Stratford youth putting activism to good re-use

  • Community   Friday, November 12, 2021   Matthew Harris
Sammie Orr is seen at the Climate Strike held in front of Stratford City Hall in September 2020. The Grade 11 student at Stratford District Secondary School is still crusading for our environment, doing whatever she can to help change the world for good.

Sammie Orr is seen at the Climate Strike held in front of Stratford City Hall in September 2020. The Grade 11 student at Stratford District Secondary School is still crusading for our environment, doing whatever she can to help change the world for good.

Sammie Orr never intended to become an environmental activist.

Orr, a Grade 11 student at Stratford District Secondary School, admits that picking up the charge to defend our planet wasn’t on her ‘to-do’ list at any point in her young life. A natural curiosity about the way the environment worked around her caught her interest, and when she saw what humanity was actually doing to it was the inflection point.

“When I learned that we were affecting and harming (the environment), I wanted to learn more,” she said. “I became involved in local environmental groups, which then led me to begin speaking out on climate change. For me, I love to learn about all areas of the environment, but I can really connect with and understand areas that are closer to home.”

Given that Stratford is in the heart of rich agricultural land, Orr has found herself gravitating to gaining knowledge on sustainable agricultural practices. It helps her relate better to the community around her, but it also gives her a base from which to move forward from. One such path forward is her plan to continue pushing her home community towards adopting and implementing a climate action plan.

“There are many goals that I hope to achieve through my work: many of them are large and long-reaching, including meeting our climate targets, achieving net zero and ensuring equity in all aspects of our government and society,” she said. “Other goals are more short-term ones, like helping Stratford put together a climate action implementation plan. Some (of my goals) have fewer concrete outcomes but are still very important, like for my work to bring about a change in people’s connection with and mindset towards the natural environment.”

Orr might have a steeper uphill climb than she thought. A 2020 article on the website by Connie Vitello goes over a survey conducted among 1,500 adults that same year. Among the key study findings:

• 88 per cent of Canadians report being adversely affected by climate change

• 17 per cent of those surveyed believe Canada will meet its 203 Emission Reduction goals despite 89 per cent of people saying meeting that goal is important

• 55 per cent of people believe Canadians will reduce their individual energy consumption

• 86 per cent think the Canadian government should invest in clean technology

When asked about the political will to make necessary changes, Orr said she feels most people are either oblivious or willfully ignorant of the threat climate change presents.

“I think that to translate the urgency of the environmental crisis to anyone, younger or older, it needs to be brought down to a personal level,” she said. “I have often seen that people have an ‘if it doesn’t affect me than I don’t need to change’ mindset. Once they realize that this threat will affect them … the lives of their families and their communities, then they should understand why it is so important we take immediate action.”

Orr gave the example of the affect greenhouse gasses have on making the oceans overly acidic. Because people here believe that, since they live in a rural community with plenty of distance between them and the nearest ocean, it doesn’t have an impact on them and they lack any will to make change.

“The more greenhouse gasses we release into the atmosphere, the more the ocean tries to sequester, causing the sea to become more acidic,” she said. “The more acidic it becomes, the less carbon it can absorb, causing the planet to warm even faster. For the person living in rural Ontario, this increased warming can cause increased heat, rainfall, and invasive species, extreme weather events, etc.”

It can be heady stuff to think about, and the fact that a teenager is the one helping raise the call to action might get lost on those who are among the older demographic – the ones making decisions that matter now and in the future. Orr hasn’t encountered that issue yet, and has reported positive traction with her encounters.

“Through my experiences, I have not felt any issues concerning my age,” she said. “During the discussions I have participated in, I’ve found that the adults at those tables have not treated me any different because I’m younger than them. I find that, in this time, the opinions and inclusion of youth are more valued than they have been in the past.”

With the decisions being made that usher in new environmental concerns now, Orr was asked to paint a picture of what she sees things being like in 10 years. Taking it on good faith that Stratford, Perth County and beyond take to heart their pledge to hit their environmental targets, she believes a positive outcome is possible.

“For our environment to be in a better place in 10 years, we need to change how we get around (electrifying our transportation and increasing the use of active transport), how our food is produced (eating locally and regeneratively-sourced foods), how we create energy (moving away from fossil fuels and ramping up renewable energy), and how we create and consume goods (buying products that are local, sustainably produced and made to last),” she said. “This sounds like a lot of change and it is, but it’s needed for us to have a healthier planet and a healthier society.”

As with any big change, Orr said it starts between our ears.

“We need to change our mindset,” she said. “Our society is based on a disposable and consumerist lifestyle. This cannot continue if we want to come out on the better side of this crisis.”

Starting in December in the Stratford Times, Sammie Orr and her EcoClub cohorts at SDSS will be contributing a bi-monthly column dedicated to the environment and surrounding issues.