workers learn how to take action on climate change, including how to advocate for Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) reductions and for good, green jobs.
The Seven R’s of a Just Transition
Speaking about a Just Transition, Steve started by saying “I think it is important for workers to know that the rest of society has their back and will assist them in the transition to work in a low carbon economy or a net zero economy. Workers who are afraid to lose their jobs are likely to vote for politicians and political parties that do not support going to net zero and could provide a political block. So I think it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that workers do not feel bottled in by a transition to a low carbon economy.”
Steve introduced us to “seven general areas where policy makers should be thinking of putting programs in place to make it easier for workers to transit out of fossil fuels.”
Steve expanded on the 7 Rs, saying that when we think of a worker transition, “[r]e-employment is probably what we think of most….The important thing here though – and I learned this from speaking with coworkers in Alberta who were about to lose their jobs – is that the grants to provide support for workers to transition to new jobs have to be in place before their old job ends. Because there’s a lag time in the training and looking for new jobs, those are periods where workers will have no income and that causes a lot of anxiety. Some re-employment programs maybe are only offered every six months or once a year. So it’s important that workers be able to enroll in re-employment programs before they actually get their pink slips.”
As far as re-deployment goes, Steve says “[s]ometimes jobs can be created within the same employer. And that’s certainly what happened in Ontario with the phase-out of coal plants, because the plants were run by Ontario power generation, a large employer, people were able to redeploy within the company….Sometimes there is environmental remediation work that needs to be done at the coal sites and coal mines. So workers can be employed temporarily in the decommissioning or rehabilitation of that site.”
Steve ends the discussion of the 7 Rs by talking about investing in communities, saying “that can include support for counselling services, services for victims of domestic abuse and family violence.” He explains that “[w]hen we looked at Alberta and the closure of coal plants in Alberta, as soon as the announcements were made, RCMP detachments noticed a dramatic increase in domestic abuse and family violence. And that’s a reality that is not often spoken about.”
Steve reminds us that when we consider and talk about a just transition, we should look at all 7 of these Rs in order to assist fossil fuel workers to transition to a net zero economy.
Next, Sarah Kamau, from our partner organization ACAI, spoke about some of the global imperatives for climate justice.
Sarah Kamau – Africa Climate Action Initiative – Bio
Sarah Kamau is a change agent and social entrepreneur. She is passionate about championing for the rights of the less privileged through advocacy and community development. While living in Kenya, she graduated with a Bachelors of Education (Arts) from the University of Nairobi and worked in various national and international organizations in refugee camps and in the humanitarian field. Through these experiences, Sarah has witnessed firsthand loss of lives and livelihoods, and forced migration due to climate change. Currently, Sarah is working as co-founder and co-coordinator of the Africa Climate Action Initiative (ACAI), a CAP Network initiative to coordinate and build the capacity of African communities and partners to adapt to and mitigate climate change.
Why oh Why Climate Change?
Sarah started by sharing a bit about her family, saying “…I come from a family of farmers. And with time, our family cut all the coffee plantation and all the tea plantation simply because rain was not adequate. Our family became so depressed because of the issues of climate failed crop production….And my sister is a mango farmer currently. And every season, it’s the same story. She tells me, ‘help me pray. I dunno what I’m gonna do because there’s no rain this particular season.’ And that is why I’m so passionate about these particular conversations, about climate change.”
She says Canadians may think they do not feel the impacts, “[b]ut already the impact is there, the winters are much warmer than possibly they have ever been. Look at our favourite beverage, most of the coffee that we drink is actually coming from other countries and these countries are also affected by climate change. So you may think that climate change is happening in Africa, is happening in Asia, but it’s coming much closer than we ever think. You may say ‘I don’t drink coffee, I like my wine’, but…all crops are being affected by climate change.”
We thought that in the next hundred years, we were going to experience bush fires, we were going to experience severe drought and mass extinction. But that is not the case. It’s not a hundred years anymore, we are talking about what is going on currently…..and all these people are being affected, their livelihoods have been affected….People are being uprooted simply because of climate change.”
She councils, “if you ever wanted to travel, go and see the animals that you have a desire to see, because what will happen in the next five years, the next 10 years, those animals will not be there….Over 160 species of animals have gone into extinction between 2010 and 2019. That is in a span of less than 10 years. And currently Kenya is hosting the only two female Northern White Rhinos on the planet. The last male Rhino that was there….I was lucky to have seen it.”
“So what are we going to tell our children, our great grandchildren. That we had a role? That we were supposed to take a decision, but we never did anything, we were quiet? That is the reason why it is imperative that you talk about the climate change issue.”
Thank you to everyone who attended or participated in the first webcast in our March/April training series – Bringing People Together!
The five speakers for the evening helped us explore some conversational context for the KTCCs we are planning to hold. They shared insights about why it is important to talk about and act on climate justice as well as what they’ve experienced and learned.
To start off the webcast, two youth speakers from Fridays for Future Toronto shared their perspectives. See bios, excerpts from their speeches and the event media card below. The recording of all the speakers is here!
Sophie Krouse (she/her) – Bio
Sophie Krouse is a 17 year old youth climate activist with Fridays for Future Toronto. She does research projects, and writes for social media, newsletter, and informative content. She also frequently takes part in online actions. Since early childhood, Sophie has been passionate about protecting biodiversity and bringing awareness to social inequities that discriminate against marginalized communities. She hopes to dedicate her life to Environmental justice.
In her speech, Sophie explained the challenges faced by young activists, saying that “when young, diverse activists challenge the current political models, we’re seen as a threat. As a result, they judge us by the one thing they feel they can – our age. In political conversation, young means naive, uneducated and much more, which adds more pressure, especially for youth and BIPOC activists to be able to have meaningful dialogue.”
She shares her tips for talking about the climate, saying that we need a clear purpose “[s]parking effective dialogue with someone begins with a purpose. Why am I conversing with this person? What do I want them to take away from our conversation? How do I listen to and address their concerns while still pushing the urgency for change?….I find it’s important that you balance the use of emotion and fact, according to your audience and your setting….”
Proof is also important, and Sophie shares the thought that “doing research about what a just, green recovery means, what it would look like in Canada, how fossil fuel workers would be accommodated, how our economy and environment would be impacted….is what will catalyze that need to change on a legislative level….”
However, there is one other key piece, emotion, and Sophie councils that “[b]eing able to convey emotion to others can have a drastic impact on the way one may view a topic. Voice your anger and show the people how the crisis will affect the future of all youth. Show empathy and concern for others, especially BIPOC communities who are disproportionately exposed to ecological impacts of the climate change movement. Show your solidarity for Indigenous nations who dedicate their lives to protecting the land, which has been stolen from them.”
….enter the conversation with the intent to understand what your audience cares about and show them how they will be affected as individuals. Because…. not one person is excluded from climate chaos.
“Many people, especially in North America, don’t believe in climate change because they can’t see it. If they cannot watch the water come above their knees or the forest get clean cut, or their house turned to Ash, then it doesn’t exist in their reality. Show them their future, but most importantly, show them hope. The era of renewables is upon us. And there are more incredible technologies than ever before that are cleaning our water, capturing our carbon and reinvigorating our ecosystems. Each day that goes by the climate justice movement grows.”
I refuse to believe that my generation will fail to limit climate change. And I refuse to believe that we, as humans, will put profit over each other.
Sigfried Hemming (he/they) – Bio
Sigfried is a member of Fridays for Future Toronto, which is part of the global climate strike movement. FFFTO is youth-led, grassroots and mobilizes through strikes, rallies and marches to demand climate justice. FFFTO’s intersectional demands express the recognition that the “climate crisis is not only an environmental crisis but a social justice crisis too.” (see fridaysforfutureto.org)
Sigfried begins by reminding us that “normal is not good enough and that change is required at a systemic and personal level because we live in a system that capitalizes off of destruction and vice.” Yet, “Each individual holds immense amounts of power. The system we live in is designed to teach us to stay in our place, do as we’re told and, and keep our heads down. But this is not the only way, especially if we topple the triangle upside down.”
Talking about intersectionality, Sigfried shares, “[s]omething I’ve heard a lot of, as somebody fighting the climate crisis is – ‘well, what about the child labourers in Malaysia? Or what about my problems?’ – as if the climate justice movement and the social justice movement are mutually exclusive. Which they are not. The whole thing is intersectional. And if it weren’t, we would just be reproducing the toxic environments that is creating these problems in the first place. Fighting for one cause does not bring the other down….The climate movement and many social movements are intertwined.”
Sigfried went on to share, “I will use myself as an example. I’m a fairly privileged individual. I have a supportive and financially stable household. I am a white European. I have access to education and for the most part appear outwardly normal. However I do have invisible disabilities….I’m transgender. I’m autistic and I’m mentally ill. 20% of trans people in Ontario are subject to physical abuse in their lifetime. We’re also more likely to be killed, fired, denied service and ostracized just for being trans….50% of trans people in Ontario live off of less than $15,000 a year. And…people with disabilities, such as autism, [are] more than three times as likely to be victims of serious crimes, such as rape, robbery, aggravated assault, then people without disabilities. When put in the context of the climate crisis, we know that I would therefore be more likely to be much harder hit….Now think about BIPOC peoples who are also autistic or transgender or struggle with mental illnesses.”
When talking about the climate, Sigfried advises us to ask questions like, “[w]hy do you think fighting the climate crisis is less important than fighting ableism? Why do you think those two things are separate? Has someone said something to make you feel excluded from this movement? These are the kinds of questions that could prompt genuine answers without making the person feel shamed or inferior.”
This mass idea that everything is in separate boxes needs to be addressed. It is all connected. Trans rights are human rights. Being anti-racist is being anti-ableist and fighting the climate crisis is fighting the opioid crisis. I cannot stress enough the importance of emphasizing how addressing climate change does not mean not addressing any other issue.
Sigfried ends with, “oftentimes people lash out as a fear response. If they are angry at the climate movement, it is probably because they feel personally threatened by it. Let them know that they’re not. Rather than blaming or increasing the heat with frustration – sympathize, relate, and educate.
I truly believe that as soon as someone realizes the climate crisis threatens them and that fighting it aids them, they will begin to open up. Yes, we each have our specialties, but we are all fighting for the happiness and the safety of our fellow people.”
In the next blog, we’ll share insights from Steve Shallhorn of the Labour Education Centre and Sarah Kamau of Africa Climate Action Initiative.
During the KTCC, we discussed global climate impacts, with a spotlight on Brazil and Australia. We also learned about both global and local initiatives, including Mikoko Kwanza, a project to plant Mangrove trees in Zanzibar. Also see www.zanzibardiaspora.go.tz.
During our sharing breakouts, many insightful, moving and helpful comments were made, about what brought people to the conversation, how they feel about the climate emergency as well as suggestions for how to cope. Many people mentioned moving into action and developing community, like we experienced in the KTCC, as major sources of support.
To see the groups’ brainstormed action ideas around waste reduction and a healthy, circular economy, check out our Lightning Brainstorm Ideas.
All in all, it was an engaging conversation and we look forward to more!
Other potential actions discussed and shared during our conversation: