By Don Landry
Ethan Elliott is an energetic, driven young man, a graduating Stratford high school student who has already left his mark on the ecology of his native Perth County. This though, is just the beginning, one would have to assume. There is the promise of more to come, beyond his hometown borders.
When Stratford mayor Dan Mathieson signed off on the city’s promise to commit to the standards necessary to be designated a “Bee City” in April of 2017, it was the culmination of the vision of people who were determined to push for solutions to the problem of a dwindling bee population.
Elliott was an instrumental force in making Stratford the second Ontario city (next to Toronto) to earn the designation from BeeCityCanada.org. That designation commits the city to improving pollinator habitat – including planting native plant species – and to educating the community about the importance of pollinators.
“My role in that project was I was kind of an instigator,” says the 17-year-old student at Stratford Central. “I really worked to push it through council.”
Elliott says he has always had a keen interest in the environment and the many connections within it. His extended family, he says, is filled with relatives with a background in agriculture, including his mother, who grew up on a farm just outside Shakespeare.
“I’ve always had a bit of a connection to our community, as far as the importance of agriculture, locally grown food and farming,” says Elliott, who fondly recalls childhood time spent in the outdoors with his grandmother.
By putting up Bee City, we try to promote conversations and really try to legitimize the solution of pollinator plantings. Hopefully that can inspire people to take action.
Eager to take part in the Ontario Nature Youth Summit in 2015, Elliott jumped at the chance to join the discussions and workshops. It was there that he became intent on doing something to help strengthen the population of bees and other pollinators.
“I was really inspired that weekend. It was a really empowering weekend for me,” says Elliott, who subsequently went forward with a commitment to do something about the problem at the local level.
“There is a lot of effort at provincial and national levels to try to ban pesticides and push pollinator rights at that level,” he says, appreciative of those efforts but believing something else was needed. Something more grassroots.
“You need to disseminate the change locally,” Elliott says. “People don’t want a top-down solution. They want a bottom-up solution. By putting up Bee City, we try to promote conversations and really try to legitimize the solution of pollinator plantings. Hopefully that can inspire people to take action.”
Buoyed by his success with the Bee City initiative (he hasn’t left that totally behind, organizing plantings from time to time), and with more concerns about the environment on his mind, Elliott has since been active on the issue of the sustainability of the planet.
This is an existential threat. No way around this. We don’t get to be apathetic at this point. … Climate change influences almost every other issue that we’re working on right now.
Last March, he helped organize a student climate strike, with some of his classmates leaving school and marching to and around city hall. Grabbing a bullhorn in front of a crowd at Stratford’s Market Square, Elliott spoke to classmates and supporters about the pressing need for action.
“This is an existential threat,” Elliott tells me. “No way around this. We don’t get to be apathetic at this point.”
he graduates from Stratford Central, Elliott is eagerly anticipating his new horizons as a student at the University of British Columbia, where he intends to be busy, with an intense class load.
“Hopefully a double-major in International Relations and Environmental Sustainability,” he says, noting that his scholastic endeavours will not keep him from being an active part of a collective student voice on climate change. Indeed, part of the reason he chose UBC, he says, was due to its reputation as having an engaged student body.
“Climate change influences almost every other issue that we’re working on right now,” Elliott says, explaining the importance of continued advocacy. “We can’t push to create the world we want to live in if we have climate change affecting us. We can’t have an economy without an environment.”
“If we don’t have the basic rights of water, food, of shelter, how are we gonna go further?”
Do you know other teens leading the way on environmental issues and climate change? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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