Tides and Waves

Craig Johnson was a delegate with our Window into Marrakech, COP22 program in 2016. He is an educator at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, MN.

COP23 in Bonn is the 7th UNFCCC Climate Change Conference I have attended and the 8th to welcome School of Environmental Studies (SESEF) student delegates as official observers. This week, the pace and magnitude of what has already been a busy COP has intensified. Perhaps it is this COP’s focus on small island nations or the fact that the island nation of Fiji holds the Presidency, but as people flow around me in busy hallways and move purposefully through exhibits, meetings rooms, computer centers, and work areas, I have been thinking the past few days about tides and waves.

Over the course of our years attending the COP, world circumstances that impact climate change have ebbed and flowed. Though, without question, we continue on an unacceptable trajectory with regards to atmospheric carbon and the associated climate impacts. Likewise, elections have brought dramatic changes to world leadership and priorities in key countries – the electoral events in the United States being the most vivid example, and this phenomenon has resulted in significant setbacks.

And yet…progress is being made and momentum to address climate change continues to build around the world, evidenced in countless presentations, exhibits, and initiatives at the COP. Since our first SESEF COP in 2009, not only has interest in and attendance at the COP swelled significantly, but growing numbers of youth, women, and indigenous people are present at the event each year as well. The world is moving forward. Literally every country in the world, sans the United States (on the federal level), is committed to addressing this global problem. The economic momentum toward renewable energy worldwide is a horse that has left the barn and will not be put back.

Despite the lack of a presence from the federal government, the privately funded U.S. Climate Action Center is an inspiring venue here at the COP, highlighting the efforts of cities, states, regions, businesses, and nonprofits to meet the U.S. commitments to the Paris Agreement with or without federal help. There is a tide that is building, of both committed people in COP23 hallways and in mitigation and adaptation efforts around the world.

While it is admittedly a bit uncomfortable and embarrassing to be attending the COP as an American this year, it seems important to take the long view on our collective efforts – both as a way to keep our focus on the collective goal of successfully addressing climate change and as a strategy to maintain our personal motivation to do what we can to combat climate change in our own lives. At a session earlier in the week, Governor Jerry Brown of California said, “Many people are contributing to this thing we call governance. I’m not in charge, and Trump’s not in charge. The progress we are seeing is the will of the collective to do something about climate change.”

This was a powerful reminder that as we work in our spheres of influence to improve the climate, we are all part of something much bigger than individual efforts. The current U.S. administration’s climate policies, while damaging and regressive, are temporary waves crashing on the shore. We are all part of the collective, global rising tide that will outlast the vagaries of federal leadership that is on the wrong side of the climate fight.

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