Q and A with youth climate justice activist and Quaker, Maggie Knight.

“Today, it’s a belief in justice, rooted in science, faith, and community, that motivates me to act.” Maggie Knight, Climate Justice Activist.

Maggie Knight is a member of Fossil Free Faith. She hails from unceded Coast Salish territory in Victoria, BC, and has been speaking up for climate justice since her teens. She now works with RADIUS at Simon Fraser University, collaborating with social innovators to build a new economy that’s just, sustainable, and healthy for all.

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Maggie Knight. Photo by Caelie Frampton

You are a member of Fossil Free Faith. Can you tell us a little about why you joined this group? That is, what motivates you to engage in the eco-and social justice movement and how does this tie in with your faith?

I was just getting settled into living in Vancouver when Christine Boyle and I went for lunch and she mentioned her plans for the Fossil Free Faith Fellowship. I grew up on unceded Coast Salish territory in Victoria, but had lived in Montreal for five years and Halifax for two before coming back to the West Coast. I was used to being fairly private about my faith, but I found myself having many more conversations about what it meant to be a Quaker in the lead up to my wedding (I married my long-time partner in July 2015).

I was ready to lean into the connection between my decade of climate and social justice activism and my faith, and I wanted to connect with other young people of faith and to learn about how their faiths motivate them to act.

I grew up near the ocean, and my initial environmental activism as a teen was focused on environmental protection initiatives like reducing waste and overconsumption and protecting the trees in my neighbourhood through a revised bylaw; simultaneously, I was passionate about human rights and peace building. As I grew up, my understanding of both peace and environment deepened, and became rooted in justice. Environmental stress is a major cause of conflict, and conflict causes incredible environmental devastation – and of course climate change has many complex justice dimensions, domestically, globally, and intergenerationally. In university, I studied environmental science, policy, and economics to further learn about these complexities.Today, it’s a belief in justice, rooted in science, faith, and community, that motivates me to act.

Have you always seen the connection between your faith and climate justice?

Quakers have a long tradition of activism on social and environmental fronts, so when I became involved with Friends (the formal name for Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends) as a teenager I was surrounded by many examples of people who lived out their values through their activism. Quakers are guided by testimonies of Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Earth Stewardship, and in worship we gather in silence and listen inwardly for divine guidance, sharing spoken ministry out of the silence if we “feel so led”.

I think I have always understood my faith to be rooted in seeking how best to live according to your values and offer what you can to the world. This ongoing seeking and discernment for one’s path forward calls on your knowledge of the world, including the science and effects of climate change. In this sense, there has always been a connection between faith and climate justice.

How is your activism perceived by your faith community, your peers?

Photo by Tori Ball

I’m lucky to have a very supportive faith community that has encouraged me in activism over the years. I’ve learned a lot from older Friends and been financially supported to attend events and undertake projects; I’m just starting to be able to give back in kind. Quakers can see this kind of work as a spiritual “leading” that may be supported by the community.

I’ve made many good friends through climate justice organizing, and I’m lucky to have a group of friends who support my activism even if it’s not always the path they choose for themselves. Especially early on I’d sometimes end up in arguments about the facts of climate science with peers who believed climate denier arguments, but that’s much less common these days as public awareness and climate science literacy has improved..

What are you plans moving forward for climate action?

To me, the movement for climate justice is a lifelong effort. At the moment, I’m exploring interfaith climate justice work through the Fossil Free Faith Fellowship, connecting with faith communities about how their spiritual beliefs and religious practices call them to action.

After about 7 years of full-steam-ahead climate activism (from my mid-teens through my undergrad at McGill), I rolled back my volunteer commitments to focus on two major roles. First, I was elected president of McGill’s undergraduate student union and was in office during the 2011-2012 Quebec student strike. When my term as student president ended, I joined the young political advocacy start-up Leadnow.ca and ended up Managing Director, throwing myself into building a progressive political organization that could mobilize hundreds of thousands of Canadians for a fair economy, a deeper democracy, and climate justice.

A little over a year ago, it was time for me to recover after over 3 years of sprinting and take a step back to be fully present as my partner and I celebrated our marriage. (After being part of an activist culture of overwork for a long time, I still feel a little uncomfortable saying that – but I also believe that we need to lift up better boundaries so more people can commit to climate justice work for the long haul.) I’ve been working with RADIUS, a social innovation lab and venture incubator at Simon Fraser University, collaborating with innovators to transform our economy to be just, healthy, and sustainable for all.

I’ve contributed to some anti-racism and pro-democracy organizing efforts on a small scale (both of which I see as deeply related to climate justice work) and I’ve been enjoying learning from the other Fossil Free Faith Fellows. I’m enjoying this time of reflecting on how I am led to organize for climate action through faith (in addition to speaking through the language of science, economics, and movements), and looking forward to jumping in with both feet again soon.

About Maggie Knight.

After years of climate activism with the Sierra Youth Coalition, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, and others, Maggie served as President of McGill’s undergrad student union during the Quebec student strike and as political advocacy non-profit Leadnow.ca’s first Managing Director. Less publicly, she’s a Quaker – a religious tradition grounded in testimonies of simplicity, equality, integrity, community, and peace. Quakers worship in silence, each inwardly listening for divine guidance; with no priest or preacher, all gathered are welcome to give spoken ministry if they feel “led.” Maggie has learned from Quaker elders who have worked for justice for decades, from the front lines of the civil rights movement to standing up for Indigenous rights in James Bay. Maggie believes that faith communities have a powerful role to play in articulating the moral imperative for climate justice and leading by example.