Five questions with… youth climate activist, Gregory Efraim

As millions are expected to take to the streets once again September 27, we chat with a 15-year-old Canadian activist taking part.

By: /
September 27, 2019

With his sixteenth birthday around the corner, Gregory Efraim will hit the streets in Ottawa on Friday, as he has done on many occasions since 2018. Efraim is one of the millions of people around the world who have joined Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement, which has seen young people in particular skip out from school on Fridays in favour of speaking out against inaction in the fight against climate change.

Gregory protesting
Gregory Efraim speaks in front of Ottawa's City Hall May 24, 2019. Handout photo.

The movement began after Thunberg began sitting out in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018. Each week since, numbers have swelled — last Friday, an estimated four million took part in marches around the world, just days before the UN Climate Action Summit took place in New York. Similar numbers are expected again on September 27. Thunberg herself will join the event in Montreal (where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Green Party leader Elizabeth May are also expected).

With young people leading this latest campaign — Thunberg is one of many others, including Autumn Peltier from Wikwemikong First Nation in Ontario, Artemisa Xakriabá, an Indigenous activist from Brazil and Ridhima Pandey from India, to name but a few — we wanted to speak to one of those involved in the movement in Canada. Efraim, a grade 11 student at Ashbury College in Ottawa — where he will be speaking at Confederation Park on Friday — says he thinks events this month “are a watershed period for global climate action.”

Here he shares why he got involved, why others may be holding back and what he hopes will result from the current momentum.

1. How did you come to be involved in Fridays for Future and how others can join in?

I first heard of the Fridays for Future strikes through social media and from the news, and I was inspired by Greta Thunberg to participate in these strikes. For several years, I wondered what I could do to actually help combat the climate crisis. I knew that I couldn’t do it alone, and that to take concrete action, we all needed to put pressure on our governments to act and to meet the goals set in the Paris agreement. Since then, I’ve participated in several strikes including in Montréal, Ottawa, and most recently, last Friday, September 20, in New York City. The strike there was enormous and invigorating. It was amazing to see so many people mobilized for this cause.

Youth and adults can be involved in the Fridays for Future protests by simply getting informed of where strikes near them are held and coming out to participate in them. I find that many people are simply afraid to come to strikes, or they do not feel comfortable with the idea. My message to them is not to be afraid to strike, rather, be afraid of what the climate crisis is doing to us. Interested individuals should also follow up what is going on with social media, as this is one of the main means of communication that allows us to gain more traction around the world.

2. What have you learned by participating — about the climate, or about the act of protesting or about yourself?

Since participating in the strikes, I have learned a lot about the process of them, and how the government and the people respond to them. I learned that the greater the number of people striking, the greater the momentum. The strikes keep growing like a snowball effect, which I believe is a great thing. The drastic increase in the number of strikers is sure to put more pressure on our government(s) to finally take action and tackle the climate crisis.

"I was also afraid of striking, but I’m more scared of what the climate crisis holds for my future."

I also believe that some people are not joining the strikes either because they may be uninformed on the subject, or because they are afraid. Yet, I have one simple response to that: I was also afraid of striking, but I’m more scared of what the climate crisis holds for my future. My career goal is to follow my dreams of studying history and global politics, all while continuing to do whatever I can to stop this crisis, in order to save this planet for future generations, without being afraid to put my education or my job on the line for it.

3. Who has inspired you along this journey?

Every single climate activist that I have stopped and talked to has inspired me to keep going to these strikes, and really push this message that our governments continue to refuse to hear. Some of the activists and strikers are from parts of the planet where the climate crisis has already had devastating effects, and others are from parts where the climate crisis is not even a discussion. I know and believe that this worldwide movement will play a strong role in beginning to solve this. Every single youth that I have talked to has reinforced this. There is no question that many strikers — if not all of them — have been inspired and influenced by Greta. How did this movement start with one individual in 2018, and continue with more than four million in 2019? People often think that they cannot influence or inspire others because they are only one individual. But Greta has shown that that’s not true. If every individual does their small part to contribute to the movement, then it will eventually become even larger, as it did from 2018 to 2019. Everyone has an individual voice, and together, our collective voice is louder and stronger.

4. What kinds of changes have you seen in the past year, whether in the energy of the protests, in the responses to them or in policy?

I have seen mostly positive change in people’s attitude and energy. Many are now starting to realize the importance of the current movement, and many now want to join it, and encourage others to join as well. This is amazing because if this happens on a global scale, then we could potentially have more than four million people striking. That being said, on policies, laws — especially following the Paris climate agreement — there are still many changes that need to come, because I am only hearing empty words and empty promises, and no action from any of our governments. As a start, we have to see all nations follow and fulfill their commitments within the Paris agreement, such as a tax on carbon, a ban of single-use plastics, and a heavy tax on pollution.

5. What message do you have for other young people, for future leaders and for current policymakers?

To young people and future leaders, I say: be courageous, and fight for what is right, and never let it be profit over planet. You know what to do to make sure that we save our planet, so that we can pass it on to our future generations as we found it, or even better.

To current leaders and policymakers I say: you have always put your profit, your interests, and money over our planet and our future, and it’s time for that to stop. The youth will fight for their lives, and for their futures — and as Greta rightly says — “whether you like it or not.”