Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking Thing Into Our Own Hands

What stood out to me most at COP22 was the concrete division between the urgency of the negotiations and negotiators compared to the urgency apparent among the people and organizations running the side events. During my experience in Marrakech, as someone not directly involved in the negotiations, I felt the urgency all around me. There was constant talk of how we have already fallen behind on combating this crisis and how we need to act now. We do not have time to waste; this is not a practice run – this is the time we need to act if we want to keep our planet safely habitable. This need for momentum and action was overwhelming, but necessary. Yet, this was not always adequately reflected in the negotiations. There was talk, but the follow through into action is uncertain and not firmly in place.

Political realities do not change the facts about the climate crisis we are facing. Money does not change whether or not climate change is accelerating. We know this. We know this, and we, the people, are ready to act upon that knowledge. It took 20 years to come to the first international agreement on climate change, the Paris Agreement. We do not have another 20 years to wait to agree on how to implement these initiatives. Action is needed now, and if there is uncertainty as to whether or not the international negotiators are going to make that happen, then we must act. Climate justice has to happen one way or another if we want to survive and protect our earth and communities; the inaction and slow pace of discussions internationally do not change that reality.

The Marrakech Action Proclamation was published after two weeks of the negotiations. In the proclamation, 196 countries confirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement and called for social and political action on climate change. Although this is a great start in addressing climate change, we cannot count on this. With the crisis we are facing, in order to create the future we need, we need everyone to take action now.  


Being at COP22 was an incredible experience that I am grateful to have had. Although the urgency of this issue was not always acknowledged by those that needed to acknowledge it, the urgency was present in Marrakech nonetheless. Having climate activists from all over the world together, uniting despite differences to fight back against climate change was an unforgettable experience. The overarching theme of empowerment to take action – especially for youth, women, and indigenous peoples – combined with the realization that we have to take action into our own hands reinvigorated my desire to be on the ground in my own communities, organizing for change and empowering others to fight and take action with me.

Final thoughts

As I travel out of Marrakech and back to the home I have always known, I think of the world, our world, being destroyed by the very children it has grown. We pollute the water, we contaminate the air, we indirectly kill those outside our privileged gate. China's citizens must now pay to breath air, Flint to drink the water, most of Africa and South Americans to eat. We have the technology to stop this, we have the resources, yet we stand, hands over our eyes our ears, and our mouths spilling garbage onto those who have no other source of truth. We cite politics, economy and even religion in opposition to basic common sense, science, and life.

I learned of mushrooms that eat plastic, cities that need only themselves to thrive, trains that travel faster than the eye can see. I have met people from the poorest of the poor who made nets to catch water and help their families, their ideas spreading far beyond their imagined reach. I know now of plastics that sea turtles can eat and the soil can easily welcome back into its fold, and floating garbage collectors to free the ocean of it’s ardent island of human waste.


Yet these ideas are suppressed. Squashed beneath the weight of our ignorance, trampled beneath our raging feet, smashed between our foolish hands clapping for clowns to take office all across the world. We as a society are hunting down, mocking and adamantly undermining the creators of these ideas. The youthful and the elderly who come together, the Indigenous souls who still remember earthly harmony, we as a people hunt them down, poison their water, obliterate their sacred homes and then we wonder why progress is so slow. As a society we must not shout but listen, doggedly pursue the pagan, the witchcraft, the old knowledge of the Native. We must not crowd out the small, the minority but uplift them for the very diversity they are scorned for, punished for,  and for which they have suffered far too long, all for being born a different color to a different culture, a different home. Scientists, civil activists, feminists, environmentalists, all of us must not unite, we must network, keep our differences, highlight them, show them off and cherish ourselves and our uniqueness. The youth must be let to keep their wild dreams, their vivid imagination and hope as these very traits are what create the next tomorrow, solve our problems,  the opportunities this empowerment provides to begin to rebuild an already savaged world.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Finishing touch of COP 22


As the COP 22 conference is coming to a close, the feeling of urgency, with a mix of exhaustion, pulses through the tents. Final attempts to influence and educate flood the conference.  Doing my best to take advantage of this, I have tirelessly filled my days with sessions and actions in an effort to educate myself on the many aspects of climate change.  One part of the climate change problem that I have found especially interesting is how intertwined it is with business. This became very apparent to me while listing to Edward Cameron, the Managing Director of Business for Social Responsibility, speak about the sixty main risks of business and how they are directly connected to climate change. Mr. Cameron showcased this beautifully when he used Wal-Mart as an example. Wal-Mart is one of the largest corporations in the world, and is a great example for demonstrating how businesses are at stake due to the consequences and repercussions of our current climate crisis. Given Wal-Mart’s wide array of products the climate dilemma can affect them in many ways. One specific way is produce. As the climate continues to change growing seasons as well as the farmland used can change drastically. This has been seen in Zimbabwe Africa. A country once able to support themselves now struggles to provide the minimal amount of food to survive. This should not only scare businesses into compliance with the climate initiative, but also motivate them into further action.

As the day moved on our group decided to leave the conference for a taste of the culture of Marrakesh.  The city was hectic. Cars, buses, and motorcycles weaved through the lanes of traffic while dodging the brave pedestrians that dared to cross the street.  Upon reaching the main square of Marrakesh I was taken aback by the sheer noise and population that I became immersed in. We started down the crowded street as vendors did their best to persuade us to come in or to buy their art. When I found a small store I wanted to go in, it was as if I had called in advance, for the owner was already at my side ushering me in. Once inside, the sale began. Before I had time to think, he was blinding me with scarves and souvenirs of every color.  Once I had picked out some I liked, the dance of bargaining commenced. With each penny coming into play, each of us seemed to have a fun time pushing each other’s “final price” After the haggling stopped we continued to walk down the pathways of shops. Some of my favorites to look at were the produce and spice shops. Fresh fruit and nuts were on display on my right, mirrored by mountains of unknown spices on my left, their tempting aromas flooding my senses. Although we had two hours to wonder and explore, I felt like I could spend a whole day exploring the many shops and still not even scratch the surface of the Marrakesh Square.

After a long day at the conference and the square we were all desperately in need of a good meal. Despite this, none of us were prepared for the amazing feast and entertainment that awaited us in the following hours. The restaurant was spectacular. Soft live music accompanied by the soft sound of falling water created the perfect calming atmosphere for appetizers and punch. After the appetizers concluded we were led to a gorgeous room where our table awaited us, covered in rose pedals and surrounded by comfy couches. It was here that we eagerly awaited our first meal. The first meal was brilliant; we had strategically ordered different dishes allowing us to get a taste of each culinary masterpiece. We took turns passing around the many dishes. My favorites consisted of the pigeon pie, lemon chicken and the pigeon pancake.  As the night continued two more courses were served to us, each equally interesting and equally delicious. What really made this night unforgettable was the entertainment that came in waves through the night. The first to come was a singing and dancing duo. The two men came in slow, sitting down, singing softly playing some kind of guitar accompanied by a rattle.  As the minutes went by, the man with the rattle became increasingly bolder. Soon he was up, dancing and singing at the top of his lungs while the rest of us clapped along. He was even able to coax Daniel into getting up and dancing with him until we were all laughing so hard our sides hurt. All the while the servers came to our table filling our water glasses and bringing new food. The second wave of entertainment came at the end of the night. We were all excited and amazed when a belly dancer came to the table next.  We learned that this was typical Moroccan entertainment. The experience was highlighted when each member of the party got invited up for a small lesson on belly dancing while the others around the table laughed.  Throughout the night new dining experiences surprised us. Though what really amazed me was the staff’s attention to detail starting from pouring warm water over your hands at the beginning to the rose water at the end, they never missed a beat. From calming ambiance, to the exceptional five course meal, to the unbelievable entertainment. These experiences will keep this night in my memory forever.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Power Shifts Across Community Action Potentials

At the COP22 climate conference, here in Marrakech, a word that I hear frequently by French speakers is "complexe". Often, after listening to a string of phrases that make little sense to me, along will come the word- complexe. Eventually I trade my passport for a UN translation receiver. This means, for the next 90 minutes, my passport will be sitting on a table with 60 others in plain view for all who pass. So much for my admonition to the students to keep their passport with them at all times.

With the translator on my head a soft and expressionless female voice delivers the translated phrase, "... is a complex issue". And so it is- in any language. There are many components to climate (including the many human components that interact with them), many connections between these parts, and many ways for the parts to impact the climate system via feedback. Here in Morocco it is clear that most people are confident that the changes we are, and will, experience due to climate change will amplify the inequities of gender, wealth, and power as the links between the people in these groups and the earth they depend on become strained.

Where to begin to impact a system so complex? Many actions have been presented here. Tech companies and nations themselves have large-scale solutions and often the funding to get started. Others propose that regional groups of nations or cities are best able to set common goals to mitigate their contributions to climate change.

But I am hearing a clear voice in the Moroccan desert trying to empower groups of citizens to take charge of their own climate impacts in order to break some of the connections and loops that sustain poor decisions made by industry and government. Around the world these voices are acting to become responsible for their own energy, water and human resources in ways beyond turning off lights and turn off the water while brushing your teeth (both important also). Some highlights from the COP...

What options are there for those who purchase electricity from a coal or nuclear fired generator? The European group #rescoop assists neighborhoods and small communities to join together and buy shares in coop organizations that produce and distribute their own green energy. By investing in the choices they make for energy production these coop groups not only gain the power to shift to greener and greener energy they also free themselves from the myth of the need for large scale distribution systems across vast and important ecosystems.

If modifying the centralized energy distribution piece doesn't seem like enough of a change, other organizations have turbines and collectors suitable for neighborhood groups. SES has a demo site with one such turbine. In these systems neighbors buy shares towards financing an installation that produces power for the homes via the grid. As the financing is paid off the coop members share in the profits. These notions of Energy Democracy have been presented in several sessions here at COP. Noteworthy may be the work of http://www.centerforsocialinclusion.org/ideas/energy-democracy/ and the gender equity related group at http://www.wecf.eu/english/energy-climate/

Water is a significant component of the climate issue. Both climate change and continued expansion of fossil fuel and mineral exploration threaten the quality of water needed to live. Those impacted are often among the poorest of the poor. Check out #300kmsouth for one such Moroccan issue. The activist work of the Navaho #Kayla F. DeVault also focuses well on this concern.

As we work to act in ways to ensure that people across the planet have access to the resources necessary for a just and rewarding life we must examine the role that control and power play in a complex climate change system. How might we ensure that decisions are made by those most impacted by the consequences of those decisions? Certainly, putting decision-making in the hands of groups of impacted citizens is a reasonable start.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Green Cities, Neighbors and a Call to Action

Every day hundreds upon thousands of people are moving into cities. Urbanization is growing unchecked at an exponential rate, infinitely increasing the number of cities their populations, market demands and thusly their pollution levels. Cities will grow even more as renewable energies take over the market. In about 20 years their prices will fall below those of fossil fuels, assuming business as usual. Renewable energies will allow a less centralized reliance on the grid, allowing some people to create their own power and some people to even live entirely independent of it. This is great news for rural, poor communities, as it will help limit the distances they travel for water, food and especially medicine in front line communities (communities most affected by climate change such as Indigenous populations).

Despite all this cities will grow and the trend of mass migration to urban areas will continue. If we are to keep to the Paris agreement and maintain the health and happiness of urban populations, then cities not only have to be greener they have to be smarter as well. This means having a circular economy based on reuse and recycling, environmental friendliness and efficient use and reuse of sustainable materials, especially energy. In order to achieve this both ancient environmental wisdom and modern science must be integrated. This has been shown to work in modern ecovillages based on old indigenous designs and native input, such as the installation of a modern wind tower based on an ancient architectural design and modernized with new technology. 

Not only must scientists, architects, and politicians listen and learn from local indigenous tribes but they must also listen to the youth and the elderly. People of all ages must be consulted and included in the process. This is our world. Even though some people might feel the effects of climate change less than others, all of us, especially the youth, will have to live with the consequences. People of color, women, trans and nonbinary people must be included as well. Each and every one of us must work to overcome the prejudices of our teachers, mentors, and adults in power in order to save this world. We cannot achieve this alone no matter how strong the heart or sharp the mind. We must work together to face a challenge like no other or live in a ruined world. We cannot escape earth. It is our home, and whether or not we love our neighbors, pollution, climate change and eventually significant suffering and even death will come for us all if we continue down this dangerous path. And no this isn't an exaggeration.  Already climate related deaths worldwide are in the thousands. Didn't know that?  Then consider this encouragement to educate yourself now or pay the price of ignorance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Shared Commonalities of Cultures

Countless thoughts raced through my mind as I received text after text from my friends expressing their concern for their lives. With the election on the back of my mind, a shadow of helplessness followed as we landed in Marrakech. But I was able to forget about the election for awhile as we dove straight into a new world: the COP 22 conference. We went from little high school students who were only dipping their feet in the water at the shore to what felt like adults drowning in the middle of the Atlantic. 
African women representing their countries through traditional clothing.

There were African women drenched with their country’s culture through colorful patterned dresses and head coverings. There were Indian men walking with the pride of their country's traditional clothing. Witnessing representatives of these regions and countries- most not sharing the same languages or cultures- coming together to fight the global challenge of climate change was a life changing experience.  During our week here I have had the opportunity to experience the cultural similarities of two countries in particular - Peru and Morocco. Two commonalities between between these two countries stand out - language and racism - and they are both an opportunity and challenge in effectively addressing climate change.
SES COP22 delegates posed with students from the American School of Marrakech
(Right-Left: Isabel, Rey, Daniel, Gabriel, and Karim).

One observable cultural similarity Peru and Morocco share is the responsibility citizens feel to know more than one language. In Morocco, students learn the official country language of Arabic. But they are also expected to learn French, and English. In Peru, the language barriers are usually separated by the division of areas: the highlands, the Amazonian villages, and the city. Their languages differ from Castellano (a form of Spanish), Quchua, and Aimara. These languages are what tie the differing cultures together. I have been surprised by how many languages these cultures had embedded within them, and have at times felt inferior at the COP because of how few languages I knew.  

When we first arrived at COP I felt incredibly small and I didn’t know quite where to begin. But when I participated in an arts and culture discussion on racism I started to feel like I knew what I was doing. We were told to talk about how racism occurred in our communities, how it affected us, and how it drew a dividing line that would affect the way we combat climate change. The conversation I had was with a middle aged Moroccan man who explained the racism that exists between people in mountain villages and people in the city.
Picture from atop the Atlas Mountains of several villages. 
Stream at the bottom of the Atlas Mountains. 
At first I was surprised - I forgot that racism occurs everywhere. He described how much more traditional and religious the people in mountain villages were compared to the more westernized population living in the cities.  During our visit to some of these mountain villages I had noticed that the women dress more conservatively, with more usage of the hijab, and some even covering their faces (with exception of their eyes). But as we travelled back into the city, the differences in how women dressed changed significantly. There was less use of the hijab and a pattern of more modern dress. When I asked a Moroccan city woman at COP why she didn't also wear the religious head dressing, she said it didn't matter whether she did or not. Women carried around designer bags such as Michael Kors and wore leggings. The Moroccan man explained that the conflict of racism lay between the reserved way women dressed and how strictly Islam is implemented within the different Moroccan cultures. But I learned that it wasn’t just Morocco that experienced racism.

Project from the arts and culture section. Meant to depict the
darkness that comes with racism.
On another occasion, a Peruvian student from Lima described the racism she has observed in her country. She explained that racism in Peru also occurred between the people who live in mountain villages and those that live in the city, but was less based on religious affiliations and more on who was more industrialized, had lighter skin, or class. She described the village people as being more tan because of how much they spend in the sun living an agricultural based lifestyle and how the darker skin tone was looked down upon by people in the city. I was glad to hear that she herself thought that  people shouldn’t care how much lighter skin toned one was compared to the next, but what was most important was that they were all human, something everyone could relate to. 

During my exposure to these two cultures I learned many things. First, I came to the realization that America has greatly impacted my perspective on the world. The idea that it is the land of opportunity where everyone wants to be, has led me to subconsciously believe that my country and culture are better than other countries and cultures. I  have become used to to English being the only language required in the United States, with little push to learn other languages. There has been several times this past week that I wished I understood French or Arabic because it would have been so much easier to communicate. I've been reminded that language is an important part of culture, a way of connection and often times a key piece of cultural identity.

Me, sitting atop of the Atlas Mountains.
Secondly, I was hit with the reality that racism existed outside the U.S and that it also plays a huge part in other countries. The racism that occurs creates even more division between people and affects how effective differing people can be in combating climate change. By being exposed to these new cultures, I have become more experienced and more culturally aware. I have come to realize just how much bigger the world outside the confines of the United States is.










Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Atlas Mountains Hiking Trip

Hiking is one of my favorite things to do that I do not get the opportunity to do that often. When I found out that we would have time in between this conference to hike either the Atlas Mountains or trek through the Sahara Desert, I thought time immediately to go to the mountains. I was ecstatic when I saw that everyone I was going to the conference with loved hiking just as much as me. For a couple people even a little bit more. Spending the time to hike through the mountains with these people only made the experience better.

The drive up to the mountain was a time that I didn't think mattered much. As everyone around me was either sleeping or listening to music, I decided to look into the small towns we drove through and was able to see the cultural differences. These differences are what made their communities so much more special. As we were driving up to the shop where we would start our hike, our driver was yelling and laughing out the window into small, packed in stores to everyone he saw. The community seemed to be a lot more connected than most communities that you tend to think of.
video
We hiked on all kinds of trails ranging from a wide 2 lane road to the side of the mountain where we had no more than 4 inches up to our feet for each step we took. My favorite portion of the trails themselves were the trails where we had to hike up the steep hill with only loose rocks to walk and hold on to. Justin, Isabel, and I would tend to go faster and even run up some of these rock trails to take a break as well as to just take in the view of the mountains while we had it.


The view of the mountains was one like I've never seen before. There are no words to describe how amazing these mountains were. Every time I would look up I would see them form a different view and see something that I did not see before. The mountains glazed in snow had me wondering, how can something be this beautiful but be taken for granted by so many people?  I overheard Mr. Johnson talking to our guide, Abdul, about the mountains and how he grew up and lives in a town in the mountains. When Mr. Johnson asked him if he takes the mountains for granted, without hesitation Abdul said, "yes". Being able to see this breathtaking sight for the first time was a time that I will never forget. At some point in our hike, the mountains did not even look real. It seemed like we were looking at a painting. These memories are unforgettable. One of my favorite views was when we were sitting at the top of a pass having our lunch
and looking down into the valleys and up to the peaks 
that someday I will conquer.

The meals that we had were phenomenal. Every meal, no matter what meal, included these three things - tea, bread, and a vegetable and fruit plate. I find it quite interesting that they always manage to find a way to include those 3 items into the meal. Whether we were filling up our pockets with flatbread or eating it mixed with noodles, it always tasted better than the last time we had it.

Being able to connect with one another through this weekend hike was exactly what all of us needed to escape the stressful world that we live in and just enjoy what we value.