Youth activists, Canada: “We need to rethink a whole new system,” says Allie Rougeot (21).

Portrait, Allie Rougeot

Allie Rougeot lives and studies in Toronto and is already a seasoned climate activist. She describes one moment from a climate demonstration that left a deep impression. It was at a local, Fridays for Future event where Rougeot met a young boy who said that his motivation to strike was that he didn’t want to die. She says that while this may have been an oversimplification, his words “…reminded me why I am in this work to relieve these younger people from these thoughts.” 

As an activist, Allie has been to numerous demonstrations and travelled to international meetings where she has met IPCC scientists. She describes one of them who “…broke down in tears and hugged me, saying: ‘you’re the reason I still wake up in the morning.’” Rougeot adds that at the same events “…you’re meeting these people that are not afraid of saying that we need to rethink a whole new system.”

In Canada, one of the main concerns motivating Rougeot’s climate activism are issues facing frontline Indigenous communities across the country. “Indigenous people are suffering not only from the effects of climate change, it’s going to be worse in northern communities, with food scarcity, with the spread of disease. But they are also suffering from the causes of it, they’re getting pipelines [built] on their land,” she says. Rougeot expresses similar concerns for vulnerable populations across the country where climate change increasingly effects “…the people that are living, not like me on campus, basically, but anyone who has a house that’s in proximity to a body of water … In Alberta, it was with the fires. We very much have communities affected.”

As this story is published (July 2021), northern Canada experiences terrible wildfires and summer temperature records.

Fears and hopes

Rougeot grew up in France. She recalls an early lesson about human impacts on the environment from summer visits with her grandmother: “As a kid I would throw the rest of the bread in the water, and then the fish would come. Then, maybe three years ago, I did it again, I went back, and no fish came, and I was, like, where are the fish?” Her grandma told her that the port had become too polluted: “…so that was not climate change, but it was human action that destroyed something you know as a person.”

She hopes that by the time she is 30 the world has avoided the worst climate impacts and reduced future suffering. However, she also expects “…more of what we are already seeing… worse weather, foods that are becoming harder to grow and less nutritious, something people don’t talk a lot about, but when our soils are less healthy the food we eat is useless, basically, so we’re taking in more calories, no nutrients. So, I’m also expecting more and more health problems. Yeah, I think we’re going to see a lot of the health-related stuff, mental health-related stuff.”

One of the factors limiting climate action in Canada, and North America, as Rougeot sees it, is an economic system and livelihoods that remain deeply reliant on carbon-intensive industry: “So until we also have a government that says hey we’re actually going to help you transition, I don’t see why individuals would quit their jobs in a pipeline … you can’t ask that from someone. So, I think that we actually have huge barriers [to climate action], but I’d say, yeah, the first one is probably this huge corporate power here.”