Putting a Human Face on Climate Change

2015-12-06-16-40-36-imageGreetings! Upon completion of the first full day in Paris, I am left with a true mix of emotions. After 12 hours of going non-stop, I have my ear buds in and am listening to Greg Graffin while enjoying a hot cup of Jasmine Tea.

Today started with an opportunity to meet with our team of Education Ambassadors as well as our leaders Janet Brown and Kristen Poppleton. We started with a round of icebreakers that gave us an opportunity to find out some of the activities that my fellow ambassadors are passionate about and why they are here. Unsurprisingly, many of the activities people mentioned involved being outside and connecting with nature as well as the cultures of our world.

2015-12-06-16-39-56-imageDuring our interview practice, I was given the opportunity to interview Kathy Bosiak from Lincolnton High School in North Carolina. I throughly enjoyed the opportunity to find out more about her story. Kathy went to the University of New Hampshire and studied Occupational Therapy but switched to Life Sciences, which ultimately led her to her true passion, teaching. She stated that the reason why she is at COP21 is, “to show students the power of being passionate about something and to bring home a sense of hope and reality instead of looking at it through the eyes of the media.” She went on to state that, “there are so many people who care. Don’t be the one who gives up.”

2015-12-06-16-39-08-imageI am deeply passionate about hearing people’s stories, and hearing from Kathy was a powerful experience and a fantastic way to start the day. I was also able to hear the stories of Melissa Hortman, a state representative from Minnesota, and Ellen Anderson, a former senator from Minnesota. These were also very meaningful because both of these elected representatives are champions of legislation that supports reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Of the information that was shared by these representatives, the most interesting to me was on the Individually Determined National Contributions (INDCs) that are being submitted during COP21. I am very anxious to find out more about these national climate action pledges and to investigate the actions that countries are committing to in an effort to reach a goal of an 80% reduction in CO2 emission levels by 2050.

2015-12-06-16-40-36-imageAnother major highlight was seeing many of the letters that my students wrote featured in the Climate Change Position Statement book that Climate Generation created to showcase student voices for climate action. This book will be shared with the Science and Technology advisor to the president, John Holdren, who we will be meeting with later this week. Kristen Poppleton stated that it is her hope that this book will make its way all the way to President Obama.

The second part of our day was spent traveling to, and attending, “Storytelling for Global Action: An afternoon with Robert Redford” at UNESCO. This event was kicked off by Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, who stated that it is her responsibility to ensure that all cultures are defended and to ensure that no one stands alone.

2015-12-06-16-40-54-imageAs Robert Redford introduced himself, he began by declaring that he is committed to telling the story of Indigenous communities, and he believes that it is incredibly important for us to respect and practice Indigenous ways of thought. When asked how his life journey has been, he stated that his life has been filled with lots of challenges, but one of his greatest victories was when he was able to lead a movement that prevented a coal-fired power plant from opening in Utah. He went on to say that one of the greatest parts of that victory was when he received a $1 donation from an 11 year old who supported his cause.

The panel discussion that followed Robert Redford was unfiltered and transformational. The panel was moderated by Rhea Sun, president of the National Resource Defense Council, and included; Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, poet/activist; Mundiya Kepenga, a chief from a tribe in Papua New Guinea; and Minda Setra, Deputy Secretary General of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago. This panel discussion was deeply powerful for me as I connected with the story of each of the presenters.

Kathy began by stating that the difference between 1.5’C and 2’C is a matter of the Marshall Islands being above water or under. Munidya shared that he believes that the forest he lives in is not his; it is everyone’s, and if it disappears then we will all disappear. Minda spoke from her heart and expressed her deep disappointment about the recent decision at the negotiations that has the potential to remove special considerations for Indigenous communities when it comes to climate change.

I spoke yesterday about the great importance of our communities uniting to truly address climate change, and that is exactly what I was a part of today. Climate change has to become more personal and putting a human face on it must continue to be a major part of the conversation. It simply cannot be all about bottom lines and metrics; it must also include the stories of the beautifully diverse cultures of our world.

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