Called to Duty

How ecoanxiety is being transformed into youth-led climate advocacy.

Written by Emma Tamlin

I grew up on an 80 acre-farm in rural Ontario. I grew up immersed in nature, building forts, getting stuck in the mud, picking wild berries for breakfast and building makeshift rafts out of old doors to float on when the creek flooded in the spring. 

Yes, I was obsessed with Animal Crossing, but my first love was the outdoors. Nature was where I felt safe, felt happy, felt sad, and let out my teenage angst. That fort I had built was where I thought I would have my first kiss. 

One day, in grade 7, we had a movie day which was usually a highlight of any student’s day, but on this particular day, the film was An Inconvenient Truth.  While the other students chatted, passed notes, or played on their phones. I sat at the back of the dark room, glued to the TV, listening to Al Gore’s truly terrifying narration. 

The feeling that consumed me after watching the first half of the film was dread in every sense of the word. When the day came to watch the second half, I asked my mom if I could stay home. She said no but I begged not to go to school. She kept asking me why and I couldn’t articulate how the scary movie we were watching in class was not a horror movie but a science documentary. She was confused, I was confused, but finally, she agreed to pick me up at lunchtime so I could dodge the class and avoid watching the rest of the film. 

Plastic bottle

Despite never seeing the second half of An Inconvenient Truth, it changed my life. The world that I knew and loved was being threatened and it seemed like no one cared. As a 12-year-old, the feelings of powerlessness and fear of the future consumed me. I was deeply depressed but did not know it. 

Today we have a name for it: “eco-anxiety”.

“100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions.”

While I am thankful that we’re beginning to recognize the ominous dark cloud that hangs over the youth of today and follows them everywhere they go, it feels like not much has changed. 

We are asked to go vegan, boycott fast fashion, use reusable bags, bike everywhere (even though road safety is abhorrent), mend broken items, recycle and compost (even when municipal infrastructure combines it all anyway) and spend extra money in order to support fair trade, organic, local, sustainable etc. It’s exhausting to live this way when so much is stacked against us. Is it all for nothing? Are we even making a difference? It doesn’t feel like it, especially when we know that just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. All it would take is 100 companies changing their business practices to do what millions of people are trying to do daily. 

So you can imagine our frustration when we hand a list of well-thought-out demands that we carefully crafted between piles of homework and our part-time jobs to our local government, asking them to use their power to make change, and our demands go unheard. 

Emma Tamlin

Youth are relentless and fierce advocates. We don’t get paid to do this work. We aren’t being listened to or taken seriously despite it being our futures on the line. Our parents sent us to school to help us have a better life than they did but dismiss us and tell us we’re too young to know when we tell them our future is being threatened. When we tell them that we are scared. 

We want to travel, but is it worth the guilt we feel after taking a plane? We want to have children, but should we bring a child into a world on fire? We want to go to school, but what is the point if no one will listen to us no matter how educated we are? A friend of mine wonders if she should even bother saving for retirement. These are the realities and the questions we face every single day. Yet we persevere.  

Youth are leading the way on climate action. But it is not out of passion, it’s out of fear. We are terrified of climate change and the injustices that come along with it. The apathy of the majority towards issues of climate change and human rights abuses is frustrating but I can understand how we got here. Inexcusable are the people in positions of power who continually choose capitalism and violence over sustainability. This is what makes me especially angry. I want policymakers to do better, I need them too. Like so many youth, I am tired and burnt out and struggling no less with eco-anxiety than I was at 12 years old. 

Luckily, there is a light coming up in this tunnel. There are many lights. Youth leaders are gaining recognition and momentum in the world of politics. Youth want to see themselves represented and know that a better world is possible. 

“Youth are leading the way on climate action. But it is not out of passion, it’s out of fear. We are terrified of climate change and the injustices that come along with it. The apathy of the majority towards issues of climate change and human rights abuses is frustrating but I can understand how we got here.”

Ballot box

Renee Jagdeo is a 19-year-old university student who ran in the Scarborough-Agincourt by-election. In an interview with BlogTO Jagdeo says, “I think it’s funny that there is some expectation as to what our city councillors look like, how old they are, or what they do. I would want our city council to be representative of our city, which would naturally include young people like me.”1

Erika Eves is a University of Waterloo student who through a co-op saw an opportunity to create a green roof mandate that encourages green space and urban agriculture. She has been working with local organizations and student groups to bring the idea and rooftops to life in the region.

Melana Roberts, who I had the pleasure of leading the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council with, is the chair of Food Secure Canada, a national food policy alliance advocating for federal policy for healthy, sustainable and just food systems, and she is also the lead consultant for the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit. 

Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is one of Canada’s youngest MP’s and the first member of the New Democratic Party (NDP) to represent Nunavut. She is a human rights defender and is consistently advocating for adequate housing, clean water and food security in the North. Qaqqaq recently returned from a leave of absence due to burnout. Do we know of any boomer politicians that suffer from burnout? Let me guess, they just recharge and refresh on tropical vacations during pandemic lockdowns on taxpayers’ dimes. 

And there are so many more! Look to your community and I guarantee you will find youth who are advocating for and inspiring change.

I want to recognize that it is a privilege to be able to have the time to get involved in politics and that it’s not the only way to support, engage in, or make change. Follow, like and share youth advocates on social media, take part in energy exchanges, phone or book meetings with your councillors. You have the right to speak with the people making decisions on your behalf. Display your stance on tote bags, buttons, and signs on your house. No act is too small when it is an act of resistance. 

Policymakers have benefited far too long from us being consumed by the 40-hour work-week under capitalism and the gatekeeping of politics. There is little accountability or incentive for them to develop innovative policies. And this is where we come in. 

You can be sure that if no other youth is running for city councillor in the next Toronto election, that you will see my name on the ballot. Will you join me?

Emma Tamlin is a University of Waterloo graduate who focuses her work on the role of food systems planning and green infrastructure in creating greener, healthier and more resilient cities for everyone. Her goal is to create a more localized and just food system in response to climate change and food insecurity while simultaneously creating a built environment that enhances human and ecosystem health.

She recently started Raised Roots, an urban agriculture consulting and operations company with two colleagues Rav Singh and Amanda Klarer. You can find more information about Raised Roots at You can also find Emma on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn at @EmmaTamlin.