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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Oviedo, FL, USA - Copenhagen, Denmark

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Oviedo, FL, USA - Copenhagen, Denmark
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Registered: December 2010
City/Town/Province: Oviedo
Posts: 1
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For two weeks this past December, more than 45,000 people descended on Copenhagen, Denmark for the United Nation’s Framework Convention’s 15th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP15). Among these hoards was myself, a seventeen-year old organizer with the Sierra Student Coalition (the SSC). I was there because two years ago in Bali, the world decided that by December 2009, a treaty would be established to ensure a comprehensive strategy regarding how the planet would deal with climate change.
In early October, I had received an email from the SSC asking me to apply for their delegation to COP15, and so I did. I applied on a whim because I thought it would be cool to be present at such a pinnacle event. In all honesty, my parents only let me apply because they thought I wouldn’t get accepted. After all, I was in high school, and they were positive that college students would be chosen instead of me. Needless to say, in mid-October I received a phone call welcoming me to the delegation. That phone call was the start of a journey I will always remember.
That journey began at home in Oviedo, Florida. Once I was accepted to the delegation, I quickly discovered that I was the only representative from Florida for the entire Sierra Club, not just the SSC. (It turned out that once I got to Denmark, I was still hard pressed to find anyone else there from Florida.) I also learned I would have to fundraise $2500.00 to cover the cost of the plane trip and living expenses while in Copenhagen. I was very concerned about being able to come up with these funds, so I spent the two months before the conference writing emails to the state Sierra Club Chapters, pestering family friends to introduce me to their contacts, and speaking at Rotary Club meetings. In the end, I raised the $2500.00 needed for the trip. There were no more doubts – I would be going to Copenhagen.
On December 4th, I arrived in Copenhagen and joined 18 other youth organizers from across the U.S. We had spent two months talking on weekly conference calls, trying to cement ourselves as a team. It was an intense experience: We’d been forced to locate housing for the delegation after all of the hotels and many of the hostels in Copenhagen were booked; we’d attempted some moderately successful collaborative fundraising; and we’d devised a scheme to find each other once we arrived (by boat, plane or train) in Denmark. Now we were meeting face to face, and I could immediately tell that these were driven young men and women. But that doesn’t mean life in Copenhagen was all work and no play – and we definitely went on several adventures together. In fact, my experiences at COP15 ran the gamut of emotions – from hysterical to awe inspiring to painfully embarrassing!
For instance, on that first night after a long train ride to our hostel – long because we got lost – our group arrived to check in, only to be met by a very large, burly, bearded Scandinavian man. We were all taken aback when he greeted us with open arms like we were old friends, and proceeded to grab our bags and throw them into our rooms. After settling in, I stepped outside with another delegate – Caitlin from California – and once out of earshot of our jolly landlord, she turned and said: “Do you know who he reminds me of?” And in unison, we both said, “Hagrid!” (the giant gamekeeper from Harry Potter)
As a delegation, we bonded over more than our “passion” for the environment. There was a rock concert the first night of the COP, and I attended with two of my fellow delegates, Josh and Peter. We were impressed by the Danish girls we’d been seeing, and decided to do what any self-respecting young men would do: See if we could pick up some of the local beauties with our incredible Yankee charm. After three hours of dancing and smoozing, all of us walked away empty-handed. Clearly, we were much more interested the Danish girls than they were in us – proving that even in Europe, we were still the geeks we thought we were. Our lackluster experience with Danish girls may have been what eventually led to the creation of “The Wolfpack” – the term we ultimately used for all male members of the SSC delegation, and one that included howling and making ourselves think we were cool in general. (“Pathetic!” Peter’s mother remarked upon learning about us.)
Then there were those incredibly embarrassing moments that we’ll always remember as a delegation. We’d been told to dress like students, so – when we were invited to attend the Blue-Green Alliance reception, celebrating the coalition between environmentalists and the labor movement – we showed up in jeans and sweatshirts, only to discover everyone else was wearing suits and ties. If this wasn’t bad enough, mid-way through the night the U.S. Congressional delegation also made an appearance. There I was meeting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congressmen Ed Markey and Al Waxman, and others in my grey hoodie. (“The hoodie makes you look like a cross between Where’s Waldo? and a stalker,” my twin sister Deirdre decided when she saw pictures of me with these people on Facebook.)
Finally, there was my ‘brush with greatness’. COP15 was unique because you never knew who would be in attendance from day-to-day – Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and French President Nicholas Sakosi all put in appearances. But for me, meeting Al Gore was the highlight of my trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually “meet” him – more like run into him. I’d really wanted to hear him speak but was unable to get tickets to the event. On that day, however, I turned down a hallway to go to a plenary session instead, only to find the door in front of me thrown open by a Danish policeman. Walking into my hallway was Vice President Gore. He passed by me – close enough for a handshake. But I missed the opportunity, probably because I was cemented to the ground where I stood. (“Did you at least touch him?” my mother asked after hearing the story. “No, Mom. I’m trying not to get arrested,” I replied.)

But apart from these adventures, life with the delegation was about what we wanted to accomplish at the COP. We were incredibly different individuals, but our reasons for being there were the same: We wanted to secure a future without the risks of climate change for ourselves and for the children and grandchildren we one day hoped to have. We quickly found ourselves linked by that common purpose - a purpose that I discovered was not uniquely American, but rather one shared by thousands of young people worldwide.
Two days before the conference, I joined over 2,000 young people from all points on the globe for a Conference of Youth (COY). At COY, I heard stories from around the world, and each one had a similar message: a student named Adel spoke about water drying up in Algeria; Ella from South Africa and Rohan from Australia expressed concern that the same thing was occurring in their countries. Melissa and Gabriel told me about rising sea levels around Singapore. These people were worried about what the future held, and they urged me to do more to get a climate treaty adopted. As COY came to a close and COP15 prepared to start, I was filled with anticipation: Young people had united under a common slogan: “Survival is non-negotiable.” We were determined to fight for climate justice, and for a fair and ambitious treaty. We had seen past our differences, and instead were striving for a common ideal. I hoped that the negotiators at COP15 would do the same.
When COP15 began on December 7th, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world started placing pressure on negotiators to craft a just and scientifically based deal on climate change. The youth delegates continued what they had agreed to do at COY and, serving as a voice of moral reason, they called for action on the part of our leaders while reminding them that our future is in their hands. That is the real story of COP15: activists and young people calling on delegates to deliver a moral treaty - one that incorporates the rights of indigenous people, and acknowledges the necessity for survival of all life on the planet.
Unfortunately, the world didn’t get that deal out of Copenhagen. What was produced is being called the “Copenhagen Accords”, and these Accords are neither scientifically based nor binding. They were acknowledged by the COP, but not ratified - meaning that negotiations will resume this year, and we will continue to push for a real treaty. So, since the political process failed to produce the desired results, I look to the positives that actually occurred because they provide insight into what is possible in the future if we commit to change.
In the eleven days of COP15 itself, I saw Chinese and U.S. youth sit down and frankly and openly discuss what each respective nation must do to solve global warming. I participated in releasing a joint statement from Kenyan and U.S. youth outlining our concerns about climate change to President Obama. I linked arms with students from Canada to call for the closing of the Tar Sands, and the protection of indigenous peoples. I attended that Blue-Green Alliance reception with labor leaders where union representatives assured me that their membership is committed to embracing green jobs and the technologies they employ. And, finally, I watched individuals risk arrest, in a formal sit-in at the Bella Center, in an attempt to remind the world that we need real action from the Summit negotiations, not empty promises.
There are plenty of other examples of courage and teamwork on the part of the NGOs at COP15, and they remind us that as a planet we have the ability to work together towards a common purpose. Despite this, most nations are still not ready to make the commitments required to even begin to solve the climate change dilemma.
This includes the U.S. We still have debates in this country despite an overwhelming body of scientific evidence about whether or not climate change is occurring. Well, let me tell you something: All doubt goes away when a boy the age of fourteen from the Maldives looks you in the eyes and tells you that the water is rising outside of his home. And then it gets scary when you look at a map and realize that the entire Florida Keys and parts of Miami, the Mississippi Delta, New York City, the Chesapeake Bay, and Boston lie at the same sea level as this boy’s island home – and therefore, will also be washed away during this century if we don’t alter course.
So, whose fault is it that we don’t have a climate change treaty? Is it President Obama’s? Well, all I can say is that as a person who logged over 100 hours volunteering on his campaign, I was very disappointed by his lackluster showing at Copenhagen. I’m upset with the Administration’s failure to consider tougher targets than what they had already proposed. They laid out a plan that would reduce emissions by 4% below the 1990 levels by 2020. This is – forgive the pun – a COP-out when you consider that other industrial nations were proposing between 20% and 30% reductions, and the science actually calls for 40%.
But Obama says his hands are tied by the Senate. Well, the Senate certainly hasn’t stepped up to be a leader on this issue, and the world is waiting on the U.S. to pass climate change legislation, which is the Senate’s job. Yet, ask a Senator and he’ll say he just hasn’t seen the ground swell of support for this legislation from constituents. The truth is it’s all of our faults. There has been very little action on the part of our leaders, and not enough pressure from civil society.
So let’s not look to place blame as to why action hasn’t been taken yet in this country, but instead, let’s mobilize to take action. Failure to do so would be criminal because we have so much to lose as a society.
Oftentimes when we think about climate change, the image we conjure in our minds is one of a polar bear on a melting ice sheet in the Arctic. And as a species, we should be mindful of our responsibility to protect all life as stewards of the planet. But if COP15 has taught me one thing, it’s that climate change is a human issue and the face of this catastrophe isn’t a polar bear or any other wild animal. It’s the face of that boy from the Maldives. The face of climate change is Ella from South Africa, Rohan from Australia, Adel from Algeria, Melissa and Gabriel from Singapore. It’s also the boy from South Boston. It’s the girl in New Orleans. It’s the baby born today in Miami, and the child being pushed in the stroller through Battery Park in New York City.
I am the face of climate change. Your children and grandchildren are the face of climate change – for we will inherit the world you leave us. So the question remains: Do you consider our survival negotiable?
Date: December 29, 2010 Views: 6318 File size: 12.1kb, 21.5kb : 404 x 269
Hours Volunteered: 400
Volunteers: 18
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 17 to 24
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