“Just keep it up. You’re doing the Lord’s work, and we’re going to win this thing together,” proclaimed a U.S. Senator in Paris during COP21. Ironic as it may be, these words were not those of a delegate in the COP21 negotiations nor those of a protestor in the streets of the French capitol. They were the words of Oklahoman Senator Jim Inhofe at a "counter-conference" for climate change deniers.
International climate change negotiations are a painfully slow process. Any observer present at COP21 could attest to that. The recently signed accord in Paris, decades in the making, took thirteen days of relentless deliberation among 195 countries, and even then was only signed at the last second — the evening on the day after the official end of the conference.
Knowing how sluggish these things can be, the conference organizers even preemptively booked the Le Bourget negotiation space for a week after the conference ended, just in case.
Something really exciting happened at COP21, and it wasn’t the actual climate deal. Don’t get me wrong, the Paris Agreement is historic and a good first step in the right direction, but something happened in Paris that is much more significant and carries a lot more hope for the future of the planet.
It is up to us to solve climate change.
For so long, the climate movement was simply about carbon, parts per million, and degrees of warming. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — those data are vitally important to understanding the climate crisis. But science alone is not enough to inspire people to action. How do you make people care about climate change through facts and statistics? Increasingly, climate activists are answering: You don’t. They’re popularizing an interesting alternative, by making people care about climate change through art.
Saturday marked the “last day” of the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris, the UNFCCC climate change negotiations that have been hailed for years as the “last chance” for the global community to come together on an agreement to address the climate crisis. Tens of thousands of activists, delegates and observers had passed through the gates of Le Bourget, the compound housing the conference, during the previous two weeks.
I’m a self-proclaimed optimist.
While I appreciate all the “realists” out there, I charge you to take a moment and consider how everything in life is just a matter of perspective, and in this case, framing the conversation.
“Imagine Earth without an ocean. We’d look a lot like Mars,” says Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and explorer. Discourse surrounding the perils of climate change is largely confined to the reduction of carbon emission without proper links to the ocean, even at COP21 where hundreds of nations made calls to action on mitigating the effects of fossil fuel consumption.
That unifying moment that we’ve waited for has arrived: the moment that division and fear do not guide our behavior but, rather, hope and science coalesce to ignite a societal shift toward sustainability and justice. The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), the United Nations Climate Negotiations, can be the foundation for such a collective movement for real change. Historically, human civilization has been divided.
“Take action.” These are the two words young people are most frequently met with when we ask what we can do about climate change. These are also two of the most frustrating words in the English language. What does “taking action” really mean? Considering the urgency and scale of catastrophic climate change, what can young people do to make a significant difference, and push for the sort of bold solutions we need to protect the one planet we have?