Lily Barraclough became an environmental activist when she was in senior kindergarten and asked to create a “no idling” banner that later became a bumper sticker. As she grew up in Toronto her commitment deepened, and she eventually ran both the environmental club at her high school and the Toronto Youth Environmental Council.
“It stuck with me,” says Lily, now 20 and a second-year environmental science and History of Science and Technology (HOST) student at King’s. “Climate change is very real. It’s happening now. We’re seeing an increase in extreme weather events. I want a safe future.”
Lily enrolled in the Foundation Year Program (FYP) (Sciences) in 2016, saying she was drawn to King’s because of its small community and beautiful library. But on her first day of FYP she was homesick. Fortuitously, she met King’s President William Lahey that day, and the two began talking. When she subsequently saw him on campus he’d always ask how she was doing, and the two formed a connection that has continued given their shared interest in environmental issues.
Lily is active in iMatter, a North American movement that, according to its website, challenges youth to use an “authentic voice and power to disrupt the status quo and push local leaders to do what is necessary to end the climate crisis and transition to a just, sustainable society.” She was the first Canadian iMatter member when she lived in Toronto and helped grow it so that today there are two staff members and eight Canadian municipalities involved—including Halifax.
“Young people need to feel they have a voice and can make a difference,” Lily says. The group pairs youth with mentors and facilitators with whom they meet weekly to develop their communication skills and learn about political engagement. She’s committed to iMatter because she says being a young environmental activist can be isolating, adding she was nicknamed “Eco-geek” in high school. “People are well-meaning but not so supportive. We (through iMatter) want to do our best to support youth with resources and information but also as people.”
Lily also successfully lobbied for reinstatement of the Youth Advisory Committee at Halifax Regional Council. Although she says public consultations have long been open to youth, the political process is not always welcoming to this demographic. “I want to get more people involved in municipal political issues instead of being alienated by them,” Lily says. She’ll be working to recruit other youth aged 15 to 24 onto the committee in coming months, saying these voters and soon-to-be-voters represent the future. The committee issued a Climate Change Report Card for Halifax last year, grading the city a C+ based on its Climate Change Action Plan. (For balance, she mentions Halifax’s waste management program scored an A+.) Lily’s also committed to diversity on the Youth Advisory Committee and is recruiting representatives from different districts and cultural backgrounds.
She thinks holistically not only about political engagement, but about climate change too, saying it’s dangerous to think of it as an isolated issue. “Poverty, refugees, racism, feminism—these are also affecting and being affected by climate change,” Lily says. “Climate change as a catastrophe is a result of systemic issues in our society.” She adds that environmental injustices such as a landfill next to a marginalized community means that minority and marginalized communities are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Her studies have allowed her to pursue this interdisciplinary thinking, and she says her courses and professors have been very supportive. This year she’s studying how climate change is explained in the media, and in her Biopolitics class she’s writing about climate change refugees who’ve lost their homes because where they live is constantly in drought, under water, or suffering from food shortages. And she’s been involved with the King’s Student Union Environmental Action Committee, helping organize a letter writing campaign opposing the Kinder Morgan Pipeline.
Lily’s also committed to personal acts of activism such as buying and cooking local food as opposed to eating out, shopping at thrift stores and using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic. For Christmas this year she asked her parents to buy carbon offsets for her flight home rather than gifts.
President Lahey and Lily are hosting an event in the President’s Lodge on April 6 to support iMatter. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.