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British Columbia With Kids for Climate Action, strength ‘is going to come from numbers’

Members of Kids for Climate Action sing a climate-change themed Christmas carol during a flash mob at the Pacific Centre food court in Vanouver.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

As a precocious and sensitive Grade 9 student, Kate Hodgson was hit with a wave of fear and then anger when she was taught about how humanity is hurting the Earth's climate.

"They were telling me that there was this huge issue of climate change and they were telling me that I was to blame for it, and that was a very scary thing," she recalls. "No one around me seemed to care. It was very isolating and I felt really alone in my activism.

"I felt like I was a very small person facing a very huge problem and I didn't really have the tools to address it."

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What she felt able to do was begin nitpicking through her family's consumption habits as a way to counter this increasing anxiety about the role they were playing in the warming of the world.

The problem was her parents had a relatively responsible carbon footprint: They had already switched their home in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood over to thermal heating and solar power, biked to work and bought organic groceries.

Ms. Hodgson didn't begin training her focus on the structural problems driving climate change until she decided "off the cuff" to join a 2012 anti-Enbridge rally outside Premier Christy Clark's MLA office in her former Vancouver riding.

"I remember walking down the street holding a protest sign chanting, 'The people united will never be defeated!'" she said in an interview recently. "That was the first time I felt like I could make a difference."

She became the director of the activist group Kids for Climate Action in Grade 11, and organized other Vancouver-area students to protest against regional economic activity they felt was hurting the environment, such as Surrey Fraser Docks proposal to expand a terminal for exporting thermal coal.

Now, as a first-year University of British Columbia arts student, Ms. Hodgson is one of roughly two dozen core members of UBCC350, the campus club pushing the institution to fully divest its $1.3-billion endowment of all firms producing fossil fuels. After helping organize debates for local candidates and drumming up the youth vote on campus during the federal election, her immediate goal is to help the group mobilize people to respond in the event that the university's board of governors votes against divesting $100-million of its investments.

A seasoned veteran of campaigning by the age of 18, Ms. Hodgson says social media "provides a really powerful and really helpful tool for mobilizing people." But she eschews the "clicktivism" of some of her peers for "real action," such as protesting in person, which she said helps people truly learn about an issue.

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"It's really important to think about climate change as a movement," she says. "Our strength is going to come from numbers."

Still, forgoing the normal activities of a typical frosh student is not an easy task.

"I never asked to have to spend my evenings organizing forums and meetings," she says. "But I knew that this was my responsibility, that this was so much more important.

"I've had to sacrifice a lot for this fight and I wish I hadn't had to."

She says to be a "climate activist is to feel pain and disappointment so powerfully," but she chalks up her resilience to these "troughs" of hopelessness to her Anglican religion.

"I don't know how people without faith are able to continue to fight because I find so much of my hope, so much of my ability to soldier on, through the hope that is promised by Christianity," she says.

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Ms. Hodgson plans to get a geography degree in environmental sustainability, and says she is inspired by writer and activist Naomi Klein and politicians Elizabeth May and David Eby.

Asked what she will do after her studies, all she knows is "that environmental and social work is where my career lies."

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