Sophia Mathur has a message to send to the adults in her young life: “You are jeopardizing our future.”
To ensure her voice is heard, Mathur led a demonstration in Memorial Park on Friday – during school hours.
The idea is not her own: she was inspired by a school strike Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg started in August. When Sweden experienced record-breaking summer heat during an election this year, climate change rose to the forefront of concerns for many voters. Thunberg has been skipping school in Stockholm every Friday for 16 weeks to demand action.
Mathur planned to skip school one Friday every month before the 2018-19 school year began, but only received permission from her mother, Cathy Orlando, in October.
“She asked me in August,” Orlando said. “When we went to Parliament Hill in October to lobby and (Sophia) was at the 1.5°C IPCC report emergency debate in the House of Commons, I could hear her commenting that some of the politicians were not really co-operating.
“She convinced me when we got home that, yeah, we've got to join Greta.”
Locally, Sudbury Liberal MP Paul Lefebvre and NDP Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas – as well as Sudbury Green Party candidate David Robinson -- joined Mathur and the #FridaysforFuture demonstration. Both members addressed the crowd and participated in a dance and parachute game.
Gélinas said that, for the first time in her 11 years in politics, young people have approached her office to talk with her.
“Children come and say, 'You have to help us,'” Gélinas said. “I will make sure that Sophia's voice is heard at Queen's Park.”
That means doing everything in her power to convince the province to take concrete steps to decrease carbon emissions.
“Right now, we have a Progressive Conservative government headed by Premier Doug Ford,” Gélinas said. “He is as close to a climate change denier as he can (be), so it will be hard work, but I won't give up until we bring their voice forward.”
Lefebvre echoed concerns about provincial commitments to climate change initiatives. He said that while climate action has been a priority for the Liberals, federal efforts are being challenged by the provinces.
“It appears that some provinces want to roll back all the progress that we've made on climate and certainly on discouraging pollution,” Lefebvre said.
“We need our youth to speak up because obviously it's not resonating at certain government levels,”
Orlando said her daughter will continue to cut class once a month “until her future is safe.” Asked what qualifies as 'safe', Orlando said, “We want to see scientifically accurate and sound climate targets, we want to see more cooperation, specifically, we want carbon pricing.”
Backed by Citizens Climate Lobby Sudbury and Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, Sophia wrapped up the demonstration by extending an invitation to other Sudbury students and their supporters to join the next #FridaysforFuture school strike scheduled for Jan. 11.