While being a part of the environmental movement is very empowering for me, identifying and being perceived as a youth has always been a challenge when entering sophisticated environments facilitated and run by adults. It can often feel like a struggle to recognize that this space also belongs to me, and that I have a valued voice there. I think that this challenge stems from beyond the environmental movement; it is an issue caused by the way that youth are often perceived and treated in everyday life. Although great strides have been made to address the ageism in our society, with many movements now encouraging youth leaders to grow and expand, as a young person I have still experienced the frustration of having my voice not be heard or valued because of my age. Consequently, this feeling has stuck with me throughout my experiences in settings and institutions dominated by adults.
One of the most exciting and unique aspects of COP22 for me is that it is not one of those spaces. Although this international climate change conference is certainly an important space with many incredibly influential adults present, COPs do not have a history of dismissing youth. Instead, these conferences have a history of a strong and unshakable youth presence that has been there from the beginning. Experiencing a space where youth have been uplifted and where their voices are not only heard, but respected since the beginning, is an empowering opportunity that I am grateful to have.
Not only am I excited about the strong and impactful youth presence in Marrakech, but I am also looking forward to having the opportunity to connect with those youth from all around the world. With our current technological state, it is easy to see what is happening around the world; but for me, that is not the same as connecting with people face-to-face. Building relationships with other youth, and learning about their passions as well as what brings them to this movement – this creates hope for me, and connecting with youth from across the world on that level will be an invaluable experience. Attending COP22 grants me an opportunity to connect with other youth climate leaders and helps me, an aspiring organizer, learn and grow in the work that I do in my own community in Minnesota. *Originally published for Climate Generation: http://www.climategen.org/blog/youth-voices-cop22/