Local Student Attends Climate Conference
by CHRISTINIA CRIPPES
College student Holly Jones sees solving climate change as a complicated puzzle filled with thousands of interlocking pieces.
One hundred ninety three of those pieces came together in mid-December for the Conference of Parties climate change summit in Copenhagen. The delegates from those 193 countries, then, put their heads together to join more pieces.
Jones, 21, a senior at the University of Iowa, represents one of the most valuable pieces of the puzzle: the youth movement.
“We all have these different components that we focus on; we all have our own strengths, but then when we come together we can create a pretty great picture of what needs to be accomplished and how we can go about accomplishing that,” Jones said.
The Mount Pleasant native earned a trip to Copenhagen during the conference through the Will Steger Foundation, which reached out to climate change activists in the Midwest to focus on education.
Jones said more than 2,000 youths — of which about 500 represented the United States — attended the conference and represented everything from environmental education to sustainable development.
“It was an absolutely incredible experience that proved to be very exhausting but exciting at the same time,” Jones said. “We would spend about 20 hours a day working. … What I took away from it the most were all the relationships that I formed with youth from around the world.”
Jones said she’s always been a bit of an environmentalist, though she can’t pinpoint the exact moment she made it her cause.
She said college took her to the next level of activism, when she learned of all the organizations out there. Jones decided to join the Sierra Student Coalition, a youth offshoot of the Sierra Club, and has since become a member of the executive committee.
According to the Sierra Student Coalition Web site, the group’s mission is “to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.”
It fits Jones to a T, as she plans to graduate in May and get involved full-time with an environmental organization. It was also through the group that Jones, a history major with an environmental studies minor, found out about the Expedition Copenhagen opportunity through the Will Steger Foundation.
Jones found out in June that she earned the trip with 11 other delegates from North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois.
Jones said the conference inspired both hope and frustration for her.
“What I learned was more of a reminder of what a difficult process we’re looking at in coming to a consensus worldwide about the best way to tackle the issue of climate change,” Jones said.
She said it was a good sign that all countries not only acknowledge climate change as a reality but they’re also ready to work on solutions.
“When it comes to the actual facts of what we need and what we need to reach, those are pretty well-established — I don’t want to say concrete, but they’re well-known scientific facts,” Jones said.
She said one of the biggest clashes during the conference was developed countries versus developing countries.
At the end of the day, the agreement for countries to sign on to is that developed countries will finance $10 billion a year for a three-year program, starting in 2010, to fund developing nations’ projects to fight the impact of climate change while developing clean energy, according to the Associated Press. It also set a “goal” of mobilizing 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 for the same purposes.
While the nations’ delegates were doing their part, the youth were equally active in talking with negotiators and other key players discussing their solutions or concerns with them.
“It was really interesting, because any given day you could plan out what you wanted to do, but most likely you’d only get half that done,” Jones said, adding that it was due in part to unexpected opportunities to meet those key players. “You’d drop everything and go, so it was a really exciting experience because you literally had no clue what was going to happen next.”
One of the biggest meetings Jones got was to sit down one-on-one with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was once mayor of Mount Pleasant.
The youth groups also met with the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department, Lisa Jackson and Steven Chu, respectively, as well as Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry, who is leading the charge on climate change legislation in the Senate.
“I can honestly say that all of us are coming down to these negotiations more determined than ever to make sure that fair, ambitious and binding treaties are passed and bills are signed,” Jones said.
While Jones said a minimal amount of progress was made during the COP meeting, she remains hopeful a more ambitious treaty can be signed in the future. But the pieces are still coming together.