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Earth Day: Squamish students push for regional transit

Students in an environmental science class at Howe Sound Secondary lobby the transportation minister and launch an online petition.
Travel up the Sea to Sky Highway would be much safer for the planet and humans if we had regional transit, students say.
Some Howe Sound students have turned their Squamish climate change concerns into activism.

Kathy Cormack's Grade 11/12 environmental science class drafted a letter to the Minister of Transportation for the B.C. government, Rob Fleming, asking him to start up a regional transit service connecting Vancouver to Pemberton, with stops in Squamish and Whistler. The students felt this service would help tackle the climate crisis, increase safety on the highway and provide affordable and reliable transportation for our community, Cormack told The Chief. 

"We are hoping that you can help us to get the Sea to Sky region on track to help British Columbia reach its target of a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050," the letter reads. 

"Our home is not so much just the single community of Squamish as it is the entire Sea to Sky region. Let me share an example to illustrate. In our class, approximately 75% of us have one or more family members who commute to Vancouver or Whistler for work."

The idea for the letter came about when MLA Jordan Sturdy came to the class. One of the students asked him about regional transit and why Squamish doesn't have it. 

The class was very engaged on the topic.

Another speaker to attend the class was Ian Picketts, the manager of sustainability and climate change with the District of Squamish. 

He provided the class with lots of data on the impact of commuting and climate change in the district. 

"When you see the statistics that the District has compiled, you see that it is a very serious problem," Cormack said. 

"I think, honestly, anyone who lives here already knows that the traffic on the Sea to Sky is an issue, so if we can offer people an alternative, it could have a huge positive impact for the planet, but also for safety and affordability. It kind of ticks so many boxes." 

 Cormack said, though the course focuses on environmental science, the students expressed concern about housing affordability in Squamish. 

"They said, if there were regional transit that was affordable, it would give them freedom and they said, 'For my family that would be good.'" 

Cormack asked the students if they wanted to write a letter. 

They did.

They then turned the letter into a petition titled: "Sea-to-sky needs regional transit: Proposed transit service from Vancouver to Pemberton."

Asked if there was any pushback from any of the students over-focusing on addressing climate change, Cormack said the students look at the science with a clearer view than many adults.

"When you look at the science, there have to be drastic changes, like immediately, or else we are on a runaway train. The kids see that, and they say we have to make something happen here," she said. "It is interesting that youth don't get confused by distractions of adult life that can sometimes take us away from what we really feel is the right path to take." 

She added the teens are worried about their futures if the changes don't happen. 

Since the letter went live earlier this week, it has garnered not only signatures but also positive feedback. 

Mayor Karen Elliott, for example, wrote to the class and thanked them for their efforts.

Writing this letter advocating for regional transit was just one of the class projects this year. Another involved collecting all the garbage they created in a week to see their trash footprint. 

Here is the students' petition.
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