Flávia Gomes Silveira and Emily Holzman are passionate about supporting the environment and fighting climate injustice—and are inspiring others to do the same. Both students in the Master of Counselling Psychology: School and Youth Concentration program in Vancouver, they helped organize Adler University’s involvement in Climate Strike Vancouver on September 27. They shared with us their experience advocating for the environment and why they feel called to take a stand.
What fuels your passion for environmental advocacy?
Silveira: I’m from Brazil, and things there are getting scarier every day. Amazônia was on fire for weeks during the month of August, and this was heartbreaking for me. On a political level, it represents the negligence and the violence of the new government. However, on a personal level, it was life-changing for me, as it gave me the strength to reunite with like-minded people who want to advocate for environmental justice.
Holzman: During my undergrad, I worked on a little urban farm in Vancouver, where I was introduced to people who were living more sustainable lifestyles and passionately sharing their motivations for fighting for our planet. Being integrated into that life really inspired me to reevaluate how I lived mine, and throughout the years I have tried to make changes to live more sustainably.
What motivated you to want to organize Adler University’s involvement in the climate strike?
Holzman: I knew that Adler Universality had participated in movements like the Pride Parade and other social justice causes in the past, so, when I heard about the climate strike, I reached out to Flávia, because she had talked about her interest in this topic in one of our classes. With her partnership and willingness to be involved with me, as well as Susanne’s support, we managed to organize around 20 students and some staff to join us on September 27 to march for climate action.
Silveira: I knew I was going to the climate strike anyways, because I wanted to be part of this historical moment to honour our ancestors, and protect our generation along with future ones. And just like me, many other students were thinking the same thing, but I did not know it until Emily emailed me asking if I was planning to go to the strike. After that email, we talked with Susanne Milner, Manager of Student Services and Alumni Affairs, who helped us organize the school’s march. It was an extremely empowering moment for all of us!
What did you take away from the experience?
Silveira: That’s such an interesting question… I would say that this experience taught me that some inspiring moments are born from a place of pain. Before, during, and after the strike, I would talk to people who are deeply suffering because of the impact of climate injustice. Being an activist is a way of turning that pain into action and hope. With that, I also know that I’m not alone and I can count on a community that will embrace me.
Holzman: Honestly, it gave me a real sense of empowerment. My intention was to get involved with something that was already happening, and I ended up helping organize a group of people to participate in this march together. It also inspired me to get more involved with campus life, and I am hoping to take on an active role as a member of the Social Justice Committee.
Will you be involved in other climate change initiatives?
Silveira: Being a climate activist is something relatively new in my life, but I can say now this is part of who I am. I’m planning on attending to as many strikes and activities as possible, always respecting my mental health in this process. But I also want to find ways of planning “small” activities on a local level, because I believe that if you can change one community, you can empower those people to keep changing other communities and spread awareness.
Holzman: This was something I was consciously thinking about the week of the climate strike. What was I going to do after the Climate Strike? This can’t just be a “one and done” type of participation. Follow-up was needed. During the week leading up to the strike, I had attended another event discussing the effects of climate change and had led a program at my job as a youth mentor. I am hoping that by potentially being involved with Adler University’s Social Justice Committee, we can bring more activities, events, and other opportunities to campus that could make an impact on students. It would be awesome to be able to inspire others to evaluate what places in their lives they can make changes.
Why is advocating for the climate so important?
Silveira: It is important to use your privilege to fight for causes that impact underprivileged communities. I could say that if we do not change the way we live right now, we will suffer the impact of it in 10 years, which is true. However, many people are suffering from the effects of climate injustice at this exact moment. For example, here in Canada, I have the privilege of drinking tap water for free everywhere I go, but back in Brazil I have to pay for drinkable water, and many people don’t have that money. So, advocating for climate change is advocating for having a basic need, for dignity, and for social justice.
Holzman: I believe that as we enter the field of counseling, we are going to be approached by more and more clients who are dealing with climate anxiety. I have listened to parents break down and get very emotional when contemplating what the future world may look like for their children. It is heart-wrenching. If we are not actively working towards helping our planet, how can we sit across from our clients and offer them relief? I am by no means perfect at living a low-impact life. But making the changes I can gives me a feeling of agency with a problem that needs some serious government and systemic attention.
What would you encourage others to do to help make a difference for the planet?
Silveira: We can first find the motivation to have a more sustainable lifestyle, to look for fair-trade options at grocery stores, to eat fewer dairy products, and to make an impact in our community. Every small action that we take and every conversation that we have creates a genuine connection within ourselves, between people, and between people and nature—and that’s what will make an impact on the planet.
Holzman: We need to be educating ourselves and others on what is happening to the planet and the changes that need to be made. I think awareness is crucial. The most tangible example I can think of was one day when I was looking at my toothpaste tube and thought, “Where does this go once I am done with it?” and realized it sits in a landfill or floats in the ocean forever. Sometimes, these things are unavoidable. But the more we think about these things, the more choices we will start to make that lead to alternative solutions and conscious consumerism.
Additionally, I think we need to be empowering our youth. When I ran a program with the youth I work with on climate action, the thing that stood out to me was that they were interested and wanting to make change but felt like they couldn’t have these conversations with their families because they wouldn’t be heard. Youth are our future, and their voices are powerful. It is part of our job to be aware of that and empower them to use their voices.