Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Thank You

It has been more than a week since the end of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties 14 in Poznan, Poland. As I rejoin my family and friends for the holidays I can look back to those two weeks and make some comments about how successful the overall conference was, how effective the youth presence was there, how I contributed to the process, to my SustainUS delegation, and to the International Youth Delegation.

Why I Care About Climate Change (but Eric, sea-level rise won't affect you)

It's simple. Go right to Martin Luther King Jr.; “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. As an American who contributes most to this crisis, I feel a responsibility to put my country on the front lines of this fight. By electing Barack Obama, the youth of this country have shown that they can elect a leader (more 18-30 year olds voted in this election than did Americans over 65) that will move us away from dirty coal, and other fossil fuels that would derail the clean energy revolution that a large majority of Americans are calling for.

As an Oklahoman, I feel even more responsible to confront this now to prevent environmental and human destruction in the future. Most Oklahomans know that climate change is a real threat to our livelihoods. Many farmers around the state are already taking the lead by switching to no-till crop rotation, not to be a leader on climate change, but to make a few extra bucks by saving fuel and selling carbon credits to rich, urban polluters. As Oklahomans, it would be truly shameful to forgo the lessons of the past and not do what we can to prevent environmental and human destruction brought on by climate change.

The Dust Bowl brought unprecedented destruction to our state and region, stripping families of children by filling their lungs with dust, sending thousands of us to California to be treated like animals, and our soil into the sky. Scientists say that if we do not begin to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the next ten years we can easily see the same kind of destruction on a scale hundreds of times that of the Dust Bowl.

This is the great moral challenge of my generation. Our grandfathers went to war and defeated fascism, in two theaters of war. Our parents fought for civil rights, women in Mississippi picked their own teeth off the pavement, younger people than me sat soaking wet in cold southern jails after being hit by high-pressured fire hoses. My generation has the opportunity to safeguard the survival of mankind on this planet. Who is standing in our way? Not the Third Reich, or racist sheriffs or the KKK, its ourselves.

I'm confident that we will act in time. The question is whether or not we will include those who have been left behind in our society. We need green collar jobs to build the clean energy economy in those communities hardest hit by poverty, by pollution from fossil fuel production (overwhelmingly communities of color), rural communities, and areas hit by the recent economic downturn. Then we can think about saving the polar bear.

Get to Poland already, I thought thats what this was about

As someone so emotionally charged and ready to tackle climate change, the glacial pace of talks at a UNFCC Conference of Parties can make you pull your hair out. What was surprising to me was how the UN governmental process was much like our countries government. These two systems rarely are able to act quickly on any issue. The UNFCCC itself, came out of the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. They've been trying to confront climate change for over 16 years now.

Myself and others clashed with other youth that pointed to our designated two-minute speech as the chance to show our true youth voice. The problem is we've been giving speeches on the urgency of this issue for 16 years and nothing has happened. The compromise was the rally you can see pictures of further down in this blog.

As a youth, I represented a majority of this world's population, the largest stake-holders in the fight against climate change. The good news is that I believe this generation has already become the leader on climate change. The call for an 80 percent reduction of emissions by 2050, widely adopted by those in government and the media, was pushed by students all across America. My university joined our organization at OU in calling for this reduction on our campus, joining thousands of other campuses across America and the world. We also understand that this is first and foremost a moral issue, an issue of human rights, and a threat to the fabric of nature that is able to support 6 billion people.

Poznan was a midpoint. Last year in Bali, delegates agreed on a two-year roadmap that many think will ensure a deal next year in Copenhagen. Some say enough was done in Poland this year to ensure that, but many countries could stand in the way, including our own. Its our job in the US to ensure that we have the two-thirds vote necessary to ratify a treaty in a little over a year and that we pass some domestic legislation on climate change that the US state dept. officials we talked to said would make it a lot easier to reach an agreement in Copenhagen. Let's go ahead and say that we've got 99 senators to win over; you can probably guess who I've already taken off the list.

I haven't decided if I'll be going to Copenhagen. It will be an incredible experience for anyone, the stakes will be much higher and I'm sure that youth and other interests will be there in a much greater force. I'm not a international climate policy expert, I went to Poznan to contribute to strategy development, grassroots outreach, and on the ground actions. There are hundreds of organizers across the country that could do just as good, if not a lot better in Copenhagen and deserve that opportunity (another reason I'm confident we'll beat climate change).

I was really proud of the job my SustainUS delegation did in Poznan; I learned a lot from them. There was Ben Wessel of Middlebury College in Vermont who after some drop outs became the focal point of our media strategy. John Doyle, a native of upstate New York and a student at UMBC in Baltimore, who headed up our grassroots efforts back in the states. David Sievers and Whit Jones, who I respect more than anyone in developing strategy and winning campaigns. Marcie Smith from Transylvania College in Lexington, KY who independently worked with governmental delegations from Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on issues of deforestation. So many others in our delegation I'd love to mention, and would if you asked. My delegation trusted me when I came to them with the action plans I had been working on with other international youth for three straight nights of four hour meetings over beers in bar basements all over Poznan and SustainUS probably had more participants in the final action than any other delegation.

There are incredibly intelligent, passionate, and devoted young people from all over the country working to secure the stability of our climate and our world. Most of them are volunteers, putting in hours of work without pay in their own communities to build this sustainable, clean energy society. Those of us in SustainUS were so honored to have a chance like this to put pressure on governments to take action internationally. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and one I will cherish. And when we look back after we've built this clean energy economy full of green jobs and healthy, sustainable communities we can say that this generation did rise to the challenge, first working with those in power, then taking the power when it was time, and making the decisions that ensured this future.

The support and love I felt on the ground in Poland and in Oklahoma inspire me to work towards my dreams everyday. I am so lucky to have such an incredible community of family, friends, faithful, activists, advocates, and dreamers backing me on this journey and whatever comes next. I'm in the position to do good because of you, I'll do my best and you will to and we'll build the future we want to see for our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you & Happy Holidays


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