By Michaela Mujica-Steiner
President Donald Trump's fossil fuel agenda was met with disdain Monday evening at COP23. The only official White House event was titled, "The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation." Everyday people from across the world attended it, but they were not there in support of the event, but rather in protest.
As a young person from the United States and a youth delegate with SustainUS, I felt a personal responsibility to hold the United States government accountable for continuing to block progress on the Paris agreement via their ties to a small handful of fossil fuel billionaires. I could feel my palms sweating as I waited in the security line to the get into the event.
I was so nervous, but it helps to know that you're not alone—seven out of ten Americans support urgent climate action and staying in the Paris agreement. Everyday Americans and people from across the globe were standing with me at that very moment. And young people have always been at the forefront of social change movements, pushing the boundaries of what our societies believe is possible. Doing so helps to create space beyond the status quo, which is necessary to advancing the needle in favor of progressive values. By disrupting the status quo, we help to define its boundaries, and by establishing the limits, we determine and set the terms of the debate.
So that's what I set out to do on Monday evening: set the terms of the debate on fossil fuels at COP, disrupt the Trump administration's lies, inspire people back home, and most importantly, stand on the right side of history. I know that I'll remember Monday's action for the rest of my life, and I hope it will forever be a defining point throughout history when the people declared "No More" to being bullied by corporate elites for profit.
We the people stood in our full dignity and power, filling the U.S.-backed event with at least a hundred voices. Midway through our song, I looked back at the administration's baffled faces, as I quickly unfurled a banner that read "We the People" with the words "fossil fuel CEOs" crossed out at the top of it. And even when we were escorted out, we continued to sing a beautiful rendition of "God Bless the USA." Walking out of the event doors into a 200+ crowd, I started to tear up.
I have always looked up to the social movement leaders of the past whose work carries into the present. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi are my heroes. On Monday night, I imagined all the social change makers of the past right by my side as cosmic companions. They've left a legacy, and this generation can follow in their footsteps. Never in my life have I ever considered myself to be a "hero," and that's because, in these dire times, we all have to step up to the plate in being the heroes in this tragic story that is the reality of climate change.
Local action has global implications. When I come back from these talks, I'm getting straight to work back home to ensure that my governor in Colorado, Governor Hickenlooper, does not succumb to the interests of the one percent by increasing hydraulic fracking. Together, we can build local movements that have the strength to create a people's uprising outside of this panel event.
Community and grassroots leaders from the U.S. on Tuesday announced their platform at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23). The "U.S. People's Delegation" is attending to counter the Trump administration's fossil fuel agenda and to hold U.S. states, cities, businesses and the public accountable to climate action commitments.
The platform includes youth, Indigenous peoples, frontline communities, advocates and policymakers who have come to Bonn, Germany with organizations from across the U.S. They have come together to show what climate leadership should look like.
"We are here to let the world know that most Americans support action on climate change, despite what you hear from Washington," said Ellen Anderson of Energy Transition Lab, with the Climate Generation delegation. In our state of Minnesota,we are leading the way for the Heartland of America, showing that you can cut carbon, build out renewable energy, create thousands of good-paying jobs, and save money by shifting to a clean energy economy."
With the Trump administration rolling back climate protections, expanding fossil fuel development, ramming through dirty infrastructure and withdrawing the U.S. from its commitments to the Paris climate agreement, the People's Delegation and the organizations involved are taking action to protect communities and isolate the administration by demanding a fossil free future and real climate action on the local level.
"I have seen climate change-fueled floods destroy lives and livelihoods where my family is from in India. In southern India, thousands of farmers have committed suicide because of drought," said Varshini Prakash of SustainUS and Sunrise Movement. "Within my lifetime, my home in the states could be underwater if we do nothing to stop climate change. No one should have to live in fear of losing the people that they love or the places that they come from."
Among the demands are:
- A just and equitable transition to 100 percent renewable energy in all cities and states.
- For U.S. elected officials to step up in meaningful ways to ensure bold climate action in the face of the current administration's rollback on climate protections, the persistence of ongoing climate disasters, and the impact of existing inequalities and governmental negligence on frontline and vulnerable communities.
- A halt to all new fossil fuel projects, with the understanding that the fossil fuel industry continues to perpetuate the climate crisis and sow climate denial, creating a bleak future for generations to come.
- A call for all nations to increase their ambition, not decrease it. The commitments countries put forward under the Paris agreement were already too little, too late and would lead to at least 3.5°C of warming, not the 1.5°C and 2°C goals enshrined in the agreement. We can't let the U.S. be an excuse for other countries to dial back their action—especially since with cities and states doubling down, the U.S. could be moving forward.
- A demand to stop negotiating cap-and-trade, carbon offsets, carbon pricing and other market schemes that avoid cutting pollution at the source.
"From monster hurricanes to the wildfires and deadly heatwaves in the American West, 2017 has shown that the threat of climate change is now," said Dyanna Jaye, representing ICLEI U.S. Local Governments for Sustainability and Sunrise Movement. "Yet Trump has allied with fossil fuel CEOs who are dead set on profiting from pollution, including Exxon CEO turned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. They have no right to represent the American people. Though Trump and his billionaire friends may try to pull us backwards, we, everyday Americans, will keep moving our country forward and make sure our cities, universities and states take the action we need to stop climate change and create good jobs in our communities."
The list of organizations represented in the People's Delegation includes: SustainUS, Sunrise Movement, Indigenous Environmental Network, Global Grassroots Justice Alliance, and the Climate Justice Alliance as part of It Takes Roots, U.S. Human Rights Network, Climate Generation, Our Children's Trust, NextGen America and 350.org.
Among the events that the people's delegation will conduct this week that are open to the public:
U.S. People's Delegation Speak Out
Date & Time: Thursday, Nov. 9, 4 to 6 pm
Location: U.S. Climate Action Pavilion, Fiji Room, The DHL Post Tower Charles-de-Gaulle-Straße 20, 53113 Bonn Germany
U.S. People's Delegation Town Hall with Elected Officials
Date & Time: Saturday, Nov. 11, 4 to 6 pm
Location: U.S. Climate Action Pavilion, Fiji Room, The DHL Post Tower Charles-de-Gaulle-Straße 20, 53113 Bonn Germany
For more information on the U.S. People's Delegation and the organizations involved, please go to: www.350.org/uspeoplesdelegation
Reposted with permission from our media associate 350.org.
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Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.