Fridays for Our Future (and not for Fame)

This is the transcript of a speech I gave in an English class oratorical competition, about the #FridaysforFuture movement.

James Cook discovering Nootka Sound. Germany invading then-Czechoslovakia. The registration of the first Internet domain name.

What do these events have in common?

They all happened on March 15th.

Friday, March 15th, 2019. 1.5 million students on every continent attended climate strikes, to protest government inaction on climate change.

Everything started last year on August 20th, when Greta Thunberg, a fifteen-year old student, skipped school to sit in front of the Swedish parliament and demand that they abide by the 2015 Paris Agreement. Since then, she’s been joined each Friday by students around the world, and has spoken to representatives of more than twenty countries.

When she was younger, Greta was confused as to why adults weren’t talking about this global emergency. Seven years later, and nothing has changed. We should be panicking … the climate crisis should be in all the headlines … but we’re not doing anything.

According to the World Bank, climate change will displace 150 million people, but climate refugees aren’t even recognized by any international institution. In order to permanently stay beneath a 2 degree warming target, which would still have devastating costs, more developed countries need to reduce their emissions by 15% every year. And even if those of us who are privileged do survive, those less developed countries will not. We need climate justice, to guarantee that everyone has an equitable chance to survive this crisis.

There’s an enormous gap between the tiny amount of control we have at school, and these terrifying predictions that scientists are making. It feels like there’s nothing we can do that will matter—recycling and eliminating plastic straws won’t stop deadly amounts of greenhouse gases from being released. We may as well keep worrying about our future, and wondering how we could have ever ended up here. The reality is, though, being afraid of what’s to come is a great place to start, but a terrible place to stop. I want us to use our fear and anger, and take control back by striking, and by holding politicians accountable.

May 3rd.

The first airplane landing in the North Pole. New Zealand becoming an independent colony. The first spam email sent.

Friday, May 3rd, 2019. An expected 2 million students will be attending climate strikes, to protest government inaction on climate change.

Our generation could start the biggest student movement in history. We will probably be far more famous than James Cook or a spam email. But this striking is for our future, not for fame, or bonus points, or our résumés. Unless we keep asking our governments to reduce emissions and mitigate the climate crisis, only a few of us will be in a place to celebrate.

• • •

Although today may be Earth Day, our planet warrants BIG and BOLD action every single day. Join us on May 3rd as we strike at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 1pm, or at a strike in Australia, the United States, or across the continents. You can find more information about the Canadian strikes here, and you can pledge to vote with a science-aligned climate plan in mind here and here.

Old Faithful

Dear Mr. Zinke,

In the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I took a trip through the American northwest with my family. We travelled through Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and we camped in various parts of Yellowstone National Park for about a week. My fondest memory of the trip was waking up at 5 am to drive out to Lamar Valley. There, I watched herds of bison, elk, and bighorn sheep move across the plains as the sun cast golden rays through the chilly morning air. Perhaps you, a Montana native, took a similar trip in your youth. Yellowstone was more than a summer trip for me - it was an inspiring, moving experience.

Mr. Zinke, I must express my concern for Yellowstone’s well-being, as well as the rest of the national parks service. In our world of consumerism and urban sprawl, with the oil and gas industry knocking at national park gates, what measures, if any, will be taken to preserve places like Lamar Valley? To quote the Bureau of Land Management, “nearly $360 million [was generated] from oil and gas lease sales, an 86% increase over the previous year” (2018). I understand that resource extraction is an important industry in the USA and that oil reserves transcend protected land boundaries, but I urge you to consider what you are supposed to preserve. Many fuel-rich areas are located away from protected habitats. It is unnecessary, unwise, and inappropriate to compromise public lands for private interests, regardless of any financial threat or incentive. According to the National Park Service’s website, at least 204 of the 394 national parks host at least one endangered species (2017). This greatly threatens the USA’s rich biodiversity for an insignificant financial gain. It is unavoidable that habitats and ecological communities have been and will continue to be damaged in the extraction of natural resources, but with help from your department, national parks can be preserved as sanctuaries for vulnerable species.

A founder of the national park service, Theodore Roosevelt, once said, “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and [we] should see that [the parks] are preserved for our children and their children forever, with [its] majestic beauty all unmarred” (NPS.gov). Although the political and ecological landscape has changed greatly since these words were spoken over a century ago, the principle behind them remains unchanged. You signed through the shrinking of six monument and park boundaries in 2017 alone, which could easily spiral into reckless neglect of natural lands under the Department of the Interior’s new leader, Secretary Bernhardt. In his brief tenure, he has already “erased a chapter on climate change from the department’s handbook, ... advocated for the rolling-back of Endangered Species Acts, and relaxed [generation-old regulations] set up against oil and gas development.” (NPR, 2019). The decisions that you made have lasting impacts, whether they set a precedent for more action in the future, or directly impact animal and plant species and the environment. As a member of the group of children that Roosevelt referred to, I find it troubling that our land is being handed to us in a state of neglect. In no way are you completely responsible for the destruction, but in many ways, you are responsible for the reconstruction.

When my children are in their teens, I want to take them to experience Yellowstone. It is my heart’s sincere hope that they will be able to see Old Faithful erupt every 90 minutes, that they will be able to climb Mt. Washburn’s 10,000 feet, that they will see the Yellowstone Falls from Uncle Tom’s trail and the rainbow formed by the mist, and most of all, that they will experience Lamar Valley and all of its beauty and biodiversity. To close, let me tell you about an evening drive back to our campsite. My family’s car was forced to come to a halt on the road because of a large herd of bison crossing the road. Sure, we could have continued driving, weaving around the bison where possible, but instead, we chose to uphold the precedent set by generations of visitors before us, and wait for the bison. We chose to revel in the magic and beauty of dozens of bison grazing alongside the road. Mr. Zinke, the message I present is simple. The bison, like nature, doesn’t care what we, as humans, do. If we had plowed through the bison jam, we would have damaged our car and angered the bison. Similarly, humans have many choices on how to develop and behave, because of our wealth of knowledge, but we also share the same planet with countless other creatures. We can win by making money off of oil and gas on public lands, but eventually, that will backfire. Our national parks need sustainable development and investment, and it’s your job to do that. You don’t just represent the president’s interests - you represent the public’s, and that of all creatures. Maintain our lands for us.

With sincere hope,
Jonathan Lai

seeing red;

the sun starts to set

and the weather gets colder,

and it’s nice until you realize that

the red energy has gone blue,

and that you have gone grey.


the truth is that

it’s exhausting,

shouting at the top of a canyon

and hearing it echo back at you

except softer,


and when you hear a voice from the other side

and you have the audacity to shout a reply,

it is no longer yours.

it is theirs.


there is considered to be strength in shouting

at the top of a canyon,

even if the only voice echoing back

is your own.


but your voice becomes

nothing more than a reply,

and your red becomes weary

and then blue

and then grey

and then silent.

Stop Paying Lip Service

This is the transcript of a speech that we made during the Vancouver student walkout in support of the Wet’suwet’en Indigenous people. For more information, and to donate to their court fund, click here.


Thank you so much for coming!

We just want to begin by acknowledging that we are on the traditional, unceded, and stolen territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish), and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ Tsleil-Waututh Coast Salish people.

To preface this, we will receive reactions from others for being out here today in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people. The concept of allyship is one that many people in our communities at school, at home, and around the city don’t understand. As a reminder of why we are here … we are here because the voices of Indigenous groups in Canada are once again being devalued, and ignored. We have the capacity to amplify their voices in advocating for the preservation of their wrongfully taken land, and the dismantling of colonial and systemic injustice. Because of this, it’s our responsibility to continually think about whether an Indigenous voice would be more valuable in this call for action—and if so, to stop speaking, and listen.

This issue goes beyond the political, or the environmental, or the economic. It’s yet another concrete example of the words of our governing bodies not reflecting their actions—truth and reconciliation can be thrown around a million times a year, and yet we don’t see any work being done. People in power are refusing to accept that we profit off of our colonial past. Instead, Indigenous communities are overlooked as always, and we are comfortably allowing this to happen.

The premier himself declared that “if we deny that [governmental relationships with Indigenous peoples are] a problem, we won’t resolve it”, yet he was “confident” that there would be a “peaceful resolution” to the standoff at the Gidimt’en checkpoint (Globe and Mail, CBC). This completely undermines what the Wet’suwet’en people aimed to achieve. At the same time, the RCMP’s potential forcible removal of the Wet’suwet’en people violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both the provincial and federal governments committed to implementing in the summer of 2017.

The Unist’ot’en campaign was created to provide healing for Indigenous peoples. A government that claims to prioritize this same healing, and then invades the area and causes irreparable damage is unacceptable. To quote the Unist’ot’en Camp website: “This fight is far from over.” We will not be satisfied with politicians paying lip service by preaching Truth and Reconciliation, while harming Indigenous communities and our future.

“B.C. premier ‘confident’ for peaceful resolution after arrests at Gidimt’en camp checkpoint.” CBC.ca, 9 Jan.

2019. Web. www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/b-c-premier-speaks-to-media-about-arrests-

at-gidimt-en-camp-1.4971774

Hunter, Justine. “Horgan’s acknowledgement of unceded Indigenous territory a milestone for B.C.” The

Globe and Mail, 22 Oct. 2017. Web. www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/horgans-

acknowledgment-of-bcs-unceded-territory-part-of-a-path-forward/article36686705.

i don't understand––

i don’t understand

why statements are valued more than questions,

and why money moves are valued more than steps forward,

even if they consist of

steps back.

i don’t understand the immediate disposition

of undermining someone else’s position

because they aren’t the same as you,

and i don’t understand the ability to be openly unkind

even if someone seems backwards or behind,

because that person could be you, too.

i can’t begin to comprehend the conviction that it must take

to pretend you are incapable of making mistakes,

and that everything’s “okay” and really just “fine”.

the reality is that the world is falling out of line

and if that line is sympathy and empathy and compassion,

I guess we’ve never seen any of it in action,

because we pretend we open our minds and open our hearts,

we pretend we know best as we calmly throw darts

at the concepts and people we do not understand,

instead of acting on our potential to expand.

i get it though–it sucks to have to save the day,

and time and time again I wish it wasn’t this way,

but it is.

if we can truly believe in the power of progress,

if we soften our gaze and look into us, not at us,

if we listen and learn, and don’t make up our minds,

saying that everything is “good”, and that everything is “fine”

because the way one sees it is the way we all should––

instead, simply recognizing the beautiful force we all could

be,

i will finally be able to say, rather proudly,

that i had never imagined a world so profoundly

connected, colourful, caring and inspired.

i’ll think back to when they said this was simply how we were wired.

“we weren’t wired to pick left or right,” i’d say,

“and we sure as hell weren’t wired to have only one trying to save the day.

we were put on this earth to unite and pull through

any hardships we’d faced, and to search for the truth.

we are wired to send a current of change through our lives

and into the universe, to watch it all shift before our eyes,

and become stronger, and better––

the best is never stagnant. we were wired to become a masterpiece,

not individual, broken fragments.”

we were wired to become a masterpiece,

not individual, broken fragments.

but maybe that’s just me.