The Climate Agreement has been signed!— a look at COP21 through an EcoLeader’s perspective
On Saturday December 12th, nearly 200 countries came together to sign a long debated agreement against climate change. This agreement marks the first time that the majority of nations agree to combat climate change, and vow to do their part to reduce emissions.
As an individual, I had the great opportunity to attend the public forums at le Bourget and speak to numerous people from all walks of life regarding the one thing we all had in common: climate change. As a former National Wildlife Federation Fellow, I was able to appreciate all the work that many of these NGOs are doing. I went to Paris as a volunteer/intern along with my friend Christine Lacayo, to help the logistics and social media outreach of organizations such as Oceans Inc, and The Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue. Being a certified EcoLeader, particularly gave me an advantage obtaining this particular internship because it showed off my project management skills, as well as, my ability to work in an online community.
While I was primarily involved with creating awareness for ocean issues, I had the opportunity to hear the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speak about our individual responsibility to the planet. He explained that while much was being decided at COP21 it was us (the younger generations) that had to change our way of living to have an impact on our planets well being. He urged the public present at the Earth to Paris event, to do one thing differently, to change one habit to a more sustainable alternative. “Ride a bike, eat less meat, recycle— just do one thing” he urged. It was inspiring to see him speak directly to us and urge us to take the power in our hands.
And his message resonates still. While many promises have been made in Paris, we have to remember that we have the power to vote. We vote with our wallets everyday and many forget this. We choose to spend out money on superfluous goods that are often not needed and usually discarded after one use. Thing about the single use plastic items you probably have around your household: plastic bags you get at the grocery store, plastic utensils from the take out you ordered last night, half full water bottles that will probably just be dumped and go to the recycling bing (hopefully) and I could go on. I believe the UN Secretary Generals message was simple: change one thing you do so that you can start on your way to living a more sustainable lifestyle. This particular message was impactful because it made me think back to the efforts of many EcoLeaders in their campuses and communities, and how these efforts are becoming ever more vital. Through these projects we are showing past, present, and future generations that we do care about the well-being of our planet and that we are willing to do what is necessary to address the issues at hand through our actions.
Another incredible speaker was Joel Sartore, founder of the Photo Ark project for National Geographic. He was particularly moving because he stressed the importance of our effects, as humans, on wildlife. He showed compelling images of animals, from the smallest insect to the largest cat, and urged us, again, to change our ways. His project was featured just last week on the walls of the Vatican (as a special present to Pope Francis), and made a debut appearance in other iconic buildings around the world such as the Empire State Building in New York City. His work was featured in a full-length feature documentary called Racing Extinction, which aired on December 2nd on Discover. The film explored how humans are affecting the environment in unprecedented ways. Sartore made it a point during his speech to explain that the purpose of the Photo Ark was to raise awareness of critically endangered species and he didn’t want this collection of images to become the record of extinct species. His imagery was powerful and moving, and it inspires me to continue working to raise awareness of the issues that plague our planet. This type of education and awareness really highlights the importance of online communities such as the EcoLeader community. In such communities, members can work collaboratively and exchange ideas while raising awareness and educating each other about different environmental issues.
Finally, I have to bring attention to our oceans of course. There were many organizations in the public forums that were happy to speak to anyone who had questions about the ocean. I had the chance to speak to organizations such as Surfrider Foundation, Tara Expeditions, and Under the Pole regarding the importance of the ocean in these negotiations. The importance of the ocean is often undermined and overlooked, especially as it was being discussed in the Paris negotiations. The ocean plays such a critical role in the regulation of climate on earth, it seems like it should be at the top of the list of priorities. Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Society Explorer in Residence, and Dr. Jane Goodall, UN Messenger of Peace, spoke in a joint panel about the importance of both the oceans and our forest to the well being of the planet. It was phenomenal to see these two legends on stage. The passion Earle and Goodall exude for their work is contagious and willed a standing ovation at the Earth to Paris event.
Listening to all these speakers and then learning about the agreement being signed makes me wonder, what now? Looking forward, it becomes evident that the world really has to work together to battle climate change. Each country has to set forth its own plan and goals, and attempt to adhere to them in order to reduce emissions. It is evident that some nations are experiencing more heavily the effects of climate change than others. Island nations such as the Atoll Islands are currently suffering from the indiscriminate effects of sea level rise and increasing storms. This is when I think it’s our time to work collaboratively and use the EcoLeaders community to exchange ideas. More importantly, we need to inspire each other to take actions in our individual campus and in our local communities. Moreover, we have to start caring! We have to care about the environment, we have to care about each other, and we definitely have to care about future generations. What will be our legacy to the generations to come? Will we be known as the generation that sat back and ignored all the signs, or will we be the generation that stood together and fought the global problem that is climate change. Only time will tell, but for now I think we are off to a good start.