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When I met Cameron Fenton seven years ago, he was a loud, outspoken, teenaged music promoter in Edmonton, Alberta, putting on punk rock shows at local community halls and skate parks (his generation’s breeding ground to come to terms with their own views on religion, sexuality and social issues).
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for getting involved in the punk scene in Edmonton,” says Cameron. ”Like a lot of kids who ended up in that scene, I think that it was the first place I felt like I found a community that was building something I believed in, something positive and outside of what we saw as a broken system.”
For Cameron, music became a gateway. He discovered a knack for DIY organizing, and he started up a promotions company and record label.
Fast forward to present day and Cameron is still loud and outspoken, somewhat perfect traits for the National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. After graduating from Montreal’s Concordia University, Cameron became increasingly involved in social justice work. He worked as an independent journalist, followed by a position as Editor at Dominion magazine. He then took a position with Climate Justice Montreal, and, in 2009, he started with the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.
When most Canadian 20-somethings look a few years down the road, they envision themselves finishing a post-secondary education, finding a career, buying a home, and maybe having a few kids. But, Cameron notes, now is the tipping point for this generation’s future.
“I think we’re at a time when thinking about that ‘traditional’ future is getting harder and harder,” says Cameron. “Climate change isn’t simply an environmental crisis. It is inherently linked to the current economic crisis being felt around the globe.”
Canadian youth are facing the rising costs of post-secondary education, but, after school, they also face increased costs of living and housing, and the highest unemployment rate any group in Canada. It’s no wonder that disgruntled youth are emerging.
“A lot of things like careers and homes are out of reach for our generation. Because of that, we’re seeing a rising discontentment with the status quo, and that rebel energy is creating some amazing things,” says Cameron. He likes to draw attention to innovative, small-scale business co-ops, as well as to growing political movements, like the hundreds of thousands of students and youth taking on tuition in hikes in Quebec.
Bridgette DePape hands out Tar Sands gift bags outside the COP 17 conference centre. The action was a tongue-in-cheek promotion of the Tar Sands and Canada's record negotiating on behalf of Tar Sands oil companies.
“Simply relying on the government doesn’t work,” notes Cameron. “No major social change has ever happened simply because of the government. JFK may have signed the civil rights act, but he was forced to by a people’s movement. Slavery may have been abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation, but it was only drafted because a social movement forced it to be, by creating a moral crisis.”
So, if the government is out, who will save our souls?
“What lies on our generation’s shoulders,” says Cameron, “is the responsibility to (to steal a line from Ghandi) ‘become the change that we want, and need, to see in the world.’ Not simply as individuals, but as a movement and as a generation.”
Cameron notes that we need more individuals to recognize the issues, and that we need more from those who are already informed and involved. He strongly believes that “the collective imagination, the vision and ideals of our generation, can solve this crisis.”
“We all just need to decide to solve it,” he notes. “To build a movement that can create the political will to do it, and to create the community-based solutions that show the just and sustainable world that we want to live in.”
I, of course, had to ask Cameron about whether the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition has any plans to get involved in sustainable fashion. Unfortunately, it is not yet part of their objective.
“I wish that we could work on other things at times,” he notes. “But the problem with a changing climate is that, without addressing this issue and the root causes of it, we’re re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. To deal with climate change, we first need to take on the most destructive force on the planet: the fossil fuel industry.”
Though fashion does have a way of popping its stylish head into every corner it can. I leave you with photos from Cameron’s trip to Durban, where the Canadian Youth Delegation produced a set of mock “negotiators uniforms” that showed the true “sponsors” of Canada’s climate policy. (Think a Nascar driver’s uniform, emblazoned with corporate logos they are beholden to promote at every race.)