And my eyes they've got some vision
That can see through many lies
Or my eyes they look for better things
The better things to see in life
- The Cat Empire, Two Shoes
A day without sunlight.
Visibility so bad you can barely see to the end of the block.
Windy. Cold. The air thick with particles.
A line of red on the horizon. The fire is coming closer.
A miniature apocalypse.
Silence brimming with dread.
Marie-Ève is in Australia visiting her younger brother. It’s Christmas 2019.
In the middle of a massive wave of forest fires.
At the same time, Elsa, Olaf, and Anna are getting ready for a new adventure on the big screen.
“The fires were closing in on the town.
We didn’t really want to leave the house.
One time, though, I took my goddaughters to see Frozen II.
In the movie, the elements have been unleashed. It’s climate change in action.
You should have seen me – on the edge of my seat!
We talked it over afterward. About what happened in the movie, what the girls thought about preserving nature.
Because we have to keep teaching others how important it is to protect the environment.”
“When we left the theatre we were met by a black, smoky sky.
We knew the fire was coming for us.”
Marie-Ève’s family home in Donnacona, Quebec. A sprawling backyard.
In the distance, the softly lit horizon fades into the St. Lawrence River.
Cut to the 1980s. A landscape of rich green.
Yet underneath the earthy smell of leaves, we know our planet is heating up. And we’re beginning to understand that it’s time to take action, to do something to help the planet.
Well before Quebec’s environmental awakening, Marie-Ève’s family was already working to change people’s mindsets.
“My mom was deeply involved in many different causes. She was dedicated to her children’s education, and to fighting poverty. She’s over 70 now, but she still hasn’t stopped working.”
“Before there was municipal recycling, my aunt would rent a big van once a year and put out a call around the neighbourhood: ‘Bring me your paper!’ So even at 7 or 8, I was learning a lesson about protecting the environment.”
Marie-Ève was shy – “I was the studious girl at the back of the class, the one who never talked” – but the role models of determined women in her family taught her to raise her voice and speak about her growing passion for the environment.
“We finally got municipal recycling, along with the garbage pickup. But my dad wasn’t having it. ‘Don’t think I’m going to start sorting my trash… I’ve never done that in my life.’”
“It was a clash of wills. ‘No way!’ I answered. ‘We’re doing this. You’re doing this. For the planet. It matters!’”
“My dad changed over time. He’d tell me how when he went golfing he’d pick up cans and balls that people would just leave lying around in the woods.”
This experience taught Marie-Ève that she could use her power of persuasion to fight for a cause dear to her heart: the environment.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
And that has always inspired me.”
After completing studies in biology and agroforestry, Marie-Ève organized her future around the fight against climate change. For over ten years, she has worked for environmental groups in Quebec, pushing to bring about an environmental transition for society. The young girl who struggled to raise her hand and speak up in class has become a grassroots organizer.
My job is to incite people to take action. They need a little push. ‘C’mon, you can do it. Let’s go! Because together, we can do it. We’re going to change the world, together. Do you care about the environment? Then do something!’
I’ve organized demonstrations that drew 25,000 people.
I had to manage large crowds, speak in front of thousands of people, give talks.
And it was through that work that I learned to speak in public. I’ve found my mission.
I want to spread the word. Something needs to be done.”
She’ll say it again: no one’s perfect. And she’s no exception. But she definitely tries to keep her vocation in mind in her day-to-day life.
“I try to practice what I preach.
That means compassionate, environmentally responsible values.
I don’t just want to protect the environment. I want to protect Life, with a capital L.
I try to lead by example.
My vice is travel. Sometimes I’ll fly, to explore the world. But I also believe that when we discover the world, it makes us appreciate it more, take care of it.”
Marie-Ève works hard to make a lasting positive impact wherever she can.
“I started a community garden when I was 23 years old.
I wanted to show kids that carrots don’t grow in a plastic bag at the grocery store.
It was a pilot project. There were doubters: ‘That’ll never work in Donnaconna,’ they said. ‘Can’t be done.’
The garden has been going strong for 17 years.
And we’re thinking of expanding it, or starting new ones.”
It goes to show that we should never underestimate the importance of small steps, or our ability to make change.
For Marie-Ève, caring about our planet is only natural once we understand that we are all growing in symbiosis with our ecosystem.
“We are our environment: what we eat, what we breathe, what we drink, what we put on our skin. We are the embodiment of our environment.
When your environment is healthy, you’ll be healthy too.”
Marie-Ève feels that while the impacts of climate change on people and nature are clear to see, we still underestimate its scope and severity. And since climate change happens in the long term, she stresses how critical it is to take immediate, far-reaching action. Let’s stop kidding ourselves: we don’t have all the time in the world.
“That’s what makes environmental advocacy hard. You’re always fighting something. And you don’t get a lot of wins. Political decisions almost always lag behind the real needs. But we do win, sometimes! It’s so important to celebrate even small steps forward, one success at a time.”
But while we’re making progress, time is running out. And Marie-Ève knows it.
She was there.
“I saw the fires in Australia with my own eyes.
I saw what it means to be a climate refugee.
In a moment of clarity I saw that our planet is on fire.
Our house is on fire.
We have to do something about it right now!”
When Marie-Ève tells her story you feel like you’re right there.
“It’s New Year’s Eve.
We go outside. It’s dark, dark, dark.
The neighbour says ‘Pick up your things. We’re going to the evacuation point.’
My brother and I walk up the hill.
We can see something in the distance.
We’re about twenty kilometers from the blaze.”
“That was when I took my first video.
I told myself: ‘It’s important to document this.
What I’m experiencing is climate change.
I’ve been fighting this for ten years.’
“We grabbed two or three suitcases.
Everyone got in the car.
And we went to the beach.
I was so angry inside!
Mad at the human race.
Mad at myself, because I’d failed.”
“It was cold, windy.
The ocean was raging.
We were all sitting on the beach.
The sea was our only escape if the fire came.
It gets you thinking:
‘I have two children with me. My goddaughters are 8 and 5.
My mother doesn’t know how to swim.
Where are we going to go? What are we going to do?’”
“Once things calmed down we took shelter in the village casino, with a mix of locals and tourists.
The TV screens showed the fires across the country.
I volunteered to help taking the names of the evacuees.
Handing out meals.
It felt like the world was turned upside down. Everything felt wrong.
Behind us, in the back of the room, the children were playing, oblivious to the danger.
As the disaster swept in.
And you want to protect these children.
You want them to keep playing.
You don’t want to let them see how terrified you are.”
“That evening, the town was spared.
We were sent home. There was no electricity, no phone, or internet. Our only source of news was an old radio with an antenna.
We uncorked a bottle of champagne anyway, for New Years.
Even though there wasn’t much to celebrate. Except being together, I guess.”
“The next day, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., things got worse.
We were told we had to evacuate.
They opened up the roads again.
We had to leave as quickly as possible.”
“In biology, we study the complex interactions between living things and their environment. And at that moment I could see how the elements connected to each other; I could fully measure the scope of the disaster unfolding before my eyes.
Drought causes fires. The crops dry up, the cattle die. The fires create thunderstorms, which cause more fires.
When rain finally comes, it’s a downpour. No reason to celebrate.
Because the vegetation has all burnt, there’s nothing to stem the flow of rainwater.
The sediment ends up in the water.
When water is full of ash, it turns acidic. And it kills the fish.
It creates floods. Crocodiles come out of the water.
There’s a chain reaction.
The whole ecosystem is thrown out of balance.”
“It was a trauma we lived through.
After my month of ‘vacation’ was over, I struggled to recover.
I was just getting back on my feet when the pandemic hit.”
Marie-Ève pauses to catch her breath.
And despite the pain, and the horrors, she remains determined.
“Every crisis is an opportunity to create the world we’ve been dreaming of.”
At moments like these, when the Earth itself seems to groan in torment, Marie-Ève also believes she can make out a faint sound, as if a massive ocean liner is slowly changing course. That’s true of COVID-19, and of our state of environmental emergency.
“It highlights the importance of being together, of solidarity, of communities, of creating projects here at home. Achieving food sovereignty. Supporting one another.”
And who is better placed to inspire us and push this movement forward, than the women and girls in her life?
“My family is very important to me.
I don’t have children, but I have two extraordinary goddaughters, Élodie and Marguerite.
I’m the godmother who has promised to dedicate my life to fighting climate change, for the sake of their future.”
“To pass on my sense of awareness, urgency, and dedication to the things that we care about. I’ll keep going, even if it sometimes means getting out of my comfort zone, and going in front of camera.”
“I agreed to put my face on the mural because I have an important message. I want to inspire people to protect our environment, to make sure my goddaughters know I never stopped fighting for the cause.”Back to the mural