Every classroom was emptied at A.G. Baillie Memorial School on Friday morning as students took part in a world-wide walk out demanding action on climate change.
At around 9:30 nearly 400 students and their teachers made a loop around the building, and down Victoria Avenue Extension before coming back up the hill.
Albeit brief, today’s walk-out is one of thousands of scheduled climate-actions planned for March 15 in over 1,500 cities and towns in more than 100 countries.
But today’s action in Pictou County didn’t start with the adults who run the school, it started with a nine-year old student.
“Last Thursday I decided that I wanted to do something,” said Willow van Lith, a grade four student at A.G.Baillie.
Willow first approached the school’s principal Nancy Boudreau about the walk out on March 11.
“I had not heard anything about it,” said A.G. Baillie principal Nancy Boudreau. “We’re a green school and recycling and things like that have been in our program for ages and ages so it was a natural fit."
“She was a little nervous to talk to the principal,” said Willow’s mother Di van Lith. “But she got some words out and the principal was very supportive.”
Finding a voice
Speaking to the principal was one thing. But then, van Lith and her friend Lily Bates had to talk to all the students in each of the school’s 18 classes.
Up until recently, Willow had been living with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder where people capable of speech find themselves far too anxious to speak to other people in certain settings, like school.
Hurtling that barrier is something that van Lith shares in common with another climate activist.
Student activist Great Thunberg has been protesting outside of Sweden’s parliament building every week since August 2018 and is credited as the inspiration for all of Fridays walk-outs, not to mention being a personal hero of van Lith’s.
“It was scary at first, but we got used to it,” said van-Lith about speaking to the other students.
Before the walk van-Lith and her Bates were in the school office. They were waiting for the march to start and holding signs saying, ‘help save the earth from climate change,’ and ‘there is no planet B’
In October 2018, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced to the United Nations that human activities have caused a 1.0° C increase in global average surface temperature above pre-industrial levels.
The report, which contains over 6,000 scientific references, links sea-level rise, extreme weather events and diminishing arctic ice to that increase. It also urges policy makers around the world to work toward limiting that increase to no more than 1.5°C.
Beyond 1.5°C could, according to the report, c sea levels to rise 50 cm by 2100 and put 98% of the world’s coral reefs at risk. A 2°C global average surface temperature would also pose a significant risk to food security and availability of fresh water.
Current estimations under the IPCC put Earth on track for reaching that detrimental temperature threshold of 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052.