Contributed by: Leehi Yona, 16′
Change is a curious thing – on the one hand, when it comes to collective-action issues such as climate change, we need monumental action in order to make a significant difference. On the other hand, however, when you go to international conferences and learn more about the true politics of negotiations, you realize that large-scale change isn’t readily going to come from the top-down. I recently attended such conferences: the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP18), and Commission on Social Development (CSocD-51).
The UNFCCC is generally the main international body dealing with climate negotiations, and meets around every November to hash out agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, for example. There are many NGOs at these conferences, particularly youth delegates, who are responsible for both honestly reporting developments to communities back home and for attempting to positively influence the outcome of negotiations, whether through media and public pressure or direct dialogue with their countries’ negotiators (although most developed countries aren’t too keen on youth input).
At Rio+20, and more recently at COP18, I confronted the harsh reality that our government officials aren’t going to be the ones to make the necessary commitments to fight climate change. This realization was both depressing and inspiring, because while I sadly see very little hope in the multilateral process, I’ve been reaffirmed that the work that I do, the work my fellow volunteers who strive for climate justice do, the work local communities are doing, is the positive change that is most likely to have an impact. Meeting other youth delegates from around the globe, as well as inspiring and motivating non-governmental organizations, constantly reminds me of the power of grassroots organizing and the bottom-up approach.
My experiences have further reinforced my belief in local, grassroots work. I think that we have an incredible potential here at Dartmouth and in the Upper Valley to effect positive change. As cliché as it may sound, the change really does begin with us. Ultimately, I believe that we should all collectively work together to shift the mindset people have about that climate change and sustainability means. It’s about bringing these issues to the forefront of our priorities, establishing goals and working towards them. We need to educate others, and collectively raise awareness – leading, of course, to action – on these issues. What we do here locally has tremendous importance and can definitely have an impact on the environment. Needless to say, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
We are also so fortunate at Dartmouth to be a hub for intellectual thinking, a source of networking with other communities in the United States and around the world. It’s crucial to establish a connection between what we’re doing here locally, and efforts that are being had in other regions. If there’s anything I’ve learned at the United Nations, it’s that there are people everywhere who are consistently striving to make a positive difference in their local communities. Imagine the power unleashed if we were to put our efforts together!
More citizens need to realize the crucial interconnectedness between our natural environment, our economies, and our social conditions. In my eyes, one of the biggest challenges facing sustainability is a lack of mass awareness or interest that is needed to push change forward. Grassroots organizing is quite a task, indeed, but I believe that knowledge is incredibly empowering. The more people you educate about the issues, the more energy you have to take significant action.
Some wonderful resources if you’d like to learn more about the UNFCCC or grassroots youth climate work:
– 350.org is a wonderful resource, particularly when it comes to issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and the campus fossil fuel divestment movement [gofossilfree.org]
– For any youth delegates, check out the Sierra Student Coalition and SustainUS for future conferences you can attend! [ssc.sierraclub.org; sustainus.org]
– Live Streaming at U.N. Negotiations/Conferences: [webtv.un.org]
Some great videos are available at:
Lastly, an amazing article on what it feels like to be a U.N. delegate: [http://matadornetwork.com/change/notes-from-the-international-youth-climate-movement-doha/]
Former Dartmouth professor Dana Meadows’ “Leverage Points” article is also definitely worth reading! [http://www.sustainer.org/pubs/Leverage_Points.pdf]