On the journey from Albuquerque, NM (USA) to Glasgow, Scotland (UK) to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US, I became acutely aware that there were two climate gatherings happening side by side. The formal COP26 which anyone might watch virtually. And the COP26 Coalition People’s Summit including youth-led actions and marches demanding action. Before I even arrived for the second week of COP26, Greta Thunberg had declared it a failure. “Just more blah, blah, blah.”
Greta has very good reasons to be skeptical. Since the first COP meeting in 1995 in Germany, there have been many reports warning us about the future, and many promises made to reduce our CO2 emissions to keep the Earth’s warming no higher than the critical 1.5 Celsius. Clearly, many of the promises made in the 2015 Paris Agreement have not been kept. Greta and her generation are coming of age on a planet where a stable future is in doubt (assured) without serious action right away to change course.
I’ve been conflicted since learning about this opportunity to join the LWVUS delegation. Flying to a climate conference?! Aviation’s climate impact accounts for 3.5% of total anthropogenic warming. Passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions, despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft and flight operations over the last 60 years. By 2050, commercial aircraft emissions could triple given the projected growth of passenger air travel and freight. But I concluded that someone else would join the delegation in my absence, so I hopped on Amtrak to Chicago, and then a direct flight to London, and finally a bus to Glasgow.
Cognitive dissonance describes the discomfort from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. “This inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave motivates people to engage in actions that will help minimize feelings of discomfort. People attempt to relieve this tension in different ways, such as by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding new information.” I suspect humans everywhere are experiencing a profound cognitive dissonance in this Anthropocene era. My personal COP26 goal is to learn how governments, the private sector, and individuals are negotiating this cognitive dissonance. Are we acknowledging the disconnect and taking the necessary actions to restore the planet’s health?
The people in the halls of power don’t give me much hope. President Biden has the power to stop Line 3, a large oil sands pipeline project which has recently completed construction in northern Minnesota. “Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce about 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to about 50 coal power plants, or 38 million vehicles.” Although he could have withdrawn Enbridge’s permit for Line 3 without any action from Congress, President Biden has decided to support Line 3. My own U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham have both spoken publicly about the dangers of climate change and their desire to be allies in the struggle to reduce CO2 emissions, while on the other hand they’re both cheerleaders for development of Blue Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. The biggest cheerleaders for blue hydrogen are the fossil fuel industry lobbyists because, just as with plastics, their future depends on not keeping fossil fuels in the ground. However, a report published in August 2021 has them scrambling. Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe blue hydrogen may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel. The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to new research published in Energy Science & Engineering. “Political forces may not have caught up with the science yet,” Howarth said. “Even progressive politicians may not understand for what they’re voting. Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future. It is not.”
When words and actions don’t align themselves, there’s serious cognitive dissonance. I’ve passed my daily COVID-19 test and I’m headed to the large venue where I hope to see ACTION and not merely words.
The League found a flat just a mile away from the COP26 venue for delegates to share. I’m expecting that the entire COP26 experience will be improved by sharing and debriefing with colleagues from the US. We walked in the rain to the venue the first morning and arrived looking like soaked rats. There were very long lines for the early folks but by the time my pal and I arrived, there were very few lines. Covid-19 precautions are in full display, and along with the typical security measures, I certainly feel safe in this large venue with thousands of people around. Everyone is wearing a face mask, without exception, and everyone has proof of vaccination. I wonder about the millions around the world who either don’t have access to the vaccine or don’t trust the science and refuse to take the vaccine. They are not part of this global event, by choice or not. Another of my personal COP26 goals is to learn how to communicate effectively about climate change and the work of COP26 with people who are not yet engaged in the issue. I’m convinced that the world “leaders” will not lead unless they are pushed from a groundswell of youth and others who make demands. Engaging with and motivating the grassroots is probably the best use of my time.
Everything about the day’s activities and events were spelled out on the COP26 online platform which I found very confusing. Navigating the app was bewildering but I’m encouraged when I heard others were having difficulty too. It’s not just my old age. There are sessions & agendas, as well as events & schedules. There’s a blue zone (which hosts the negotiations) and the green zone (where the youth groups, civil society, academia, etc. host events and exhibitions). My first day was spent wandering in the green zone without a plan of action. Learning the layout and the schedule of activities is mindboggling, but I soon realized that COP26 is a marketing extravaganza for countries, institutions and businesses. Each wants to draw you in to learn more about their achievements. I saw a Co-Creative Reflection & Dialogue Space #reflectCOP26 with a small group sitting in a circle. The agenda looked interesting – spiritual and religious perspectives on the climate emergency; breaking the silos for planetary health; artistic expression as non-verbal channel to our experience at COP26; and climate change and collective trauma. Climate Change and its Threats to Takistan was well attended. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization had items displayed and elaborate posters. I was alarmed when I passed the Nuclear for Climate exhibit — “Nuclear is a proven low carbon source of energy.” #NetZeroNeedsNuclear Qatar was presenting to a full house about “filling the enforcement gaps”. And there was a good crowd listening to the presentation by the representative of the Republic of Congo. China may not be attending COP26 but that country didn’t miss an opportunity to market itself in the China Corporate Pavilion – “Facing the Future, Daring to Initiate.” Turkey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UAE and many others have elaborate displays and presentations for anyone they might lure into their spots.
I stood awhile and watched the panel discussion at the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, as well as the presenter in the Multilevel Action Pavilion – the home for subnationals (cities, towns and regions). After walking for hours, I was beat. I found a place to sit and watched Obama online speaking to an audience in the building next door. I was pleased that one of my League colleagues actually got into the room to see Obama. Her perseverance paid off. What I heard from Obama was the closest to an apology that I was hoping to witness at COP26. I encourage you to watch Obama’s speech if you haven’t heard it yet. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69EMd4csZRY He spoke about the urgency of the climate crisis, and then spoke directly to the youth, which I found relevant and very important. “Vote” and get the leaders into positions that know and understand the climate urgency, he said. I left the venue shortly after Obama’s speech. The first day was discouraging because I couldn’t find the events that I wanted to see. I was hoping to connect with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) formal event and press conference. https://www.wecaninternational.org/ Both the LWVUS and the Progressive Democrats of America signed onto WECAN’s Call to Action last month at my request. I passed activists outside drumming and shouting urging action, not Blah, Blah, Blah, and walked back to the flat. Everyone at COP26 seems either engaged with their laptops or with each other. But I have no clue whether the decision-makers and high-level negotiators are making any progress or whether they’re even listening to the youth who are making very clear demands.
I attended three sessions today which gave me a clue about how disparate the topics, people and attitudes about COP26 might be, unlike national conferences that I’ve attended in the U.S. during my career. The first was a discussion with a panel of indigenous people from Nepal, Chad, Peru and elsewhere, organized by https://aippnet.org/ and https://iwgia.org/en/ In response to a question “Will market mechanisms kill the 1.5 C goal?” the Nepali representative noted (paraphrasing) that ‘carbon capture’ and the other tools that the governments are counting on don’t exist. Carbon markets have many limitations. It will depend on how these mechanisms are implemented in the future. The recent Forest Action (Nov. 2) where 130 countries pledged to protect forests and indigenous lands with $1.7 Billion — these pledges are not enough. There needs to be meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples at the table, not mere lip service. Don’t prepare a plan and then bring it to the Indigenous people for their blessing. They also need to be part of the implementation.” The African delegate said “we’re seeing lots of promises but little action. We should keep our expectations down.” A question from the audience resonated with me. “Do the people negotiating at COP26 see the planet as a living being or a machine?” The answer touched me deeply. She said “We need to raise our voices louder so they reach the heart, not just the head.” The climate activist from Chad said “the government keeps trying to silence our voices; governments are not doing what the people need.” The discussion ended with an unanswered question: “How can nomads around the world be included in these negotiations?”
I followed my colleague to another session on the topic of data and transparency. Given the concern about COVID-19, each session is being tightly monitored for space limitations, keeping everyone spread out in the room, and turning people away at the door when the room is at capacity. My colleague and I were the last admitted to this session, and stood along the wall in the back. A few minutes into the panel discussion, a young woman sitting at the table turned around to me and offered her spot to me. The audience here looked very different from the audience in the previous session — young people multi-tasking with their laptops while listening to the panelists who talked about using data for better action. I’ll confess that the topic didn’t interest me much until I realized that without good data, what evidence do we have to demand action? Action is driven by data which must be accurate, complete, and transparent. Obtaining the data is only the first step, but then ensuring it is robust and high quality is important. Climate disasters have been responsible for the loss of massive amounts of data. Data for Better Climate Campaign launched this Spring with the hashtag #Data4BetterClimateAction. One speaker noted “It’s not just about more data – or more accessible data – but also making it understandable to more people.” “Having data gives you more ‘ammunition’ to demand more action to narrow the gap.” They talked about the challenges in gathering the data, and noted that countries learn best from each other. The organizations represented on this panel are helping the countries network with each other. The final speaker focused on the need for experienced users. It’s not just data, but the users who need to be knowledgeable to provide the explanation of the data.
I accidently walked into the tail end of a session where the moderator asked the panelists: “What would you say to your soon-to-be born grandchild about the future?” Since my second grandchild is expected in the Spring 2022, my head snapped to attention. “It’s going to be a wonderful world, beyond what our imagination can contemplate today. New technology always underperforms in the early years and exponentially grows in later years. Imagination leads to engineering. We need to have an exponential mindset…with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.”
As a retired lawyer, I’m really pleased I made it to the Law Session at the end of the day. This 90-minute session was divided into three segments – the judiciary, the movement lawyers, and the business/corporate sector. The discussions were uniformly strong, so I’m going to look for the recording of this session and post it later. It was very encouraging to hear the short video clips with appellate judges from around the world talking about their work on climate. (See Race to Zero https://racetozero.unfccc.int/ where all of the videos, including the judges, should be posted later.) The judges just woke up to climate in the past few years and are forming a network of climate judges around the world. The Brazilian judge noted that her colleagues need to learn much more about climate and climate cases from other nations. In 2015, she issued a decision in a coal case without mentioning the word climate once. She thinks today that perhaps she made the wrong decision, but that’s when she woke up to the importance of climate law.
I learned about the Canary case from Pakistan and the Lamu case from Kenya, and the Shell case and plan to read more about each. I was surprised when Cesar Rodriquez Garavito (NYU School of Law) said that the law can change more rapidly than other areas of our society. He sounded very hopeful that climate litigation and the judiciary will be leading the way to protecting nature. Lawyers need to listen and understand the concern about the urgency of the climate reality. “Listen to the young people who are bold and creative.” Match these challenges with legal tools (Lora adds — such as the Green Amendment many states are considering in the US.) Advocates in the Amazonian case have been fighting for the past 30 years and making arguments about nature’s rights. Now we have laws to support their arguments. Movement lawyering is growing, check out Net Zero Lawyers Alliance. The session ended with a discussion about how businesses need to have a social contract, as well finance from the north to the south needs to be in the form of grants, not debt-building loans. A young man (22 yrs old) was beamed in from Australia to conclude with a hopeful message. As a university student, he asked the pension fund what their plans and investment criteria are regarding climate, and the fund couldn’t provide any answers. He was stubborn and took them to court and won. Now investment firms and pension funds in Australia have changed their modus operandi regarding climate factors. The youth around the world are doing the same — going to court about our failure to deal with the climate realities.
These three sessions have given me a lot to chew on — more than I can summarize here. But the overarching take-away message is that there are very different people, cultures and traditions all focused on climate from their own vantage point (ie. Indigenous peoples, technology nerds, and lawyers) — and the intersection of all of them could be very powerful to make significant changes for a livable future. I have more confidence in these people, professions, and cultures than I do in the governments that represent them at the negotiating table.
Wednesday is the “hump day” (the toughest day in the week) but honestly it was a very easy day for me at COP26. The night before I learned from a native woman from Minnesota who is part of the Indigenous delegation in Glasgow that there was an action planned in front of Barclays Bank. Barclays Bank is the largest financier of fossil fuel projects in the world, and I’ve participated in similar protests in Minnesota and New Mexico, demanding that the bank divest from fossil fuels. Instead of going to the center where all of the activities are occurring, I walked to the large Barclays bank situated in a prominent spot near the river, but didn’t find anyone. I googled the locations of other Barclay Banks and walked to the one located nearer the center of Glasgow. (Google has been my best friend in Glasgow.) Thankfully, I found them. For the next hour+ I watched the speakers and captured many of the signs and protesters with my camera. The Scottish police were filming protesters too. I noticed some media but I don’t know if the action was covered in the mainstream press. Lots of citizen journalists were hopefully sharing their photos on social media. There were indigenous peoples from around the world speaking with interpreters. The messages were clear and direct. “No net zero, no false solutions”. “Leave it in the ground.” “We (meaning indigenous peoples) are not the problem, we are the solution.” An estimated 200+ attended this action.
I was struck by how far apart the communication is between “inside” and “outside” of COP26. Inside the halls where the negotiations are occurring, “Net Zero” is a given and I hear no debate about that term. Much of the public advertising around Glasgow includes “Net Zero” as a given. The Indigenous peoples, the youth and many of the activists on the outside are demanding “No Net Zero” because they say it’s simply a false solution, a mechanism to allow the extraction and development of fossil fuels to continue. My heart and head tells me the activists outside are correct, but communicating that concept of “No Net Zero” is difficult. I tried in Glasgow, unsuccessfully.
Day #4 – Hydrogen, Networking and Indigenous Voices
One of the major conundrums for anyone attending COP26 is whether to attend meetings, events, actions at the center after taking a daily Covid-19 test, passing through two layers of security, and wandering the maze of corridors to find the spot you want. Or just sip a cup of tea in the apartment while watching the meeting online. On this particular morning, my colleague and I decided to take the second option and watched a presentation about hydrogen organized by industry and NGO folks who were clearly promoting the opportunities for investment in the future hydrogen market. The Hydrogen Council (see https://hydrogencouncil.com/en/) recently released two reports that I want to look up online. Hydrogen for Net Zero and the Hydrogen Policy Toolbox. The speakers never clarified whether they were talking about Green Hydrogen, Blue Hydrogen, or Gray Hydrogen . . . only referencing “low carbon hydrogen” once which refers to Blue hydrogen (made from fossil fuels). The take-away message is that we need to transition quickly to a hydrogen economy which will require 3 building blocks. (1) Political vision and ambition. (2) Supportive regulatory framework. (3) Investment for both research and innovation (development). There was a lot of talk about Fit for 55 which I need to explore further. “Fit for 55 refers to the at least 55% emission reduction target which the EU has set for 2030. The proposed package aims to bring the EU’s climate and energy legislation in line with the 2030 goal.” I learned that hydrogen (hopefully of the Green variety) can be a good alternative fuel for shipping and transportation. But an audience member from Africa asked (paraphrased) “The new hydrogen economy might work for Western countries but how can we be sure it will work for Africa?” I didn’t hear a clear response.
A friend from New Mexico told me that one of the highlights for her from an earlier COP was the networking experience. Lunch on the 4th day of COP26 proved her correct. I met a woman in the lunch line who invited me to share her table. She was a delegate with the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) with which the League of Women Voters US (my group) has collaborated with at COP26. An American woman about my age teaching philosophy and military ethics in Idaho, born in Edinburgh, raised in Toronto, and lived in Africa for some time. We could have sat another hour talking but we exchanged contact information and agreed to explore an opportunity to write a paper / book together. I was certainly jazzed when I left the table.
I headed over to the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum – a small venue with a seating capacity of only 20-25 people – where I listened to an Ecuadorian discuss the added-value of bringing Indigenous Peoples’ voices to the negotiating table. A Peruvian young woman explained that the Indigenous movements in the Andes and Amazon have come together in recent years and are working collectively. The young people feel “closely connected to our ancestors’ roots” and come to COP26 to “demand our representatives respect nature and nature’s rights in these negotiations.” An older woman said that without the forests, “we have nothing, no food, no shelter.” When her grandmother traveled to the forest, she would dress up for the special occasion and speak to the forest. Women are the stewards of the forest – the ones conveying the knowledge. After 40 years educating the young people, she is pleased to see so many young people engaged today, and respecting nature. “We should create an Indigenous University.”
My last stop for the day was a presentation by the Land and Water Protectors which began with a #StopLine3 video. Since I had traveled to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in June and visited with the Water Protectors there, I was pleased to see people and places I recognized from my visit. GGM Mary Lyons (White Earth Nation elder) joined the conversation from zoom and said “our young people have to be at the table of justice.” Three younger women spoke about their experience as water and land protectors. “Sovereignty is not something we sign on the dotted line for; and we don’t fight for sovereignty. It’s something in our blood – something we need to remember.” Fighting the colonizers within their system won’t work. “We will be here long after the colonizers are gone.”
Day #5 – Final Day for me at COP26
The constituencies planned to protest from inside COP today and I was excited as we walked over to the center. There are a number of different constituencies at this COP, including BINGO (business and industry NGOs), ENGO (environmental NGOs), Farmers (farmers and agricultural NGOs), IPO (Indigenous Peoples organizations), LGMA (Local Government and Municipal Authorities), RINGO (Research and Independent NGOs), TUNGO (Trade Union NGOs), WGC (Women and Gender Constituency) and YOUNGO (Youth NGOs). The delegates from the LWVUS aligned with the WGC. My colleagues and I walked together to the COP center and sat in the back of the large plenary hall with perhaps 200 – 300 people safely distanced from one another. The youth began by summarizing the facts from the IPCC report and the urgency that the science demands. “Governments would be well-advised not to break their social contract with the people.” “The science has delivered, now it’s your turn!” The TUNGO representative (and many others) talked about how the constituencies were invited to COP26 but excluded from any meaningful discussions. “What happens here is shaped by capitalism and colonialism.” Organized workers want a safe future which requires that “we undo the wrongs of colonialism.” “A fair future needs jobs, jobs, jobs, and a just transition in every workplace.” “We need to build power by working together.” The WGC and YOUNGO showed powerful videos. (I’m going to try to find them online and post.) The RINGO representative said that her group does not advocate for any particular positions at COP and she’s usually sitting in the back of the room observing. But RINGO decided to speak up about the deficiencies in the COP26 process. “Most observers have not had access to negotiations.” “This is a treaty process and observers must be part of the process. It hasn’t been this bad since COP in Copenhagen in 2009.” 77% more people @ COP26 than COP25. 232% increase in the number of media organizations over COP25. 90% more parties participating and 60% more NGOs. RINGO says you can’t be inclusive by just inviting more people. Contrary to their advertisement, COP26 was not the most inclusive COP. Nearly every speaker confirmed their disappointment in the lack of opportunities to participate and be heard in the work of COP26.
Following these great presentations, the Indigenous Peoples led us outside the sprawling COP26 center holding on to a very long red ribbon. Later I learned that the red ribbon represented the red line that must not be crossed in these climate negotiations. The LWVUS members joined the march outside, with the media and security personnel following us on the other side of the red ribbon. Outside we met up with activists and protesters with a lot of energy and strong speeches. I was lucky enough to find myself front and center next to the speakers, and tried to capture much of it. In the middle of it all, a single lone woman took the microphone and began yelling messages in favor of oil and gas. Everyone was confused and thought she was part of the program until it became clear that she was spewing nonsense. The police took her away and the activists continued with their speeches. We were shoulder-to-shoulder yelling and protesting the COP26 failures. The thought crossed my mind that this might have been a COVID-19 super-spreader event, but most people were wearing masks, and hopefully most were vaccinated.
After the protest I headed to the Green Zone with no particular agenda in mind but to see how that venue was organized. On this last full day of COP26 there were families and many people who didn’t appear to be associated with COP26 walking through the exhibits which surprised me. After getting a cup of potato and leek soup for lunch, I walked through the exhibits and then found a hall with a large TV screen where many were sitting and watching the plenary discussion happening in the Blue Zone. I sat and watched one country after another be recognized by the COP26 President to “make an intervention” and speak about their disappointments about the process and the substantive provisions that were under consideration. “We need to handle finance inside COP, not outside.” “We need a more balanced approach to Article 6.” The delegate from Switzerland said “We won’t meet our 1.5 C goal without phase out of all subsidies for fossil fuels.” The Bangladesh delegate declared a “panic emergency” – the science is clear and our ambition must not end with COP26. (paraphrased) “We must think about the impacts of moving from 1.1 C to 1.5 C. We are not trying to just agree on text, but want to ensure these words are actually delivered.” “We are negotiating about our future, our existence.”
The representative from China spoke through an interpreter about the “common but differentiated responsibilities” from the Paris Agreement and said China wants to let the parties (countries) decide their own timetables. The Philippines delegate mentioned this “unfortunate turn of events” with Article 6. He talked about risk management and that developing countries like the Philippines can’t do it on their own. They want to leapfrog and not repeat the mistakes that developed countries have made but the developing countries need $$ to do that. South Africa delegate said they need money not only to meet their NDCs but also for sustainable development. Brazil said “we don’t want small climate clubs but a large collective community” addressing these challenges. Perhaps the most compelling words came from the representative of Tuvalu (a country in the South Pacific I honestly had never heard of until COP26). “We’re not seeing the level of optimism that started the COP26 negotiations translated into this agreement.” “Tuvalu is sinking.” “We need to ensure a financial mechanism and modality of delivery is provided to be able to get the money to the countries that need it now.” Tuvalu wants strong language on loss and damage. (I’m going to look for a video of his words to post later.) The representative from Mexico said the current draft “doesn’t meet our expectations. We should know how to bring our NDCs in line with the 1.5 C goal.” The man from Panama said he couldn’t square the circle where developed countries declare “we understand the impacts of climate change on the global south” but “we don’t pay developing countries.” “All we ask is that you own your responsibilities.” “Get us to real zero.” “Keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
I stood up and decided to explore the Green Zone a bit more. I walked past a young man who stopped me to note the button I am wearing everywhere in COP26 “Free Palestine”. He is from Indonesia and is currently studying in the UK but has plans to return to his country when he completes his education to help his nation. We took each other’s photos and shared them on WhatsApp. Perhaps I’ve made a new friend in Indonesia. Then I walked upstairs to check out the COP26 Cinema and walked into the middle of a film about the YMCA working with youth in six countries engaged in climate change projects. The YMCA in the US had financed the film with $250k and announced today that they were adding another $150k to continue the work of these youth groups. The goal is to raise $1 million by next year. Four young people in the film were on stage to discuss their work and their expectations. Rodrigo from Peru gave a shout out to a youth from Palestine who was not able to travel to Glasgow. I went up to him afterwards and learned that the Palestinian had waited and waited for his appointment to travel to the embassy for his Visa application but the appointment was only given to him TODAY. I found these four young people very inspiring and had tears in my eyes as I was taking notes. The young woman from Zambia said she wished we had more leaders like John Kerry whom they met earlier. She found Kerry to be “a humble person.” And she was disappointed that the leaders from Zambia at this COP26 were not accessible to her or others from her country. She wants the leaders to be uncomfortable. Check here https://www.ymca.int/cop26/ to meet the YMCA delegation to COP26, including Atallah Danoon from Palestine.
Many are beginning to leave Glasgow now but the discussions at the plenary continue. I will catch a train to Edinburgh in the morning but stay glued to the proceedings online.
My take-away from COP26 in Glasgow
I’m not going to summarize the final COP26 agreement or its many deficiencies, nor regurgitate what the media coverage is sharing. If you check out the Irish Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and many more, it’s clear that COP26 didn’t live up to expectations. I also recommend opinion pieces from Christiana Figueres who was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, and George Monbiot calling for civil disobedience. While in Glasgow at COP26, I was following several groups who provided excellent coverage of COP26, including regular reports from Architecture 2030, Interfaith Power & Light, and EESI. There’s a lot of information for anyone who wants to get into the COP26 weeds.
Sitting in a youth hostel in Edinburgh after COP26 finished, I met a man from Normandy (33 years) visiting on a lark for the weekend because he found a roundtrip air ticket for €10. He works in international shipping, scheduling exports and imports. He understands the urgency of climate change but doesn’t believe we can repair the damage already done. “It’s only going to get worse, and leaders aren’t going to do anything fast enough because of their love of power and money.” He gave me concrete examples.
I passed a group of young girls (teens?) sitting in the park in Edinburgh and asked to take their photo. I told them I had just come from the climate meeting in Glasgow. It wasn’t the right time and place to engage with them on climate change; they were more excited about being seen and recognized on my Instagram account.
Communication is my take away from COP26. You and I know the science, and the urgency with which a profound transformation must occur if we’re going to leave a planet that our children and grandchildren can safely call home with confidence of a bright future. My new grandchild (expected in Spring 2022) will be my age in 2090; this is very personal for me. We have only a decade, or perhaps two, to avoid the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuels.
We must meet people where they’re at and arm them with the information which spurs them to act. We must engage in every venue where we believe we can make a difference. Some of us will engage with the politicians in Congress, state Capitals, and city halls pressing leaders to act consistent with the climate reality. Others will engage with students and audiences in different venues. Some will write. Others will protest and engage in civil disobedience. Perhaps the most important communication will occur one-on-one with our neighbors and family. None of these will be sufficient on their own, but each will lead us to the critical threshold where public engagement will tip the scales.
I didn’t see any strong presence of the fossil fuel industry at COP26 but they had the largest delegation there, and likely had better access to decision-makers than many others. Listening to many different voices (online and in person at COP26) about what we must do, I was particularly sensitive to the cacophony of ideas often not connecting with each other. (At one point I actually broke down in tears because of the cognitive dissonance.)
People ask me if I’m an optimist or pessimist about the future. I’m neither. I consider myself a “possibilitarian.” The path we’re currently on is bleak, but I believe we can take another path towards a much better outcome, a future that looks very bright. This possibilitarian understands that switching to that new path could happen very quickly, but it will require (1) more people aware of the dangers of the current path and deciding to change course; (2) new and more effective ways to communicate about the dangers and possibilities; and (3) new leadership. The most encouraging part of COP26 was observing the youth inside and out pushing the status quo, making the leaders “uncomfortable.” I believe the old farts have to step aside or be removed, and the youth need to take the reins of power. They will certainly make mistakes, but don’t we all? I witnessed their true leadership at COP26.
The 33-year-old from Normandy needs hope; the teenagers need to experience life free of fear; and the fossilized leaders in many countries need to feel the heel of our boots. Communication is the key.
Thank you for joining me on this COP26 journey.