Would a good mother keep her child home from soccer this week, even though they love it? That’s what I’m wondering as I look at the extreme heat warning for southern Ontario, where temperatures will feel as high as 40 C as the days go on. 

I have so much climate grief, rage and fear, anticipating how exhausted from heat my kid will be all week, then upset if I say soccer seems like a bad idea. Children are more at risk from heat-related illnesses than adults, for a host of reasons. They can’t always tell when they need to drink more, for one, and their bodies aren’t as quick to produce sweat to help them cool off.  

But the biggest risk, in my mind, is grown-ups. We might not realize kids feel even worse than we do during a heatwave — and we’re definitely not doing enough to address the climate emergency that puts them at such great risk. 

In Toronto, where I live, only 177 out of 582 schools at the biggest public board have central air conditioning. In the majority of schools, staff and students cycle through “cooling centres” in gyms and libraries, spending the rest of their time in a hot, closed space with a fan, hopefully (a friend just told me he had to buy one for his kid’s class). The Toronto District School Board’s repair backlog is currently at $4.2 billion: without help from higher levels of government, thousands of children will be stuck sweating for years to come while the planet gets hotter. 

The board rarely closes in a heat wave, since not all parents can find last-minute childcare. Besides, not every home has air conditioning: when the school year ends next week, many children will be stuck in a hotter space, not a cooler one. As always, these inequities intersect with other disadvantages. Across the city and country, urban neighbourhoods where residents are most likely to be racialized, low-income and live without air conditioning are also least likely to have nature-based cooling solutions, which is to say tree cover, green spaces and bodies of water

I know I’m lucky I can afford air conditioning. I also have options for where my kid will spend the summer. I am full of tears and rage for every child in this world, all powerless to stop adults from pumping greenhouse gases into the air and left to cope with the dangerous weather that stupidity increases. Children in the global south are facing drought, hunger and war made worse by climate change, and did little at all to contribute to it. 

As a parent, though, I’m responsible for one specific young person. And I’m heartbroken to say that this year, when choosing summer camps, I mostly picked spaces with air conditioning. My kid loves running around outside chasing various rolling and soaring objects, which historically has been a healthy thing to do. But in southern Ontario in 2024, that could mean dehydration, heat stroke, heat rash or swollen limbs from soaring temperatures. Out west, the respiratory threat of wildfire smoke means my colleagues put N-95 masks on their toddlers’ faces before a canoe trip. 

Get it through your heads, grown-ups: the days of summer being the obvious time to send kids outside for some fresh air are nearly extinct. 

Instead, we’ll be taking them to air-conditioned theatres, where this summer’s trailers will include one for The Wild Robot. It’s based on a touching novel about an android dropped into the middle of a forest, whose heart swells when it realizes the beauty of nature and how all life is interconnected. It’s likely to be a lovely movie. The story crystallizes our broken relationship with plants, animals, water and wild things, but it also normalizes it in a way that troubles me. 

Because it doesn’t have to be like this. We know how to bring fun summers back, not just for my child and all the young people here now, but the ones who will be born in the years and decades to come. Their planet could be a much worse place. Or, if we act, it could be much better. 

Adults should be having adult conversations about the climate emergency. Truly confronting it means the fastest possible transition away from industries that release massive amounts of greenhouse gases. It also means the fastest possible ramping up of technology to capture what we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere, to prevent the planet from getting even hotter. The second one absolutely does not cancel out the first. If someone tells you it does, ask how they make their money. 

We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts
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We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts
The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism.

It also means preserving the wild spaces we have now, which already help regulate our climate, and could do more if kept healthy. It means demanding our government cut off subsidies for fossil fuel companies, and direct those billions toward an economy that creates meaningful value for everyone. It means reducing our consumption of just about everything, while also rolling our eyes when industries that produce huge emissions try to make our individual “carbon footprints” the problem. 

It feels both cheesy and obvious to say these things, but if you love a child, you need to say it over and over anyway. 

It’s going to feel like 38 C when I meet the school bus today. Many students in southern Ontario won’t be able to escape the heat when they go home. Every one of them deserves a safe and comfortable climate to live in. They also deserve honest, determined adults making every possible effort to ensure fossil fuels don’t continue heating our planet — even to run the air conditioners that can be life saving in times like these. 

Anything less is knowingly setting our children on fire. 

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

If Canada wants to be an international biodiversity leader, it has to start at home

Rodrigo Estrada Patiño is program director at Greenpeace Canada. Stephen Hazell is president of Ecovision Law and was executive director of both Sierra Club Canada...

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