Dawson City in the Yukon used to be the largest city in North America. At one point during the Gold Rush, Dawson City housed over 30,000 people: the population of Whitehorse today. The population declined dramatically with the end of the Gold Rush.
The impacts of climate change are real in this community. A local Indigenous woman told me that Dawson City now has crows. It has always had ravens, but now it is warm enough that crows can come up there. They’re seeing different animals come up to Dawson City, the melting of the permafrost, and the colours of leaves change sooner. The wet season and dry season is also changing. The Yukon River, for example, is bone dry right now. There is literally no water in the river, and it is completely dry in most parts.
During my workshop at the school, one word kept coming up: Greed. The students could not understand, and actually became quite upset that the rich and powerful were polluting without consequences. They kept returning to the idea of the French Revolution. I tried to steer the conversation away from that idea. But they kept coming back to it. They were genuinely furious. And their anger is more than understandable. Before the French Revolution, the top 3% owned 35% of the land. Today, a mere 26 people owns more than 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. They were genuinely angry that the greed that had caused the problem is the same greed that prevents big, systemic solutions.
But you know what hope looks like?
Last night, I got a message from a student I met at a school in Whitehorse, Yukon.
The Whitehorse city council decided to declare a climate change emergency at its meeting Monday night with over 100 observers of all ages packed into the public gallery. The split vote came after 11 delegates appeared before council, including young teenagers, parents and seniors. Their voices were different but the message was the same: more needs to be done now to battle climate change.
Emma Marnik, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student, told the Whitehorse City Council she is proud to be a Yukoner, is proud of the vast wilderness the territory has to offer. But the territory, once a leader in the move toward renewable energy with its foray into wind energy and its reliance on hydro, has now fallen behind the rest of the country, and that needs to be changed, she said.
“We need to act and we need to act now,” 13-year-old Kalia Graham told council.
This is why we do the tour. With every student I meet, every school I visit, every community I engage, I’m inspired to keep going because hope is on the move.