Mason Carter is wondering what kind of Amherst he will return to once he’s finished his university studies.
The Grade 12 student at Amherst Regional High School is among a group of area teens who have come together to try to raise awareness amongst municipal leaders about the need to take climate change seriously.
“We have 135 months before we reach the point of no return as a globe. I won’t even be 30 when that happens, I’ll only be 28,” said Carter, who is heading off to study journalism at King’s College in Halifax in September. “I want to have a full life to live and come back to Amherst for the rest of my life, but the way things are going I’m afraid we could be living in the ocean by then.”
Carter, 17, is afraid of climate change and resulting sea level rise and global warming, but doesn’t feel those who make the decisions are taking those concerns seriously enough. He, and other ARHS students, want Amherst to consider declaring a climate emergency for Amherst and take steps to become more responsible environmentally by advancing an active transportation plan, restricting single-use plastics within the town, using wind, tidal and solar power, creating public transportation options such as a shuttle from downtown to the malls.
The group also wants to see the development of a carbon budget to limit warming to less than 1.5 C with an annual reporting period to guarantee the town stays under that budget.
As well, Carter and the other students want town council to work with other community organizations to increase their understanding of the current climate crisis and how they can affect positive change.
Carter said there are studies showing the world is on the edge of the tipping point of runaway climate change due to the highest ever concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Those studies, he said, indicate the tipping point is coming in 135 months, or less, if humanity doesn’t change.
Young people, he said, get it. Trying to convince the older generation is more difficult.
“They don’t seem to worry about it because they won’t be here. It will be the next generation’s problem,” Carter said.
Dan Osborne, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student at ARHS, said inaction is frustrating because it will be him and others his age, and younger, who will face the realities of climate change in a few years.
“We only have a handful of years left to address the crisis we’ve been put into, but what’s frustrating to me is the level of inaction by governments at all levels all around the world,” Osborne said. “We’ve known about what could happen for more than 40 years and we’ve had governments that had an opportunity to change environmental regulations and policies to deal with this crisis and very few leaders have chosen to do that.”
Obsorne said inaction is because of cost.
Young people, Osborne said, the cost of mitigating climate change and changing the approach to environment – while expensive – will be cheaper in the long run when future generations have to deal with the results of climate change.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money,” Osborne said.
Carter said he will finish university in the mid-2020s and have up to $100,000 in debt. He wonders if it’s a wise investment, considering there may not be much time to enter into a career and make a difference.
The West Leicester teen said he’s not about to put the sandwich board over his shoulders and walk around telling everyone the end is near. He wants people to consider what they’re doing every day and think about what they can do individually to be more responsible environmentally.
“I’m going to keep pushing it so people come to understand the crisis,” Carter said. “It’s not something we, as young people, can let go.”
Green Party candidate Jason Blanch, who is also a member of Amherst town council, admires what Carter, Osborne and other students are doing because they are taking the potential for a climate emergency very seriously.
“Any steps we take now are steps we don’t have to take later,” Blanch said. “We need to set a climate plan that addresses the fact in 135 months we may reach a point where we can’t undo what’s been done. If don't do anything by then, we could be locked into an earth that’s 1.5 C warmer or more.”
He is applauding the group’s efforts, adding that for many years he walked the walk alone trying to raise awareness toward the environment through initiatives such as the Nappan Project.