The Merrickville Lions Club Campground had a special guest last week. A woman who travelled all the way from Calgary, Alberta – on foot. Ann Cognito started her journey from Calgary to Ottawa on April 20, accompanied by her four-year-old dog, Mr. Myrtle. Her goal? To deliver a letter and petition to the Prime Minister asking him to take climate change action seriously. “I plan on staying there until we have change,” she says.
Ann became a climate activist after she read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that was released last Fall. “I read all 82 pages,” she says. “It said we had 12 years to put changes in place.” An academic at heart, Ann investigated further and found other research that suggested we may only have 1.5 years left to make significant changes. “The research can’t even keep up,” she says. “We may be locked into a far higher temperature increase than we can tolerate.”
The first thing that Ann did was start the Alberta chapter of Extinction Rebellion (XR), which is a non-political grassroots movement aimed at compelling government action on climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the risk of social and ecological collapse. “I just needed to get it started,” she says, adding that she has since turned it over to those she feels are better equipped to run the group in Calgary.
After stepping back from XR Alberta, she was unsure of what to do next. As a 50-year-old woman on a disability pension, with several physical ailments, she didn’t want to just sit at home with both her physical pain and mental anguish about what was happening to the planet. “Who am I? What am I good at?” she asked herself. “How can I make that useful to people?”
As a self-proclaimed gypsy hermit, Ann decided to channel her intense anxiety and anger and walk to Ottawa and, as she puts it, “give them a piece of my mind.” Her plan is, hopefully, to arrange a meeting with Justin Trudeau where she can give him her petition, which now has thousands of signatures, as well as a letter she has written outlining the demands of XR. “I am stubborn, and I can just sit there until they listen,” she says, adding that she is already in the process of getting proper permissions to set up camp on Parliament Hill.
Ann’s message is three-fold. She wants the government to tell the truth about how deadly the climate crisis is, reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2025, and create regional, national and international assemblies to make sure those things happen and to oversee the changes. “It is going to hurt, but going extinct and killing the planet is going to hurt a lot more,” she says. “They knew about this 30-40 years ago, that this was going to happen, and here we are anyway.”
The journey from Calgary has not been easy for Ann. She has been delayed several times due to physical injury and had hoped she would be in Ottawa several months ago. “It has been physically and mentally challenging,” she admits. “But sitting and doing nothing is just as bad in different ways.”
Throughout her journey, Ann has met many people, both those who support her effort and those who deny climate change altogether. She says she has been amazed at how she has been able to change the opinions of some people who were so closed minded at first about the realities of the climate change crisis. “One small-town climate change denier even signed my petition,” she says.
Ann has had many people help her and show their support of her effort over the past few months, and some have even walked alongside her for short distances. “I keep getting to share good human being stories,” she says, and she wishes she had the capacity to keep in touch with everyone she has met.
She believes that part of the reason there is little to no action being taken against climate change is the fact that we have given up on ourselves. “This has shown the basic goodness of human beings,” she says. “I believe we are innately good, and we won’t let this happen. We can make a difference and we will.”