U of G Grads Aim to Spark Action on Climate Justice Among Young People

Biodiversity, climate change, First Nations drinking water, the youth vote: they’re among pressing issues that will affect the future of young Canadians, says U of G alum Manvi Bhalla.

A 2019 biomedical sciences grad, Bhalla now heads Shake Up the Establishment (SUTE), an advocacy organization she co-founded in her graduation year. The group, which includes 11 University of Guelph grads and four current U of G students, aims to encourage young voters to speak up and act on climate justice.

Their initial goal was to provide evidence-based, non-partisan voting guidance to youths ahead of the federal election in 2019.

That year, thousands of Canadians responded to a call by SUTE to email MPs about declaring a climate emergency. The campaign went viral on Instagram and Facebook; the federal government complied. “I’m grateful for the part we played towards achieving this,” says Bhalla, who in 2020 was named one of Starfish Canada’s top 25 environmentalists under 25.  

Still working to promote informed political advocacy, the organization disseminates information about the environmental platforms of political parties, and campaigns to address human and social justice issues related to climate.

Canada’s National Observer recently interviewed Bhalla about SUTE as part of a series on how young people are working to address the climate crisis.

Begun as a grassroots organization, SUTE is now a climate justice non-profit run by Bhalla along with U of G art history grad Janaya Campbell and Dr. Komil Bhalla.

In November 2020, Corporate Knights named SUTE executive members among its top 30 under 30 sustainability leaders.

SUTE members study and speak on varied issues, including a representative on a recent international biodiversity working group and teams looking at endangered species policies and the First Nations drinking water advisory crisis.

Bhalla has focused recently on supporting a proposed national strategy to address environmental racism.

She says motivated, social media-savvy younger people can band together to push for a more equitable and livable future. “The future voice really centres the future,” says Bhalla. “We need to have a say.”

Now working on a master’s degree at the University of Waterloo, she’s exploring barriers preventing public health decision-makers from acting on climate-related health risks.

She says her activism and advocacy stem partly from her activities at U of G. Among other initiatives during her undergrad, she led the local chapter of an international anti-poverty group, participated in high school outreach for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and took part in an annual stem cell symposium.  

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