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This environmentalist is shaking up how young Canadians tackle climate change

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TORONTO —
Manvi Bhalla isn’t one to stand by if she sees something lacking.

In 2019, she and her friends saw too many young Canadians feeling lost listening to leaders’ climate change ideas during the federal election. So to help her peers navigate that world, Bhalla created the non-profit Shake Up The Establishment to give evidence-based, non-partisan resources to those interested in environmentalism.

Hundreds of positive replies praised their simple breakdowns of ideas and facts.

The group attributes its own advocacy work, in part, to the House of Commons declaring a national climate emergency that year. But since then, Bhalla and her team have been looking beyond one election or political party.

Shake Up The Establishment now aims to to boost people’s literacy and knowledge of the climate crisis and “approach the issue in a non-partisan way that was accessible to everyone,” Bhalla told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.

“We don’t think that climate change is a partisan issue at all,” said the young graduate student, whose group has broken down the federal 2020 Climate Action Plan and other reports documenting climate change and its effect on Canadians’ health.

Bhalla was named one of Top 25 Environmentalists under 25 for 2020 by the environmental youth advocacy group Starfish Canada. And over the past year and a half, she and her Shake Up The Establishment colleagues have called for a national strategy to redress environmental racism and amplify a number of environmental campaigns across the country.

MANY LEFT OUT OF CLIMATE POLICIES: BHALLA

Bhalla, who moved to Canada from India when she was a toddler, really began noting social, cultural and economic inequity when her family moved from Toronto to the suburbs in Hamilton, Ont., in her teen years.

“I realized that communities are being left behind — and particularly communities of colour are really being left behind — when it came to health equity and when it came to just health outcomes in general,” Bhalla explained.

Bhalla went on to help found the national nonprofit missINFORMED, which aims to improve the health of women and gender-diverse people.

Her master’s thesis at the University of Waterloo’s School of Public Health & Health Systems is currently looking into how inadequate climate change policy can disproportionately affect marginalized Canadians and ways on how agencies, such as Health Canada, can avoid that.

And she said a lack of equitable policy is a huge barrier, with policy decisions too often leaving out the concerns of racialized Canadians.

To that end, she provides and oversees direction alongside founder Dr. Ingrid Waldron for the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities, and Community Health (ENRICH) Project, which works with Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities to address the impacts of environmental racism.

This type of racism includes how they face greater exposure to contamination and pollution from industry, and slower rates of cleanup of contaminants and pollutants.

Shake Up The Establishment also laments the lack of racial representation in top jobs for environmental groups and on decision-making boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies.

So with every policy proposal, Bhalla’s group ensures multiple community and racial groups are consulted and their specific concerns are addressed. She believes that policy makers who better take into account the interconnectedness of communities is crucial, especially now.

And she’s currently assisting with a study looking at the socio-cultural and behavioural factors driving different communities’ reactions and adherence to COVID-19 policy.



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