Housing, mental health & cost of living crises pulling youth from climate movement, activists say
Alexis Wright/The Pointer

Housing, mental health & cost of living crises pulling youth from climate movement, activists say

Life in your mid 20s. You have recently graduated, landed your first ‘adult’ job and are living on your own. 


True freedom and real responsibilities. Finding out who you really are as a person. It comes with lots of successes and failures. And the stress of financial reality—when no one else is going to put food on the table and shelter above your head.

It’s Friday, payday. Rent is due on the weekend and the growing credit card bill has to be paid. 

You were hoping desperately to go out with friends, to shake off the work stress and money stress and relationship stress. But you reply, “Sorry, money is really tight”. They can relate. Another night of takeout, and a trip to the grocery store tomorrow for Ramen and cereal. 

It seemed, for our parents, this hamster wheel wasn’t as big, it took less time to complete another circle. They bought their first home in their 20s and never even thought of boomeranging to their childhood bedroom. 

A 2023 survey conducted by Leger found that 53 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35 were living paycheque to paycheque.

The compounding effect of financial insecurity, not knowing if home ownership is possible, and all the personal dilemmas that spill over from this cocktail of anxiety, leaves little space for many young people to address another inescapable worry—what those previous generations did to the planet we have to fix.

“People, especially youth are just being pulled in different directions with a lot of different demands,” Miranda Baksh, co-founder of Peel’s Community Climate Council (CCC) and a senior engagement coordinator at Environmental Defence, told The Pointer. “Maybe there are just more things happening in the world now, like stresses, like cost of living and other priorities, that kind of make volunteerism a bit of a privileged activity.”

Within the CCC, her experience on the ground with climate strikes, and in speaking with other environmental organizations, she has noticed a decrease in youth volunteers and youth involvement in climate strikes and other initiatives since the COVID-19 pandemic.


Police estimated between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended the Toronto event for the broader climate strike held in 2019.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


In 2019, hundreds of thousands of Canadians rallied across the country, demanding more climate action from their governments. Following global activists like Greta Thunberg, the Friday’s for Future movement grew internationally — the first Fridays for Future strike was started by Sophia Mathur in Sudbury. Local organizations like the CCC also grabbed a hold of the dominant youth voice and contributed to over 500 cities globally that hosted climate strikes across 65 countries and five continents in 2023. 

But while the movement is still bold in its goals, and according to a Leger poll released last year, 72 percent of Canadians are either “worried” or “very worried” about climate change — a number higher among women and children — turnout at the climate strikes has failed to reach what it achieved in 2019.

“The first one was in 2019, it was diverse culturally and we had a lot of youth,” Baksh previously told The Pointer ahead of the September 2023 strike. “But the one that we did two years ago, it was right after the lockdown, so, understandably, not a lot of people wanted to come out. But we still had like about 30 or so. And I would say that was predominantly older folks. So it was lacking that diversity last time.”

In 2023, Vancouver saw approximately 5,000 people of all ages and backgrounds come out to raise their voices in demand of greater climate action. While the movement was bold and vibrant, it stood in the shadows of 2019, which saw approximately 100,000 participants — a 95 percent decrease in four years. 

And Vancouver was not alone. In New York City, the strike’s epicentre, approximately 250,000 showed up in 2019 to watch Thunberg launch the international movement. Four years later, that number dropped to 75,000.

In Brampton, the CCC was joined by less than 50 strikers. But while the numbers were small, the demands were loud.

While the number of participants may be decreasing, the threat of the problem is not. Coming out of the hottest year on record — for the entirety of 2023, global average temperature remained 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels — the looming cloud of climate change is weighing heavily on society’s shoulders. Across southern Ontario, extreme heat decimated cities throughout the summer, with extreme heat warnings and little precipitation. Winter was not much of a reprieve, with only one week below seasonal temperatures and less than half the average snowfall accumulation recorded at Pearson airport. 

“I think it's very obvious that we're living through it. I'm thinking like, now there's barely snow on the ground. And really record high temperatures have been happening this February,” Baksh said. “I really think that people are seeing the day-to-day impacts of climate change. But we can only do so much in a day.”

And the fact of the matter is, with an abundance of pressure and circumstance facing young Canadians on the daily, fighting for climate justice is not always top of mind.

Canadians — and more locally Ontarians — are experiencing a cost of living crisis. Housing costs are soaring, climbing significantly more rapidly than wages, leaving young people scrambling for accommodation which sometimes leaves them in less than ideal circumstances. 

According to Statistics Canada, the average income for Ontarians between the ages of 16 and 24 in 2021 was $20,300. For those aged 25 to 34 that number climbed to $54,100. This means that the average person in Ontario aged 16 to 34 is bringing home between $1,700 and $4,500 per month. 

On the lower end of the spectrum, the average young person cannot even afford rent in Ontario. In some of Ontario’s most populous cities across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the cost of homes, as well as the cost of rent, has been skyrocketing. 

The average cost of a home in Ontario rose five percent between 2022 and 2023, topping at over $800,000. A single family home in the GTA is averaged to run for about $1.3 million. Even with a five percent down payment on the Ontario average, that still requires a new homeowner to doll out $40,000, money most young adults are not making as shown above, not considering subsequent mortgage payments.

But rent is not necessarily the better option. Over 2023, the cost of rent across the province rose, on average 4.9 percent, with the average unit costing almost $2,500 per month, between 56 percent and 147 percent of the average income of Ontarians between the ages of 16 and 34. While less populous cities like Windsor, Peterborough and Kingston provide cheaper housing costs, they often aren’t accessible to younger generations who need to be near big cities for work.

And instead of building the affordable, missing middle housing, the Ford government continues to push sprawl development that no one can afford and will contribute to greater environmental harms. 

“There's a very clear path emerging as a consensus when it comes to fixing the housing shortage, solving a lot of municipalities’ transportation problems,” Phil Pothen, program manager of land use and Ontario environment and counsel at Environmental Defence, told The Pointer prior to the tabling of the PCs most recent ominous piece of legislation dubbed the “Get it Done” Act. “And really, that approach hinges on doing the opposite of what the government insists on doing.”


Minimum wage across Ontario is lower than the living wage, with factored costs like food, rent, transportation, clothing, medical expenses, childcare, adult education, internet and cell phone costs, other expenses and government benefits, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network.

(Rachel Morgan/The Pointer)


On top of housing costs, other costs of living are also on the rise. According to the Canada Food Price Report, published annually by Dalhousie University, food costs rose between five and seven percent in 2023 with the average family spending over $1,000 more on groceries. While less steep, in 2024, prices are predicted to rise another 2.5 to 4.5 percent. 

A report released by Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office in 2022 found that utility rates increased 4.3 percent between 2018 and 2021 and could be expected to increase an additional two percent per year following.

All of these pressures are surmounting in a mental health crisis that is also greatly impacting younger generations. A poll conducted by Ipsos in September 2023 found that nearly 40 percent of Ontarians said inflation and high-interest rates have made them feel stressed, while 37 per cent said they feel anxious. On top of the 72 percent of Ontarians worried about climate change, the population is struggling.

“The higher rates of anxiety are around a number of things mixed together. So of course, there are people who are anxious solely about the environment and climate change, but there are others who are already anxious for a variety of reasons,” Edward Mantler, Senior Vice President and Chief Program Officer at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, told The Pointer. “And then environmental change, climate change is another stressor added on and becomes kind of a complex mix.”

He said older generations, especially those who have been experiencing anxiety throughout their lifetime, have a stockpile of tools that they can use to cope. But that same prior experience may not be able to help young people.

“Young people, in particular, just may not have the life experience of how to cope with that stress, how to cope with the anxiety and maybe add a bit of a loss. This could be a very new experience for them,” he said.

Baksh said the realization that small actions like flicking off the light switches and taking shorter showers, while good practices, are not going to solve the climate crisis, can lead to feelings of despair.

“It's a larger political problem that we need our governments on our side and other systems at play. And when you throw in several wars that are going on right now around the world into the mix, I think that it's really causing a lot of apathy, and maybe a feeling of hopelessness that there are just all these bigger problems that are happening,” she told The Pointer. “If we can't even respect each other enough not to have wars, let's say, how are we going to come together to fight climate change?”

While in some severe cases, depression and anxiety can lead to immobilization, Mantler said with climate anxiety, the opposite is often the case. For an individual who is experiencing feelings of hopelessness associated with climate anxiety, taking action and contributing to the cause can actually provide a sense of relief and pose the possibility of a brighter future.

“What taking action looks like, I think is very individual and different for each person. It might be educating yourself in a different way. It might be actually getting out and trying to make some change, advocating for change. It might be as simple as trying to reduce your own carbon footprint, and recognizing that that's your contribution to a solution,” he said. “But taking action can definitely help break that cycle of feeling hopeless and helpless.”


Peel’s Community Climate Council operates a Climate Hub which provides education resources about the environment and climate change to the general public as well as local municipal leaders.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)


Baksh agrees with the education piece which is something she and the CCC, through assets like their Climate Hub, strive to provide to Peel Region. She said this can stem from anything from the unseasonably warm weather, to deeper conversations about climate policy. It is about a recognition that we are all facing the problem and we all need to be a part of the solution.

“Community is the solution. When we raise awareness, we have increased climate literacy in our community, we will all be talking about what the solutions are and raising awareness,” she said. “Pieces like why voting is important and how we can shape politicians to really reflect the Canada that we want to build moving forward in a climate resilient future, renewable energy as our main energy source, for example.”

Advancing the conversations in the community can also help to put pressure on our governments and hold them accountable for real change. 

“We're limited to the amount of action we can have if the government is not on our side. If we were all more aligned, it would definitely be a huge help.”

But climate misinformation is still rampant which she said can lead to confusion and disengagement. For example, oil and gas producers, particularly across Alberta and Ontario, have been touting carbon capture and storage technologies as a way to mitigate emissions from these fossil fuel producers. But instead of transitioning to lower carbon energy solutions, like wind and solar, which are readily available, governments have latched on to this propaganda and are looking to instate these so-called solutions to continue burning fossil fuels while still working toward their climate targets.

“I'll admit that it's difficult for some people,” Baksh said. “I can totally relate and resonate with them. But there really needs to be a time that we just get on the same page and look at climate science and trust science, and data, and pollution.”

When asked what advice she would give to young people who are feeling the surmounting pressures of the world around them but want to get involved, Baksh said that “there is so much worth fighting for”, and to remember the things that are important to that individual because climate change intersects with everything. 

She used the example of a soccer player who may be concerned about air quality or land use.

“There isn't any facet of our lives that environmentalism doesn't touch. So I mostly just ask people to remember the things that they hold near and dear to them,” she said. “Just really think about the things that you love about your daily life or about the planet and recognize that it's so worth protecting. I think there's so much more worth protecting than not, and we just can't afford to let it slip through the cracks.”



Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

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