'Today is Friday': Greta Thunberg brings her fight for the climate to Alberta

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg spoke to hundreds of climate change activists at a rally at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Friday. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC News)

By foot, by bus and by truck, hundreds of Albertans are making their way to the provincial legislature grounds in Edmonton, drawn by a 16-year-old Swedish girl who is trying to change the conversation about global warming.

Wearing a turquoise parka, environmental activist Greta Thunberg marched among the hundreds of people along several major downtown Edmonton roads, ending at the Alberta Legislature where hundreds more were waiting to greet here.

Organizers anticipated more than 1,000 people — including more than 100 who set out early in the morning from Calgary — to show up for the Fridays for Future rally, the climate strikes that originated with Thunberg and have spread around the world.

As Thunberg took the podium, she noted that it seemed like the rally had greatly exceeded that target.

"Today is Friday," Thunberg said early in her remarks. "And as always, we are on climate strike. Young people all around the globe are today sacrificing their education to bring attention to the climate and ecological emergency.

"And we are not doing this because we want to. We aren't doing it because it's fun. We're aren't doing it because we have a special interest in the climate or because we want to become politicians when we grown up.

"We are doing this because our future is at stake."

Hundreds of climate change activists, along with some supporters of Alberta's oil and gas industry, gathered at the Alberta Legislature early Friday afternoon. (Peggy Lam/CBC News)

The ceremony included traditional prayers, passionate speeches from Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth alike and a powerful performance by Chubby Cree, an Indigenous hand drumming group.

Thunberg gave a special shout-out to the young and Indigenous leaders present at the rally, saying "you are the hope."

Her speech touched on many of the themes that she has become known for: the need to heed science, the need for developed countries — like Sweden and Canada, she said — to lead the way in reducing their emissions to allow developing countries a chance to heighten their standard of living, and the desperate need to do things quickly.

'Better yet, join us'

"We need to start treating this crisis as a crisis," she said. "Because you cannot solve an emergency without treating it as one."

"And if you think we should be in school instead, then we suggest you take our place in the streets. Or better yet, join us so we can speed up the process."

A convoy of oil and gas supporters had grown to about 50 vehicles, all headed toward the Alberta legislature where a climate rally is happening on Friday. (Min Dhariwal/CBC News)

Absent from the event were any representatives of the Alberta government. Premier Jason Kenney was at the Keephills power plant, to mark the completion of a 120-kilometre pipeline that will begin providing natural gas to replace the coal-fired power generators.

During his press conference, the premier took a not-too-subtle swipe at the protesters attending the rally.

"To those folks gathering at the legislature today I want them to know that when they charged their iPhones last night it was with power being generated out of this plant," he said to smattering of applause.

"When they power up the speakers at the legislature today, the power that lets them be heard came from power generated at power plants like this, that will be cutting their green house gas emissions in half because of practical measures like this."

In addition to oil and gas supporters on foot in the crowd, a convoy of about 50 vehicles had made their way to the legislature, about half of which had made the journey from Red Deer earlier in the morning.

The United We Roll counter-rally, planned by the group that organized a pro-pipeline convoy to Ottawa in February, was to express frustration with celebrities visiting the province and telling Albertans how to run their business.

"We're not there to be bullies. We're just there to show our support for oil and gas," group spokesperson Glen Carritt said Friday morning. "This is Alberta and we're hurting. We've lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in Alberta and we've lost hundreds across Canada."

For Priya Migneault, a 15-year-old who joined the Calgarians coming by bus to Edmonton, the planned counter-protest made it even more important for Thunberg to have supporters in the crowd.

"I really just want her to feel supported in Alberta and I want her to feel welcome," said Migneault, who is an organizer with the group Fridays for Future YYC. "I definitely don't think they [the United We Roll group] are the enemy. I think they're just expressing their opinion.

"I just don't want Greta to feel like she's alone in her fight for climate action in Alberta."