By Claus Anthonisen
Saturday, Feb. 15—The youth gathered in the Horticultural Building, at Landsdowne, for the Generation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit were both inspired and inspring as they celebrated the youth-led initiatives on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
There were also many, let’s say, more mature folks participating the summit including luminaries as diverse as Joel Harden, the MPP for Ottawa Centre, Solange Uyishime, who recounted her journey from refugee to CEO of Elevate International and a Unicef Canada Ambassador , and Justin Holness, Founder of the TR1BE Academy and “the first Native Hip-Hop artist to drop a verse in the (Canadian) Senate.” These folks, however, were only there to introduce the real talent: twenty six young men and women, Ottawa secondary students, who have taken on the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, put forth in 2015’s Resolution 70/1, in a personal way. Each of these Generation SDG youth have independently created initiatives that will, one way or another, move us all toward attaining the SDG goals that the National Security Council has set out to achieve by 2030.
There are 17 SDGs laid out by the U.N.’s resolution, and each Generation SDG participant has crafted their project to dovetail with one or more of those goals.
Mashkura T., for instance, through her Low Waste Shop, has been tackling four SDGs, including #11, which is to make our cities and communities more sustainable, and #17, which is to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships that share knowledge and expertise rather than compete for it. Mashkura’s project hosts workshops that “focus on fun, eco-friendly do-it-yourself projects…to replace waste-creating items,” such as bee’s-wax food-wraps and home-made toothpaste.
The Infinity Xchange, on the other hand, an initiative created by Chloe C.L. and Emma B., hopes to encourage a more sustainable approaches to what we wear by hosting clothing swaps and awareness around the destructive “trend of fast fashion.” By affecting the clothing industry’s addiction to the new, Chloe and Emma are taking on SDG #15 (among others), which seeks to protect and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.
Declan L. M.’s undertaking, the Waste Free Lunch Program, enjoyed a ten-fold increase in participants (from a mere six to sixty) with his second effort to emulate the University of Ottawa’s waste-free lunch program at his own Brookfield High School, and he’s confident his next effort will bring a similar exponential jump. The SDGs that his project is mainly concerned with is #12, the assurance of responsible consumption and production patterns, and #13, taking actionagainst climate change.
Perhaps, however, the greatest affect these eco-aware youth are having is of a more secondary nature. Joel Harden, Ottawa Center MPP, opened the summit by making a series of dire statements about the furure of our natural world. The audience, whom he’d asked to clasp hands, were meant to give a squeeze if we felt the statements were truer than they were false. Depressingly, each statement, whether referring to how things might get worse before they got better, or whether governement had the ability to reverse climate change, resulted in a firm clamp on both hands. It must be said, however, that if the experiment had been done at the end of the summit instead of at the beginning, the results might have been different. The intelligent and directed passion of the Generation SDG youth is the perfect antidote to the poisonous helplessness that might otherwise defeat a progressive environmental movement.
If a high school student can be as committed and thoughtful as Daniel B., whose Star of Life Project’s December event raised over $600 for vaccinations in other countries, there must be hope for the rest of us, some of whom have a lot more resources at our disposal. “Change doesn’t happen by chance,” he says, “it happens by choice,” while demonstrating exactly what that choice looks like.
This question, of how to break the inertia that overcomes so many when they ponder the current potential for environmental catastrophe, arose as a part of a panel discussion, “Being an Ambassador of Change.” Perhaps the most potent answer came from Olivia S., whose Lisgar Compost Crew organized a student-operated green bin program at her school. She suggested that the idea was to start anywhere, and not to be anxious about doing it all at once, “We don’t need a few people to to be doing zero-waste perfectly,” she said, “we need everybody to do whatever zero-waste they can.”