Public Narrative (or, why i am going to the UN climate negotiations in lima, peru)

living, as i often do,

in post-industrial cities,

i articulate reasons why

i am a writing educator –

the stories of our lives

matter. as roland barthes

once famously said,

i am interested in language

because it wounds or seduces me.

or, another, from laetitia sadler:

what’s society built on?

built on words. built on words.

in december i will fly thousands of miles

to speak my languages, all or at minimum

both, repeatedly, in chambers, in hallways.

the fate of the free world could be at stake.

tides are already beginning to rise.

at this prospect, i often feel bathed

in thoughts of blithe nihilism –

to return to the foot of the cordillera

of my birth and assert expertise

on storybook matters of urgency,

on the brisk urge to curtail

the droughts, the floods,

the heat, erosion, melting glaciers,

soil contamination, make a wake, a wake,

a wake, a wake, awake.

these are the stories i want to share:

a woman teaching sick workers in tijuana

how to forage clam shells for beads.

my friend mike, who is

a three-time cancer survivor

and aging prophet of lake charles, louisiana.

the taste and smell of houston air.

how oil and water don’t mix, not

in chalmette, not

in whiting, not

in loreto, not

in ogoniland.

the first community solar streetlight

ever to grace the streets

of highland park, michigan,

blocks from the birth of cars.

what heat exhaustion feels like.

how easy it can be to plant fruit trees.

the disarming joy of sharing a simple meal.

universal things.

i am going back home

to south america

because language either wounds

or seduces, and because

we build with words what we see –

we need a story that honors

who’s been failed, who we throw

away, who we’ll need (all of us)

to speak and see

with loving-kindness,

universal things – the romance

and boldness of care, stewardship,

for the earth, for each other.

for abolishing throwaway geography.

 

having said this, i

want to open up the discourse

and ask you

what you’d say

if you could go, too.

by Pablo Baeza

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Why do we need an Anti-Oppression Committee at COP?*

Whew..that’s a big question with an even bigger answer, so I’ll just briefly touch on a couple of things.

  1. As you can read in the “About Us” section, we’re a subcommittee that’s part of a larger international committee of SSC youth going to COP. Anytime you work around social justice issues, including environmental justice and climate change, or work in another community, it’s essential to ensure that your work is as anti-oppressive as possible. That’s why we’re here. Our main focus as a committee is to attempt to make the work that our delegation does as anti-oppressive as possible. This includes a lot of different things (this is by no means an exhaustive list):
    1. researching cultural norms and practices of the city and country where the conference is held (Lima, Peru in the case of COP20)
    2. working with the SSC policy committee so make sure we’re pushing for anti-oppressive climate policy
    3. ensuring that, when we collaborate with other groups (particularly those from marginalized communities), we’re working in solidarity and working with them, but not for them and not attempting to push our own agenda
    4. acknowledging the privileged and marginalized identities that we hold as individuals and as a collective group and being aware of how those interact with the spaces and situations that we will be in (i.e. taking up space).
  2. While we do a lot of work within our own delegation and those that it works with, we also strive to create a more inclusive and anti-oppressive space in the greater COP community. Here are some examples of what we do:
    1. deliver AO trainings outside of our SSC delegation to other groups such as YOUNGO.
    2. participate in and encourage participation in caucuses for marginalized and under-represented communities (i.e. women’s caucus, indigenous people’s caucus, etc.)
    3. support the aforementioned caucuses in their work and events
    4. lobby our own negotiators and push for anti-oppressive international climate policy

It is essential that we work to create a more inclusive and anti-oppressive COP if we ever want to find solutions to climate change and environmental injustice. If you keep up with environmental justice issues, you’ll know that marginalized communities are those most impacted by the effects of climate change and environmental devastation (i.e. pollution, deforestation, rising temperatures and changing weather patterns, etc.). So, because of this, you’d expect for those negotiating for ambitious international climate policy to be from those communities that are most impacted, right? Wrong.

Marginalized groups are terribly underrepresented at the conference. Developed countries in the Global North dominate the negotiations and the conference space. They are the ones that have the resources to have large delegations for representation. Developing countries and those from the Global South typically can only bring a few. This is for a lot of different reasons – resources, capacity, discrimination. This isn’t only true for party members and negotiators, but extends to civil society. Last year, in Warsaw, a large number of civil society members and youth from Nigeria were denied entrance into Poland despite the fact that they had been accredited by the UNFCCC. Our delegation from the United States did not encounter any obstacles. This underrepresentation, along with the general tendency of privileged groups, results in the Global North dominating the conference and drowning out the voices of the Global South and marginalized communities. There are countless examples of this beyond what I mentioned, more than I can list or probably even know, and it results in some pretty major consequences for the flight for international climate policy and a solution for climate change.

One consequence is that we’re not getting the strong policy and regulation that we need in order to combat climate change and adapt to the changes we’ve already experienced. Along with that, the process is terrible inefficient. Wealthy and developed countries in the Global North (like the United States) continuously block policy and refuse to financially contribute to revert the damage that they’re largely responsible for. They use their numbers, their resources and their power to stall the process and protest having to commit to any strong policy, putting developing countries who are already facing the impacts of climate change in a position of having to accept weak policy and regulations because that’s the only thing they can get.

To sum up, as we travel to Peru this December to COP and represent both the SSC and the United States, AO is an essential part of that work. We’ll never begin to solve the issue of climate change or environmental justice without it. It’s a long road ahead and just having an AO subcommittee isn’t going to do it, but hopefully it’s a start. Hopefully, we can have some influence and help ensure that we’re all thinking more about it at COP and in the environmental justice movement.

Let us know in the comments if there’s anything that you think needs more attention or anything you’d like to see from the AO committee.

*Disclaimer: While, as a committee, we focus on making our delegation and the greater COP community as anti-oppressive as possible, we are not, and do not claim to be, experts on anti-oppression work. We are constantly learning, challenging ourselves and improving. We exist to ensure that AO work is a priority and a focus and to share our own experiences and knowledge of AO work with others.

 

Sources:

Sierra Student Coalition, www.ssc.org

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, http://unfccc.int/2860.php

YOUNGO, http://youthclimate.org/about_youth_climate/youngo-unfccc/

A Crash Course in Climate Change

Climate Change – it’s all the buzz these days. The phrase is filling up the airways, and with all the heated discussions, impassioned speeches, and downright arguments – it’s easy to lose track of what’s actually happening to our planet.

So let’s start with some facts:

  1.      Climate is not the same as weather. The eastern US may have gotten absurdly cold in 2014, but Alaska and Australia were having record heat waves. Climate is the long-term trend of weather patterns in an area, so a few hot or cold days does not indicate a change. Rather, more extreme weather events and a shift in average temperatures, rainfall, etc. are much stronger indicators of a shift in climate. For a great illustration of the difference, watch the brilliant Neil deGrasse Tyson explain it on his show Cosmos.

  2.      There is an immense scientific consensus (~97%) that climate change is occurring, and that it is influenced by human activities. John Oliver does a great bit on this. The scientific community uses a wide variety of data to look for patterns in climate; the main ones are geological formations in caves, tree rings, soil samples, and ice cores. Each of these – the layers of rock within caves, the rings of ancient trees, and the air bubbles trapped deep within glaciers – can indicate what the climate was like in the distant past. Depending on how much rainfall there was, what the temperatures were like, and the chemistry of the air, the rocks, trees, and glaciers would grow at a different rate, and in various patterns.

         The beauty of all of this is that much of this data has synced up, or confirmed that in certain stretches of time the earth experienced periods of warming or cooling, with correlating rises and falls of sea levels and changes in atmospheric green house gas (GHG) levels. By looking at the patterns of the past, climatologists have developed models to extrapolate into the future, and thereby provide recommendations on potential affects. I think it is best to heed their warnings…

  3.      Changes are happening now. Climate change isn’t something of the distant future that we should save our grandchildren from, it’s already occurring. According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adimistration (NOAA), the 10 hottest years have occurred since 2000, of the 134 years record. Consequently, the sea levels are rising. Over the past century, the global sea level has risen 10-20 cm, with the last 20 years being nearly double the rate of the previous 80. As a result, many coastal cities like Venice are experiencing severe flooding, and small island nations – especially the Philippines – are losing ground by the day.

    Venice FloodingPhoto of a woman in Venice’s St. Mark’s Square – by Luigi Costantini, Associated Press. Published November 13, 2012 on National Geographic’s “Daily News.”   

         Part of this is thermal expansion – as the oceans heat up, they expand. The other major contributor is melting glaciers and ice caps. Greenland, Antarctica, and most of the glaciers around the world are melting at an accelerated rate. The downside to this is that as they melt, there is less white snow to reflect sunlight, which causes further warming.
        That’s pretty startling, considering that 44% of the world’s population lives within 150 km of the coast. The World Bank estimates that these highly populous cities are among the most at-risk for flooding damage: 1) Guangzhou, 2) Miami, 3) New York, 4) New Orleans, 5) Mumbai, 6) Nagoya, 7) Tampa, 8) Boston, 9) Shenzen, and 10) Osaka. One look at a world map will show you just how many of the world’s major cities are at risk for sea level rise.

  4.      Climate change has real implications on all of our lives. This is not something for scientific journals and political talk shows. Climate influences nearly every aspect of the world. The economy booms when the weather is nice. Tourism thrives in calm climates. Severe weather impacts people’s ability to get to work, school, or even drive home (Atlanta’s “Snowpocalypse” taught us that). Droughts and water shortages cause increases in food prices, and famine at worst.

         Humans aren’t the only ones affected either. Higher temperatures and carbon dioxide levels cause ocean acidification, which bleaches coral reefs and dissolves the shells of shellfish. Hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes, and wildfires all have direct implications to warmer weather, and they have each been increasing in number and severity in recent years. Plants and animals, especially in the tropics, are migrating to higher elevations as temperatures increase, and the rate of extinction is rising.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. We can slow these trends, largely by reducing our collective global greenhouse gas emissions. By renovating our local energy economies to clean, renewable energies (e.g. solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, and geothermal) we could account for 26% of the current global GHG emissions. Fuel efficient transportation would reduce another 13%. The great thing is that technologies already exist which can dramatically transform each sector. Sustainable agriculture and forestry practices would reduce emissions by another 15-30%. New landfills exist that capture methane, which can be used as a fuel instead of released into the atmosphere as a potent GHG. Similar methods for waste-water treatment exist as well.

We need second Green Revolution – one for a sustainable planet. We can put people to work building a stronger, more efficient infrastructure. We can develop new technologies, incentivize creative solutions to these problems. We can build a culture of long-term health, over the quick, cheap, and disposable. It will take some changes to our current lifestyles, and a lot of collective buy-in. But together, the future is bright as an LED bulb.

 

Featured photo: Sea ice on the Bering Sea, St. Matthew Island, Alaska, USA – by Kevin Schafer, World Wildlife Fund. http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/tackling_climate_change/#actions